It seems insane that after six years on air, Shameless US is still the best-kept secret on television. Although it's adapted from the UK show, the relocation to Chicago has given Shameless a very different spirit.
When we meet the Gallaghers, eldest kid Fiona (Emmy Rossum) is doing her best to play mom to her five siblings. Dad Frank is mostly out of the picture, occasionally turning up drunk to trade insults with Fiona. Frank is an absolute joke of a man, a terrible father and possibly incapable of love, but William H. Macy finds a strange likability in him.
You imagine that somewhere deep, deep down, he wants to be a good Dad, if he could only stop getting kicked out of bars and get a normal job, instead of finding ever more creative ways to scam the system. In one of the best episodes of season 1, Frank wakes up in Canada, prompting an epic prison cell rant...
How the hell did I end up in Canada? I hate f*cking Canada! No snow at the Winter Olympics - what the hell was that?!
But really Shameless is the story of Fiona, and sure, this show is outrageously funny, but Fiona's story is also kind of sad. At 20-something she should be out living her life, but in fact works two shitty jobs just to cover the electric bills and put food on the table. She gets no thanks from Frank, and her love life is a disaster because she always puts her family first. Rossum is the heart of this show.
Shameless also has sex. Lots of it. Lashings of it in every episode. And not just between the hot young characters like Lip or Fiona. In season one, Frank finds a place to stay with Sheila, the mother of his son's girlfriend. Because Sheila is agoraphobic and can't leave the house, Frank assumes she's an easy victim who'll feed and clothe him without condition.
He soon finds out that agoraphobics still have to get their kicks somehow. For Sheila, that somehow is in her box of sex toys.
So why should you watch Shameless? It's smart, it's sexy, the Gallaghers feel just real it to imagine that people light that might exist somewhere near the end of your street, and it features dialogue like this:
Dottie: Eat shit, Frank!
Frank: I would, but I recently went Vegan.
Above all, it's just really, really f*cking funny. Season 6 just began on Showtime with a seventh confirmed already, so you've got a year to catch up on 72 episodes. That's like, one every six days. You can do it.
If Shameless US just doesn't quite look like your thing, here are five more horribly underrated TV series you probably haven't seen already, but definitely should check out ASAP.
Mr. Robot (1 season so far)
[Mr. Robot](tag:3603120) is a dark thriller about Elliot, a security engineer with Allsafe Cybersecurity, who finds himself being recruited by a cyber-terrorist organisation with plans to bring down "Evil Corp", a huge multinational.
Trying to work out who's a good guy in Mr. Robot is tough, primarily because even our protagonist feels like a villain at times. Elliot snorts morphine liberally just to shake off his demons long enough to get through the day. He hacks the computers of his only friend and his therapist purely for the sake of spying.
He's a couple of bad decisions away from being dead. Whether or not joining the anarchistic, enigmatic Mr. Robot and his team of hacktivists is one of those bad decisions is the mystery driving it all. The show just won Best TV Drama at the Golden Globes, and you can get caught up now - season 1 is streaming on Amazon Prime.
Banshee (3 seasons so far)
Banshee is possibly the most insane TV series I've ever seen. It's the very pulpy story of a diamond thief released from prison, who follows a trail to a small town somewhere in the South. That place is called Banshee.
Upon arriving there, he witnesses the brutal murder of Lucas Hood, the man just brought in to be the town's new Sheriff, and decides to assume his identity as a means of hiding from Rabbit, a Ukrainian crime kingpin who wants him dead.
Whilst Banshee initially seems like a chance to turn a new leaf, the man posing as Hood (we don't find out his name) soon discovers that tensions are running high in town, particularly between the Amish community and Kai Proctor, a crimelord who lives in a miniature Playboy mansion.
The brutality in this show is like nothing in any other show I've seen. It makes Game of Thrones look tame. One episode of season 1 is mostly a two-hander which plays out as a relentless, hour-long fight in one room, until both characters involved appear just about ready to drop dead. It's thrilling.
If you like your TV to feel like a very bloody graphic novel, Banshee is the one for you. The fourth and final season begins in April.
Deutschland 83 (1 season so far)
Germany has a long history of making TV and movies about WWII, but this series focuses on the lingering aftermath and the looming threat of the Cold War. As the title suggests, it's set in 1983, when East German soldier Martin Rauch is recruited by the Stasi and sent to be an agent in West Berlin to gain intel on a possible missile attack.
Although the premise makes it sound serious, it's actually a brilliantly retro adventure which focuses on both the light and darker sides of the spying game, and comes armed with a phenomenal soundtrack full of '80s classics.
There's some clever humour too, like when an East German handler tells Rauch that the food in the West's supermarkets are "full of chemicals [because] Western governments like to keep their citizens fat, lazy and complacent." Martin doesn't care - to him it's just tasty.
As with all the best foreign language series, Deutschland is so entertaining that you'll forget you're reading subtitles. Season 1 is airing now on 4 in the UK and is available on DVD in the US.
Bloodline (1 season so far)
Netflix launched an absolute ton of original dramas and comedies last year, meaning Bloodline got a little lost among sexier hits like Narcos and Daredevil, but this black mystery/thriller about the darkness at the heart of an outwardly respectable family in the Florida Keys demands your attention.
For starters, Ben Mendelsohn is deliciously slimy as Danny, the black sheep of the Rayburn clan who returns home for the first time in years. A boatload full of immigrants is set alight in the ocean, and Danny, connected somehow, finds himself under increasing pressure to play the role of the reformed son convincingly. His siblings are convinced he's bad news. And he is.
Despite that you can't help but feel for him, which is symptomatic of how well written this show is. A sense of constant dread runs throughout. The final four episodes are electrifying and do brilliant justice to the art of the cliffhanger, making Bloodline perfect for your next binge-viewing marathon. You can get caught up on Netflix now.
Orphan Black (3 seasons so far)
Last but definitely not least is Orphan Black, the cloning saga which sees lead star Tatiana Maslany not only embody countless different characters, but somehow bring a unique individual performance to each one. The only thing more insane than her talent is the show's actual premise which, without giving too much away, involves scientific experiments and stolen identities.
It's easy to find a crazy idea for a show but harder to write it well, so props to all involved for making Orphan Black relatively coherent. It's wildly entertaining (as Alison, a tightly-wound suburban mom, Maslany is particularly great) and the central mystery is enthralling and knotted with relentless plot twists. Once you get on the train, you'll never want to get off.
Seasons 1 to 3 are available to stream now on Amazon Prime.