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SHAMELESS

Region 2 Edition

Directors:  Mark Mylod, Jonny Campbell, Dearbhla Walsh

Featuring:  David Threlfall, James McAvoy, Maggie O'Neill, Anne-Marie Duff

THE SERIES

Shameless was one of 2004's brightest drama series, and an unqualified hit for Channel 4, even if it didn't initially pick up the audience it deserved.

The series, about a dysfunctional working class family living on a northern council estate, is full of great characters and stuffed with comic incident. Less gritty than Ken Loach movies like Riff-Raff, and more upbeat than films like Mike Leigh's Life Is Sweet, Shameless is a fine balance of humour and drama. Some of the Gallagher family's escapades seem a bit far-fetched, but there's a grain of truth to the series that makes it spark. Their struggles to keep their family solvent, and their convoluted relationships with their neighbours, make Shameless compelling viewing.

Frank Gallagher, the drunken, rambling patriarch of the Gallagher family, is a wonderful comic creation, and the natural focus of the series. His children have learned to adapt and fend for themselves after their mother deserted them, in the absence of a fatherly role model. Frank is a monster, really, defining people simply by what they can do for him, but is tremendously likeable, thanks in no small part to David Threlfall's charismatic performance.

THE DVD

The DVD features the entire first season of the show: seven episodes, of approximately fifty-minutes each. Sadly it does not include this year's Christmas special. Hopefully we won't have to wait quite so long for that and the second series to be released.

Each episode is presented separately. Some episodes begin with recaps of earlier episodes, and some feature teaser trailers for the next instalment. There are four episodes on disc one, and three on the other, along with the bonus material.

The episodes are presented in anamorphic widescreen format, in their original ratio of 1.78:1.

The four episodes on disc one puts a strain on the MPEG encoding, and there are many instances where blocking artefacts are visible. (A lot of the show is shot with hand-held cameras, which demands a lot of data to capture). The results are similar to what you'd expect to see from a good digital set-top tuner. The average bitrate for the episodes on disc one is just over 5Mb/s, with an encoding rate that doesn't seem to be very adaptive. The episodes on the second disc average 5.43Mb/s, marginally better, and the encoding rate appears to be more responsive.

Motion artefacts aside, picture quality is very good, accurately representing the series as it was shown on TV.

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 format (at 192kbps). The mix is naturalistic, and weighted to the front speakers, but it's generally well-recorded, with occasional moments where there's good separation.

The disc has English HoH subtitles, which might also help people struggling with some of the broader accents. There is a sequence in one of the episodes where characters are speaking in French, and this is presented as it was for its original TV screening: with burnt-in subtitles (they are not player-generated).

The disc's menus are nicely designed, and straightforward. There's a Play All option on each disc. Otherwise picking an episode leads to a chapter breakdown, where the default option is to play the first chapter.

THE BONUS MATERIAL

There are two bonus featurettes, each about ten minutes long.

Meet The Cast With Debbie and Carl

This is a messy featurette ostensibly made and shot by two of the series' young cast members. It includes fleeting snatches of interviews, and a few glimpses of the filming. You'll find out what the cast's most embarrassing moments were, but not much more. Perhaps ten minutes' worth was all that could be salvaged?

An Interview With Paul Abbot

Series creator / writer Paul Abbot, whose credits include BBC conspiracy thriller State of Play and textile-factory drama Clocking Off, chats briefly about the creation of the series (it's "vaguely autobiographical" - Abbot was nine when his mother abandoned her ten children). It's not nearly enough. You won't learn here, for example, that the series started filming with another actor playing the role of Frank (Sean Gallagher, who had appeared in Abbot's series Linda Green and Clocking Off). Re-filming the first episode, after deciding that Sean was too young to play Frank, cost producers Company Pictures a cool 100k. This isn't even mentioned on the disc, suggesting that the chances that we'll ever get to see any of the footage are slim.

SUMMARY

It's great to have the series available on DVD, albeit somewhat tardily. The presentation isn't perfect, but it's difficult to see how it could have been improved, except by adding another disc, to improve the bit-rate. This obviously would not have been commercially viable.

The bonus materials are a huge disappointment. The series deserves much better - a commentary track on a couple of episodes would have been very welcome, as would the chance to have seen the original version of the first episode, or at least some clips featuring Sean Gallagher as Frank.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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