Season 4 of Shameless dares to go a little dark.
We never expect things to go smoothly with the Gallaghers, our favorite family in Chicago’s South Side. And, they don’t this season either.
We do expect things to remain entertaining, however. They do continue to entertain, but the drama this year, as I said at the top, can’t help but to go to the dark side. Frank faces death with the same sort of disregard for human decency that he faced life. Fiona continues with her penchant for toxic relationships and has to pay the consequences for her own self-destructive behavior.
I’m not shying away from spoilers in what follows. Stop reading now if you don’t want the story ruined for you.
Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy) tracks down his eldest daughter, Samantha “Sammi” Slott (Emily Bergl), who none of the other Gallaghers knows even exists, because he’s desperate for a new liver and hopes she’s a match. Sammi lives with her overweight son, Chuckie (Kellen Michael), in a trailer. She’s not a donor match, but she does begin caring for Frank as his health declines. In this season, Sammi comes across as a sympathetic character who genuinely wants to help the father she’s never known.
In an attempt to raise money for the $150,000 transplant, Frank enlists Carl’s assistance in breaking his leg. Carl Gallagher (Ethan Cutkosky) continues along his path to being a convicted felon throughout the season. Aside from his insurance fraud scheme with Frank, he attempts to make money with a dognapping scheme, then connects for a time with a young girl named Bonnie (Morgan Lily), who is more than his match in recklessness and violence. Carl is stepping into more of a main character role this season.
Fiona Gallagher (Emily Rossum) tries on corporate American, working as a cup salesperson and beginning a meet-cute relationship with her boss, Mike Pratt (Jake McDorman). Mike is a nice guy, which turns out to be a problem. Mike’s brother, Robbie (Nick Gehlfuss), is not a nice guy, but it seems that Fiona has a type. Fiona torpedoes her relationship with Mike, and then lands in a world of trouble because Robbie gave her a bag of cocaine for her birthday. Baby brother Liam (Brenden Sims) somehows gets into the cocaine, and Fiona ends up arrested for the accident. Her life is instantly turned upside down and forever changed. Fiona ends up having to serve a 90-day sentence, and is now a convicted felon.
Phillip “Lip” Gallagher (Jeremy Allen White) no longer lives at the house as he begins his first year of college. School has always come easy for Lip, but he finds that he has to struggle a bit as he makes the adjustment to college. His work-study is as a school cafeteria worker. When Fiona gets in trouble with the law, he has to juggle school, work and family drama. Lip gets some unexpected assistance from Amanda (Nichole Bloom), his roommate’s girlfriend, and he suddenly finds himself in a relationship with her. Lip has been one of my favorite characters. His role seems a bit reduced this season to me. Maybe because he doesn’t interact with the rest of the family as much.
Stan, the owner of dive bar The Alibi, where Kevin Ball (Steve Howey) bartends, suddenly dies and leaves the bar to Kev, which is a mixed blessing. In their quest for parenthood, Kev impregnates both his wife, V (Shanola Hampton), and her mother Carol (Vanessa Bell Calloway). Veronica is pregnant with triplets. After Carol gives birth to a baby boy, she decides she wants to keep it to raise.
Sheila Jackson (Joan Cusack), meets a Native American cowboy with five children online and begins dating him. When Frank seems to be on his last legs, she marries him in the hospital, and she and Sammi try to get Frank a new liver, by any means necessary. Their efforts seem to be for naught, but indirectly lead Frank to a new liver to destroy.
Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan) returns to the show, AWOL from the army. He works at a gay bar and seems to be engaging in a lot of risky behavior. Turns out that Ian is bipolar just like dear old mom, and his affliction comes to the fore by the end of the season. Meanwhile, Ian’s boyfriend, Mickey Milkovich (Noel Fisher), decides to come out as gay in front of his father and everyone at The Alibi. He is in love with Ian and is willing to do the thing he dreaded most for their continued relationship.
Debbie Gallagher (Emma Kenney) is growing up too fast and strikes up a relationship with a 20-year-old pizza delivery guy. Debbie is in a hurry to give up her virginity. The young man doesn’t want a statuatory rape charge and rejects Debbie’s advances. Her attempt to connect with boys her own age ends with shame and ridicule from her peers.
As the season ends, we see that Jimmy (Justin Chatwin), formerly known as “Steve,” is very much alive and has returned to Chicago. Now, he’s going by the name “Jack.” He’s sure to shake up things further in Season 5.
This ensemble dramedy remains entertaining. No one ever truly expects the Gallagher family to emerge as winners in this series, I guess. But, the setbacks and emotional lowpoints in this season are often overwhelming. The show still has the same dark allure as a traffic accident. Sometimes I don’t want to watch it, but just can’t help myself.
Nothing socially redeeming about this series. Abandon that expectation before you begin watching.
Firewater’s Get-Hard-Drugs-Make-Daddy-Proud Report Card: A-
Still good. Maybe not as good, but still good.