So “Shameless,’’ Showtime’s wonderful remake of the long-running British series, comes as a nice change of pace. In this excellent, affectionate family dramedy, which premieres Sunday at 10, the walls are grimy, the upholstery is torn, and the one bathroom is a traffic jam. What’s more, the show’s single parent of six — Frank Gallagher, played by William H. Macy — is a raging, bitter drunk, often found passed out on the floor in a pool of urine, a Charles Bukowski-like figure regularly carried home by the cops. No well-preserved patriarch, he.
The Gallaghers of Chicago are poor, so the kids steal milk from a dairy truck and coupons from neighbors’ newspapers. Brilliant teen son Lip (short for Phillip) takes PSAT tests for other students for a wad of cash. While Frank blows his disability checks at local bars, his kids scrounge together money like Fagin’s crew from “Oliver Twist.’’ To be sure, “Shameless’’ feels like contemporary Dickens, portraying a forgotten underclass living close to the streets and the world of nonviolent crime. The show’s sexual situations — including oft-undressed neighbors Kev and Veronica — are very now, and very Showtime; but the socioeconomic plight is old indeed. The Gallaghers’ struggle predates our current financial crisis.
But wait: “Shameless’’ is not a gloomy TV lesson created to show us how hard some people have it. Executive producers John Wells (from “ER’’) and Paul Abbott (who created the British “Shameless’’) have made sure that the “edy’’ half of dramedy is loud and clear. The Gallagher kids live in dire circumstances, but “Shameless’’ focuses on how they survive. Frank is almost a peripheral figure, as Emmy Rossum’s Fiona, the oldest sister, keeps the household running. There’s something sweet in the way the kids scrunch together on the couch to watch the Discovery Channel or rally to pay the gas bill. You can feel their strength in numbers. But that sentimental streak in the show is compensated by Frank’s coldness and the scrappy urban realism, translated so effectively from the British original.