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William H. Macy and cast shall remain ‘Shameless’

William H. Macy relishes playing drunk unpredictable Frank Gallagher “Shameless.” | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

William H. Macy relishes playing the drunk and unpredictable Frank Gallagher on “Shameless.” | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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‘SHAMELESS’ ★★★1/2

8 to 9 p.m. Sundays on Showtime

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Updated: February 5, 2012 8:04AM

‘Did anyone notice it’s snowing?” asked an exasperated — and cold — Emmy Rossum. She plays Fiona, the de facto head of one of television’s most dysfunctional families, the Gallaghers, on Showtime’s black-as-coal comedy “Shameless.”

Standing near a pathetic Halloween pumpkin on the rickety front porch of the Gallaghers’ West Side home, Rossum was in the middle of another retake for a scene in the Chicago-set program, starting its second season at 8 p.m. Sunday. (Viewers can tune in even if they don’t subscribe to the premium cable network; Showtime is running a free preview weekend through Sunday.)

Most of “Shameless” is shot at the Warner Bros. lot in sunny Burbank, Calif. The cast comes to Chicago a couple of times a year to film exterior scenes.

On this chilly Nov. 10 morning it wasn’t much fun being outside, as evidenced by some of the actors huddled under blankets in the alley, clutching packets of hand warmers as if they were at Everest base camp.

“We’re all wimps,” actor William H. Macy said, referring to his fellow Angelinos. “This is deer huntin’ weather! I love it! Not that I’m much of a deer hunter.”

A few of these production hiccups — unexpected autumn snow, the cacophony of Metra and L trains blasting by simultaneously — seem entirely apropos on a show like “Shameless,” where chaos reigns supreme.

Adapted from a long-running British TV series by the same name, the program revolves around one hot mess of a family perpetually living in survival mode.

Macy plays Frank Gallagher, the booze-soaked, absentee patriarch of six kids. Just when you think Frank can’t sink any lower (faking his own funeral, hooking up with his son’s girlfriend, selling fake drugs to kids, the list goes on), he always manages to find a new nadir.

“It’s the role of the century,” Macy said outside the Gallagher house at 2119 S. Homan.

The home happens to be inhabited by a real family. “They have an adorable little kid; I’m in there playing Legos with him in between shots,” said Emma Kenney, 12, who plays Frank’s freckled daughter, Debbie.

During this particular scene, Emma had the thankless job of ushering Pops up the porch stairs in a drunken stupor. Macy was dressed in full Frank Gallagher getup, sporting a dirty-looking Canadian tuxedo (denim jacket and jeans).

“I love the irascibility of it, the political incorrectness of it,” Macy said of the role. He’s especially pumped up for season two, in which his character has “three fantastic little arcs.”

“I had a goal for this season,” Macy said. “I wanted to go a little deeper into what makes Frank, Frank. And I got my wish.”

With a dad like Frank, the cash-strapped Gallagher children are left to raise themselves. Mom is mostly M.I.A., shacking up with her tough-talking lesbian lover.

Put-upon Fiona, the oldest sibling, has pushed her dreams aside to take care of more pressing matters, like changing 2-year-old Liam’s diapers and making sure the electricity bill gets paid, even if it’s with money young Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) pilfered from a church collection plate or bribes paid to Lip (Jeremy Allen White) for taking the SAT on behalf of less talented students.

At the end of season one, Fiona reluctantly passed up the chance to run away to Costa Rica with her car thief boyfriend, Steve (Justin Chatwin). Viewers were left with a crestfallen Steve getting stood up at Midway Airport (even though it was supposed to be O’Hare — oops).

The season wrapped with another character, Eddie, committing suicide at his ice-fishing tent after his daughter e-mailed him a sex tape of her and Frank. What made it even worse is that Frank is the live-in boyfriend of this sad sack’s estranged wife, Sheila, played with delightful eccentricity by Chicago native Joan Cusack.

None of this sounds very funny, you say?

“Shameless” definitely isn’t your conventional comedy. In fact, almost nothing about this series is conventional. That’s part of the appeal. We’ve seen poor people go through tough times on TV, but not like this. The boundary-pushing story lines are edgy and uncomfortable. The characters are, well, unapologetically shameless, but you end up loving them for it. The show’s a tornado, and you can’t help but get sucked into its riotous vortex.

For the sophomore season, which starts in the middle of a hot Chicago summer, Macy wrote episode six along with old Chicago buddy Steven Schachter. The two were co-founders of the city’s legendary St. Nicholas Theatre Co. (along with playwright David Mamet) in the ’70s.

He and Schachter also had some “infamous” parties at the Wrigleyville three-flat Macy co-owned back in the day. Macy didn’t elaborate, but the glint in his eye hinted that those were some parties Frank Gallagher might have enjoyed.

When the fledgling St. Nick’s theater needed some seats for the audience, Macy recalled finding old wooden chairs at a local dump. In a move right out of the Frank Gallagher playbook, he attempted to pay for them with a check — a check he knew would bounce.

“You don’t f--- around with junkyard owners,” Macy said, adding that the Lutheran in him eventually “got the better of me, and when I went back to get the second batch [of chairs], I told the guy the check is gonna bounce but we promise to pay you.”

Frank Gallagher finds himself in a similar quandary in season two’s premiere, but his debt doesn’t stem from theater seats. And his approach to paying off the money he owes definitely isn’t Lutheran.

Just like there’s the tiniest bit of Frank Gallagher in Macy, the same can be said of local actor Ethan Cutkosky, 12, who plays the mischievous, young Carl Gallagher.

“I like to get in a little trouble,” confessed Ethan, a sixth-grader at Thompson Middle School in west suburban St. Charles.

The second-degree black belt in tae kwon do is an animal lover. He has a pet gecko, a chameleon and two cats.

His character, Carl, is a fan of animals, too. But for different reasons.

“Unlike Carl,” Ethan said, “I don’t want to hurt them.”

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