This "top (effen) notch" BBC series is set in a Manchester, England, public-housing project where the Gallagher clan gets by with a little help from their friends and each other. They certainly can't count on Frank (David Threfall), their on-the-dole dad, whose time around the house is mostly spent drunkenly passed out on the floor. Mom abandoned them years before. That leaves Fiona (Anne-Marie Duff), the eldest daughter, to be surrogate parent and help make the best of their hardscrabble lives in a place that, Frank observes, will never be mistaken for the Garden of Eden. The seven episodes that comprise the first series are a riot of family dysfunction. Cheeky oldest brother Lip (Jody Latham) discovers his younger sibling, Ian (Gerard Kearns), is gay and is having an affair with the local Muslin grocer. He enlists his girlfriend, Karen (Rebecca Atkinson), to initiate Ian (to no avail). Karen's agoraphobic mother, Sheila (Maggie O'Neill) is married to a religious fanatic, who abandons them after he discovers his daughter's sinful ways, opening the door for Frank to move in (and juggle clandestine affairs with both mother and daughter). Meanwhile, Fiona meets Steve (James McAvoy), a nice guy and prosperous car salesman (too bad the cars are stolen).
Lending the Gallaghers a hand is neighbor Veronica (Maxine Peake), fiercely loyal and protective and a ferocious force of nature. One of her sidelights is ironing topless for the benefit of horny Internet viewers. Frank says it best when he asks at one point, "Is anyone around here normal?" Written by Paul Abbott, Shameless has the same gritty setting and generous spirit as Mike Leigh's Life Is Sweet. Prodigious use of the F-word and some fleeting full frontal nudity notwithstanding, Shameless, would feel at home on American basic cable. The optional subtitles are recommended to make better sense of the thick accents and slang. --Donald Liebenson