As we near the end of the eighth season of Showtime’s Shameless, which has already been renewed for a ninth season (after producers met Emmy Rossum’s salaray demands), it occurs to me that — though we often talk about the series — we’ve never really discussed how it compares to the British series that it’s based on. It’s now the top-rated and longest running series on Showtime, but it still needs three more seasons to match the length of the British show, which ran from 2004 to 2013 and, like the American series, is one of the best depictions of what it means to be poor on television.
The first season of the American series is very similar to the British series — in fact, after the first season of the Showtime dramedy, I almost bailed on it because — having watched the British version — I already knew everything that was going to happen. Like the British version, the first season of Showtime’s Shameless is largely preoccupied with the relationship between Fiona and Steve (although, in the British version, Steve was played by the now movie-famous James McAvoy). The Frank and Shiela storylines were also similar (although, the American version had a much better because was played by Joan Cusack, who actually replaced Allison Janney after the pilot).
The two shows began to diverge, however, in the second season. Steve left midway through the second season of the British version (he doesn’t leave until the third season of the American version, and then pops up again a few more times), and Fiona left at the end of the second season (Fiona was played in the British series by the real-life wife of James McAvoy, Anne-Marie Duff, though they recently divorced). Fiona’s character left in the series to be with Steve.
The focus then pivoted toward the younger Gallaghers, but most of those characters left the series, as well: Lip in the fifth season, Ian in the 7th season, Debbie in the sixth, and Carl in the seventh. Even Kevin and Veronica left after the fourth season (which is when I bailed on the British show, because the primary cast no longer bore much resemblance to the original cast).
Though the cast of characters changed, the American version still borrows storylines occasionally from the British show. There is a Mickey in the British version, for instance, but he didn’t show up until the fourth season. He did, like Mickey in the American version, get a woman pregnant, and he eventually left the series to take care of his baby. However, before then, his college experience more mirrors that of Lip’s on the Showtime series while the Lip in the UK series finished college, went on to be an architect, and has a nine-year-old daughter with Mandy (who died in the British series). (Comparatively speaking, Lip was a minor character in the British version). Ian, meanwhile, slept around with Mickey, but eventually he got married to a woman. That relationship obviously fell apart, and last we heard of Ian in the British series, he was shacked up with a transgender man (his current love interest the American series is transgender). Debbie, meanwhile, leaves the series to join the army (which is more similar to Carl’s storyline in the American version, although Carl did join the police force in the British version). Kev and Veronica, whose early storylines are similar to their American counterparts, left the series in season four after they were arrested for trying to buy an orphan.
Ultimately, however, while the American version remains focused primarily on the same cast of characters — the Gallaghers — by the middle seasons of the British version had turned it attention primarily to a different family. The focus primarily shifts toward the Maguire family, but even most of the Maguires eventually leave the show to make way for another family. In fact, the only character the remains constant throughout the British version is Frank Gallagher, who sticks around until the very end (in a finale that actually sees the return of several of the Gallagher children in what is essentially a “Where are they now? episode).