Shameless is a British series that was adapted for American audiences by John Wells. Before the series returns for the eleventh and final season, let’s look back on how Shameless almost took place in a very different setting.
The original ‘Shameless’ took place in Manchester
Fans of Shameless have Wells to thank for introducing fans to the Gallaghers. The celebrated showrunner of ER and The West Wing wanted to adapt the British series — also called Shameless — for American audiences.
The original series also followed the Gallagher family, with David Threlfall portraying the alcoholic patriarch, Frank. The setting was a bleak industrial city of Manchester on the fictional Chatsworth council estate. In bringing the show to America, Wells had one idea for a setting, but the networks he was pitching had a different backdrop in mind.
‘Shameless’ takes place on the south side of Chicago
In the American version, Shameless is set in the working-class part of Chicago.
More specifically, the Gallagher home is in Canaryville. In reality, fans swing by the 2100 block of South Homan Avenue in the North Lawndale neighborhood to catch a glimpse of the fictional home, which belongs to a very real family.
A majority of the Americanized series is filmed in Los Angeles on the Warner Brothers backlot. But to capture the exterior shots indicative of a Chicago neighborhood, the cast typically films on location for two weeks each season, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Initially, when Wells was pitching the series, Chicago wasn’t on the table. In fact, Illinois wasn’t even an option. Networks saw the Gallagher’s living in a southern trailer park.
‘Shameless’ was originally going to be set in the South
When Wells was pitching the series, there were a lot of disagreements about where the show should take place.
“When we first started pitching, everybody kept gravitating towards the South or putting it in a trailer park, and I kept saying, ‘Well, no,’” Wells told the New York Times.
It made sense to the networks to classify the Gallaghers as the broken trailer park family. But for Wells, that’s not what they represented.
“We have a comedic tradition of making fun of the people in those worlds,” Wells explained. “The reality is that these people aren’t ‘the other.’ They’re people who live four blocks down from you and two blocks over.”
Wells recognized that the Gallaghers could be any family. For him, bringing Shameless to America was about allowing all audiences to relate to the broken Gallagher home.
‘Shameless’ needs to be set in Chicago
Shameless explores the main themes of how poverty, alcoholism, and mental illness can impact a family. But by setting the show in Chicago, showrunners were able to dive into even broader themes.
From generational poverty to gentrification in large inner cities, Shameless can effectively examine such complex themes, thanks to its setting. Had the show been set elsewhere, like a trailer park, the characters and their problems could have been considered campy. Ultimately, the show would have been less relatable to a wide audience.
Thanks to Chicago’s backdrop, Shameless is a beautiful exposé of how we’re all a bit like the Gallagher family.
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