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`Shameless’ pushes U.K. limits

Series also ready to invade U.S. shores

LONDON — No other British TV drama series has won more peer group approval and critical plaudits in recent times than the multiple award-winning “Shameless.”

To say this painfully funny comedy is edgy would be an understatement.

Shameless” depicts the chaotic adventures of a not-so-everyday dysfunctional family surviving in a grim corner of blue-collar Manchester given over to the underclass. The show’s central character, Frank Gallagher, is a wasted non-achiever, heavy drinker, serial adulterer and drug abuser to boot.

Inevitably, you can’t but feel a tender spot for Frank as he staggers haplessly from one crisis to another, a feckless failure in an aspirational society that has bypassed him completely. Gallagher, played by David Threlfall, is one of British TV’s most fully realized characters — up there with Basil Fawlty and Albert Steptoe (“Steptoe and Son” was adapted for the U.S. as “Sanford and Son”).

Supporting roles and production values are also top notch.

“Shameless” was launched by Channel 4 in 2004. Immediately the critics fell hard for the series: “magnificent” opined London’s Evening Standard, “genius” swooned the Guardian.

Four seasons later, the program looks to have reached a watershed moment. The fifth run, in pre-production, is to consist of 16 one-hour episodes instead of eight, all to be filmed on a specially created set rather than shot on an actual Manchester public housing estate.

“It’s our real chance to show that we can do long-running stuff,” said a member of the production team last week to journos who were given a tour of the new “Shameless” HQ.

And now the show is crossing the Pond. Creator/writer Paul Abbott sold the rights to U.S. producer John Wells (“ER,” “The West Wing”) several years back.

At a time when a lot of high-profile U.K. dramas are being developed for the States — “Life on Mars” and “Footballers’ Wives” are among the pilot contenders — “Shameless” nonetheless offers a unique challenge for Abbott and his new U.S. colleagues.

Despite Abbott’s success, he will need no reminding of the pitfalls that await him when transferring series across the Atlantic. He was a staff writer on U.K. hit “Cracker” — also set among the mean streets of Manchester — but the show, which was aired on ABC in 1997, was axed in its first season and was widely regarded as being inferior to the British original.

That was a decade ago. In the intervening years, audiences on both sides of the Atlantic have moved on.

It will be intriguing to see what the North American version of “Shameless” ends up looking like, and if the show can survive a 16-episode run back home in the U.K.

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