Sunday Must Watch: Showtime Premiere Night – CALIFORNICATION, EPISODES, and SHAMELESS

Showtime has a big night tonight, starting with the solid Season 4 premiere of CALIFORNICATION.  At the end of season 3, Hank came clean to Karen about his tryst with Mia and everything that followed; the argument ended with Hank in a cop car and his future unknown.  The opener of Season 4 finds Hank bailed out of jail to find out that the truth about F***ing and Punching has made him a hit again.  The book is huge and Hollywood is dying to make the movie version.  The same can’t be said for his home life as Karen and Becca aren’t exactly as forgiving.   By his side, as always, is Runkle, helping Hank to find a great new lawyer (Carla Gugino at her tough as nails best), and to keep looking on the bright side.

The premiere sets up a fantastic season of Hank trying to remain cool as a cucumber under the pressure of possible jail time and the need to rewrite the script for F&P.  The show is firing on all cylinders – a great cast as always, led my Duchovny who is playing Hank as nonchalant but scare at the same time; great guest stars like Rob Lowe and Stephen Toblowsky; writing that’s sharp and smart; and just utterly depressing, in the best way possible.  Definitely must watch TV.

After CALIFORNICATION, the first of two series premieres airs.  EPISODES (9:30/8:30c) is a Showtime/BBC collaboration, follows the story of Sean and Beverly Lincoln (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Grieg), two British screenwriters whose TV series Lyman’s Boys has just won a BAFTA.  At the awards ceremony, US TV exec Merc Lapidus (the super funny John Pankow), approaches them about turning their hit series into a US version.  What starts as a literal translation of the series quickly changes from a headmaster at a prep school to a hockey coach, and before long, Sean and Beverly are roped into casting Matt LeBlanc (playing an off the wall version of himself) against their wishes.

Over the course of 7 episodes, the series looks at how far from the original a US version can travel before the pilot is done.  Grieg and Mangan are fantastic – watching what happens to their marriage as the show becomes laborious versus a straight labor of love is some of the best stuff on TV this season.  Their chemistry with Matt LeBlanc is great and a salt ‘n pepper haired LeBlanc is doing fantastic work.  The show takes an episode or two to really take off, but by the time I finished watching the full first season, I couldn’t wait for more.

Closing out the night is the premiere of the US version of UK’s long running, BAFTA award winning series, SHAMELESS.  The show stars William H Macy as Frank Gallagher, the alcoholic, single father of 6, who spends any money he has on partying, while his children, led by never-better Emmy Rossum (Fiona), struggle to make ends meet.  The premiere, very similar to that of the original, aside from the location and various small things, introduces us to the whole family – Frank and Fiona, as well as Lip and Ian (my favorite characters without question, as Lip realizes Ian is struggling with his sexuality), Debbie, Carl, and baby Liam who is most likely not even Frank’s, plus sex-crazed neighbors Veronica and Kev (Steve Howey is outstanding), Lip’s “hum job” loving girlfriend Karen, her agoraphobic mother Sheila (Joan Cusack gets better with every minute she’s on screen), and Fiona’s probably soul mate Steve (the infinitely charming Justin Chatwin).

While the pilot packs in a whole lot of story that made it feel 10 or 15 minutes too long and not enough time is spent on how much it seems that Frank hates his children, the show settles into a nice rhythm with episodes 2 and 3.  Like many, I was surprised with how little we saw of Macy in the first episode (and how MUCH we saw of Rossum, for the matter), but after the introductions are made and the premise is established, the show kicks into gear as a solid dark (sometimes too dark) comedy with a poverty-stricken family at the center.

Showtime’s night of premieres kicks off at 9/8c.