Television Review: Has Shameless Gone Aimless?
With the conclusion of Season 8 of the popular Showtime comedy-drama Shameless, I am sad to report that the show is beginning to show signs of wear. A guaranteed to please fixture of the network’s television lineup, Shameless has always been poignant and relatable. Thought the plot occasionally ambles from time to time, what it usually lacks in direction, it makes up for with compelling character portraits, charming us into adoration for the problem-plagued members of the Gallagher clan.
This season found Fiona (Emmy Rossum) fixing up her newly acquired building and learning the ins and outs of being a landlord (exciting stuff). She manages to get herself into hot water when she hires a roofing contractor who isn’t licensed. When there is an accident and one of the guys falls off the roof, Fiona finds out that being out of work will make the man (and his family) homeless and lets them move into her apartment until he can work things out. Suddenly, they are squatters and they lock Fiona out, setting up permanent residence and suing Fiona for millions of dollars. Though the scenario was occasionally good for a laugh, there has never been a season where Fiona felt as purposeless to the show as this one. She starts a relationship with an aloof artisan named Ford (Richard Flood) who is arguably the most annoying character the series has introduced since Sammy showed her insane face. Ford’s indifference to Fiona’s emotions and his penchant for putting her in awkward situations is supposed to make him mysterious and unconventional. It doesn’t. It makes him a jerk and every moment Fiona spends with him, Shameless suffers.
Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan) was, early on, one of the show’s most fascinating characters, and one of the show’s most complex in terms of how he was a young gay man who didn’t fit stereotype. He used sex as a means for survival, getting what he wanted or needed, but always had that rough and tough exterior that made him “of the neighborhood”. Then, Ian began to struggle with bipolar disorder and the writers somehow decided that should be the demise of logic for this character, sending him on aimless storylines to underscore just how “lost” he is. This season was the newest foray into Ian nonsense, this time throwing him into role of “Gay Jesus”, his alter ego as a crime-fighting gay man who helps gay, lesbian, and transgender youth escape unaccepting parents who would prefer they “pray away the gay”. I know that this sounds like an interesting turn for his character, but it really doesn’t go anywhere and Ian takes things too far (as usual) because that is what bi-polar people always do. His relationship with Trevor (Elliott Fletcher), once a beautiful thing, has turned into an angst-ridden soap opera. It doesn’t help that Trevor is given almost no depth or background, but is simply there are the “transgender guy who runs a youth center.” Where is the substance? Where is the purpose?
Even Frank (William H. Macy) is not to be believed this season. The ne’er-do-well found a job this season, working at a Home Depot-type store where he was actually-succeeding. Just as he thinks he is about to be promoted, he finds out that he is being laid off instead. Ludicrously (Frank is not this stupid), he decides he will retire and live on Social Security. When he finds out he hasn’t worked on the books enough for his benefit to amount to anything, he decides he had better find a new scheme to get rich quick. From smuggling illegal immigrants into Canada to using his son Liam (Christian Isaiah) so scam the rich parents of the kid’s private school, it is the usual Frank. The problem is, the writers never let his character stick with any one thing long enough to fully realize the potential of each scam. It’s indicative of the writing for Shameless this season: throw it at the wall and see if it sticks, then abandon it, regardless.
The other characters fare slightly better. Debbie’s (Emma Kenney) welding career is put on hold when, while scabbing, her foot is damaged and she loses three toes. Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) finds himself with an obsessed girlfriend named Kassidi (Sammi Hanratty) who doesn’t want him to return to military school. In order to placate her, he agrees to marry the psycho nag and then sneaks off to boarding school anyway. Lip (Jeremy Allen White) begins to see his alcoholic friends lose the battle to their disease, even as Lip does everything he can to help them. White, who gives one of the show’s most nuanced performances, creates empathy and we root for him to escape his demons. It just seems like his character invites too many subsequent storylines this season, and so we don’t quite get the best of Lip in this stretch of the show.
Shameless has gone aimless, and though I was a diehard fan of the show until recently, Season 8 is where the cracks are beginning to show. Perhaps it is time for Showtime to wrap up this comedy-drama and give the Gallagher’s the resolution they deserve. It has been a great run for the a show and one season more is about all it can stand before it disintegrates into nonsense (i.e. Weeds). Have the show build toward something. Tie up those loose ends and send it off in style. Find a truly Shameless way to do it.