Meet Frank Gallagher, a drunken self-important loser and paterfamilias of a fairly gross, fairly awesome family in some poor area of Chicago or something. He's got about a billion kids, who frankly would be better off if he disappeared one day; wife's out of the picture. The oldest, Fiona, is super gorgeous and super messed up in her head. She raises the kids and tries not to be totally disappointed in her circumstances, which is like this Herculean task, because her life is objectively repulsive. She starts out being the most important one, but they're all going to end up pretty important.
The two oldest boys are Lip and Ian, a study in contrasts: Lip is smart in that hood-rat way, ethically challenged; Ian is super responsible and keyed up and honorable, but as we'll see, he also has his share of iffy secrets. Then there's Debbie, who is sort of like in that movie Stigmata where they talk about how the closer you are to being a saint, the closer you are also getting to true evil: She's both at once, and it's fantastic. Carl and Liam are the babies. Carl's an eight-year-old psycho in training, and Liam is mysteriously black: "I'm no biologist, but he looks a little bit like my first sponsor. He and the ex were close."
Anyway, he discusses other people we'll meet in a bit, and then it's morning: Fiona passes around a cereal box for money to pay the electric, and they all toss in. Because they are a family of grifters and thieves, everybody has something to contribute except the babies. There's a lot of whirling camera action as we see just how busy a morning is when you have a million kids, and just how busy a morning can be when you're poor Fiona. She hands Liam over to Debbie in lieu of a real Show & Tell ("Show them the birthmark on his back, it looks like Latvia"), gets their shared cell -- what you call a Ghetto Family Plan -- from Lip (fourteen minutes left), feeds the kids, collects almost enough to keep the lights on, et cetera.
There's a bunch of smash-cuts and slow-mo and speed-up and whatever, the editing better calm down soon because it was annoying in the UK version but straight up dickless here and I don't want to discuss it at all. I mean, at least they had reasons to be all self-satisfied and dorkily overproduced: One, have you ever seen British TV, and two, the pilot here is practically shot-for-shot the original one, which was 2004 I think. Which is like 1998 in UK years. (And I'm not being racist or whatever, it's a continuum: 2011 here is like 1950 in Japan years.)
Fiona has so many jobs it's resulted in at least a 1% reduction in overall national employment numbers. One of them is at a pretzel place, where she is -- chronically -- overworked, today because their coworker's son tagged a cop car with the cop inside. I think they should give awards for something like that. Some hot fratty guys try and flirt with Fiona, which brightens things for a second until they're walking away: "Tap that ass? Once, if I double-bagged it. Project girls don't abort."
Hurts her feelings, why wouldn't it, but like how is it that young women in low-income areas are simultaneously known for their constant abortions and their welfare-queen baby-having? Surely you can't be hated for both, at the same time, by the same brain. It's like how no Republican would ever allow a tax break for artists like they have in Ireland -- that's the only time taxes are a good idea, when they come out of an artist's income. Either that makes sense to you or it does not. Nothing but hoes and tricks.
God, hating poor people is really complicated now. In my day it was as simple as paying them to fight one another for the internet. Then came the Mad Hatter's Tea Party and now poor people are the new rich people, and rich people think they're poor, and everybody's mad at the rich people, who are also them, and the only people upset about gentrification are the rich white kids doing the gentrifying and making silkscreens bitching about it because affluent is the new hipster and nothing means anything and maybe never did. It's actually somewhat soothing.
Lip heads over to Joan Cusack's house for one of his many jobs, tutoring -- he's good at the maths -- and due to her molysmophobic fear of dirt, Joan Cusack makes him put his shoes in a plastic bag specifically for the purpose. A few minutes later, after some bizarrely adorable mnemonic devices of his own devising -- "Midget naked witch is bending over, and she's crying because she lost one ear and she can't find it" -- Karen's blowing him. He reminds her that tutoring is his job (and today's the last brick in the electric bill wall) and they agree that he's getting paid either way.
Everybody continues in a state of rest or uniform motion unless acted upon by an external force, Lip says, on his way to blowing. Better definition for this show than anything I could have said.
Fiona's getting ready to go out, running from room to room, when Lip finds Ian's collection of gay porn. He sort of vibes in the air for awhile as the universe changes shape around him, but he seems to be okay mostly. Fiona's best friend Veronica shows up and snips off the tag of Fiona's dress -- she's got a gun to stick it on later, from when she worked at TJ Maxx. This is, as we'll see, characteristic of Veronica. Like everybody else, she's equally awesome and vile, which means she's like everybody else, which is what this show is about. Also, this episode specifically, it's about the washing machine. Any time anybody's in the kitchen, especially Fiona, something draws attention to the jacked-up washing machine: She has to prop a chair against the door to keep it shut, that kind of thing. Poor people ingenuity or salient plotpoint? We will see.
At the club, a boy named Steve watches Fiona from the balcony and seems bedazzled by her dancing. He'll do a skin-crawlingly overworked speech about it later, but it will still be confusing because she still looks pretty much like shit even when she's all prettied up to go out. A dude dances with her for a second and then steals her purse, and Steve makes all kinda messes trying to give chase. By the end, Steve and both girls are standing out on the sidewalk watching the gun run away, and being impressed by Steve's futile, heroic attempt.
Steve was going to buy Fiona a drink anyway -- at which Fiona bristles, because Steve's kind of posh and because it's what she does -- but then the bouncer won't let them back in. They didn't stop to get a stamp while chasing the man, and the bouncer's being a dick about it. There's a very pointy moment where Veronica and Fiona sort of surge at the guy, while Steve hangs back, like they get way too mad way too fast in this technically perfect simulation of what happens when oppressed people find a fight they think they can win and/or against arbitrary authority. The Harper Valley PTA effect. Or you know, rioting.
Anyway, Fiona is spittin' and pissed and the guy ends up barring them all -- but only after she intuits that maybe the bouncer is in on it. (Which: How would that work? "And then after I take their money, you refuse to let them back in the club. We'll be zillionaires!") So whatever, they're done and Fiona's now broke, so they're going to take a cab home... But first, Steve punches the bouncer so hard he falls over and then the three of them run off into the night so Steve can give them a ride back.
Lip lasts about five seconds, up on the bunkbed, before he can't take it anymore. He needs to talk about two things, with Ian, and one leads to the other. First, the blowjob from Karen Jackson, which Ian doesn't believe because Lip didn't tell him right away -- they're close, in age and proximity both -- and then when Lip asks if he's ever gotten one himself. Ian pulls out the pot, lights a joint. They're both grateful for that. It's never been this strange before, with them. With sex. Ian gets nervous but admits he has, a time or two. And so why didn't he tell? Lip produces