Whenever I talk about the series Shameless with another human being, the question that I logically expect to hear at some point is, “What’s the show about?”
This question is easy to answer for some series. Take a look at these answers.
“Lucifer is about Satan—Lucifer Morningstar—who has bored of ruling Hell and has chosen to spend some time in Los Angeles, California, where he runs a popular nightclub and becomes involved with a pretty homicide detective. He helps her solve crimes.”
“Kim’s Convenience is a sitcom about a Korean family who owns and operates a convenience store in Canada.”
“Bosch is a serial crime drama, based on the series of novels written by Michael Connelly about Los Angeles homicide detective Harry Bosch, who is a bit of a maverick with a strict code of justice.”
Then, there is Shameless.
It is a serial dramedy about the dysfunctional Gallagher family from Chicago’s South Side.
While this is a truthful description of the show, it hardly captures the essence of the series, in my opinion. Reading my own bland description of the show doesn’t even make me want to watch it. It deserves something better.
The situations change too often in this show for it ever to be considered a situation comedy. But, at the same time, too many humorous things happen on the series for it to be considered strictly a drama. Rather than focusing on a single plot, the series is instead more character driven, with each main character the star of their own individual stories.
After watching this series for eight seasons, I am fully invested in the characters on the show. All plot originates in character, in my opinion. At least, in well-told stories. Shameless exemplifies this way of thinking.
Fiona Gallagher (Emmy Rossum) remains as one of the shining lights on this show. I hesitate to call her the “star” of the series—certainly, that would have to be Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy)—but, there is something about Rossum’s portrayal of Fiona that demands your undivided attention. After purchasing an apartment building with last season’s unexpected windfall, Fiona works hard at becoming a landlord in this one. She befriends Nessa (Jessica Szohr), a lesbian tenant whose girlfriend is the bitchy Mel (Perry Mattfeld). Szohr became a main cast member of Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville during its second season (still waiting on Season 3, Seth). And, Perry Mattfeld currently stars on The CW’s In The Dark as the blind and sassy Murphy Mason. Nessa introduces Fiona to her love-interest-of-the-season Ford (Richard Flood), a mysterious Irish carpenter, who I’ve also seen on television since then. On a medical drama, I think.
My second-favorite character is Phillip “Lip” Gallagher (Jeremy Allen White). Lip continues to work at the motorcycle shop with Brad (Scott Michael Campbell). He begins a weird relationship with co-worker Eddie (Levy Tran), who likes things rough. He deals with new drama with Professor Youens (Alan Rosenberg), and that particular character arc is tied off this season with some finality. Lip attempts to rekindle his romance with Sierra Morton (Ruby Modine), with some mixed results. The actress is Matthew Modine’s daughter, something I just found out while writing this review. Meanwhile, Lip’s part-time lover Eddie abandons her niece Xan (Scarlet Spencer), which leads to Lip informally “adopting” her before Child Services picks her up.
While I always enjoy the scenes featuring Lip, his seasonal character arc seemed unfocused and wandering. With only twelve episodes in the season, and not much time to wander aimlessly, that’s saying a lot. It seems that the writers like the character as well, but don’t know exactly what to do with him.
Meanwhile, Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan) becomes a gay activist and icon. His bipolarity comes into play when he quits taking his medication and commits impulsive acts that both earn him the moniker “Gay Jesus” and land him in trouble with the authorities.
Carl Gallagher (Ethan Cutkosky) begins dating the erratic Kassadi, and marries her during the season. Debbie Gallagher (Emma Kenney) becomes a welder and loses some toes with Frank’s help. Neighbors Kevin Ball (Steve Howey) and Veronica Fisher (Shanola Hampton) take The Alibi bar back from Svetlana (Isidora Goreshter), who agrees to a co-ownership arrangement. Kev and V also help Svetlana land an elderly, rich husband, after which she disappears from the Gallagher Saga, perhaps forever.
Frank Gallagher, the father of this disfunctional clan, continues to move through all of the individual stories like a force of nature. He commits to becoming a better person, gets a real job, takes an active role in Liam’s education and joins the PTA, and then begins an import-export business that involves sneaking in and out of Canada. Without revealing everything that happens, I’ll just say that Frank can’t really deny his true nature.
Liam (Christian Isaiah) is not quite old enough to get his own independent character arc yet. But, you can tell it’s coming. There’s still three seasons to go, and we’ve already seen Debbie and Carl become more active participants in the overarching story.
What else happens during the season? There’s a general rule that applies to all dramas. When things seem to be going too well for your characters, a disaster of some kind lies just around the bend. And, on no show is this rule demonstrated as blatantly as it is on Shameless. At one point in the season, the Gallaghers have to dig up Monica’s coffin to retrieve the meth “inheritance” that Fiona sent to the grave with her mother. And the season ends with the arrest of at least one Gallagher. These two statements, oddly, are not even spoilers.
Maybe I find it difficult to explain what this show is about in one, or two, sentences. It’s about the Gallaghers, both together and separately as individual characters. It will cause you to laugh, cringe, get angry and even cry at times.
After eight seasons, the tread on the tires is getting a bit thin. There may be a hint of desperation in some of the storylines, a floundering to give all of the Gallaghers and their extended “family” a bit of time in the sun. In this respect, the drama can begin to feel a bit contrived and sometimes predictable. While this doesn’t lessen my overall enjoyment of the series itself, it does make me aware of the intertwining stories as a created thing, waking me—however briefly—from the fictive dream.
I’m still interested in finding out what happens to the Gallaghers, however. And, I’m still entertained.
Firewater’s Time-to-Go-Gallagher Report Card: B+
While no longer new and only rarely surprising, there’s still some gas left in the series’ tank. I’m still watching.