If you missed Shameless last year, there is no reason to worry. A cast member or two will be ready at the top of Dec. 6’s premiere to curse you for being the spoiled suburban princess that you are.
But as enjoyable as every season of irrepressible Gallagher behavior can be, there’s little denying that each year features something so Shameless that it dwarfs the rest of the bad behavior that came before it. These are moments that are so crass in their unapologetic depravity that they transcend being more broken furniture on the South Side, and instead become a true work of Gallagher (or Milkovich) art. There are quite a few of these Gallagher-ups, but we’ve boiled it down to the 15 essentials ahead of the final season.
15. The Time When Karen Jackson Finally Became “Daddy’s Girl”….
Karen is a very difficult character to like. While undoubtedly sympathetic because of her upbringing at the hands of a Catholic hypocrite and a love-smothering agoraphobe, she is also a girl who messed with Lip’s head three-ways to Sunday and would rather feed her special needs kid to the system than let her mother raise him.
However, her earliest sign of wrathful vengeance is also one that is totally justified, and a subversively hilarious bit from Season 1. When her dad slut shames her in front of the local church community after she confesses to her (admittedly many) lustful sins, she gets back at him and then some. She dyes her hair, she gets facial piercings… and she seduces (or rapes) a very drunk, defenseless Frank Gallagher before sending daddy the viral video at work.
It is sick, underhanded, and somehow a completely cathartic moment of television. Frank’s inebriated actions with the 16-year-old daughter of his girlfriend on the other hand… At least, Karen finally reconciled with her dad when she defecated on his tombstone.
14. The Time When Hurricane Monica Swept up Baby Liam….
Looking back, there are a lot of instances where tiny baby Liam was used as a prop for mean-spirited Shameless writing. Yet one of the cruelest abuses came at the hand of his own mother. All of season 1 felt like Fiona, Lip, and Ian trying to keep their heads above water with their younger, more innocent siblings watching as helplessly as their drunken, deadbeat dad. It ultimately raised the question: where is their mother and why is she gone?
Well, after two hours with Hurricane Monica, every viewer knew that it’d have been better if she had never returned. At first, Monica is always smiles and lollipops for the kids she abandoned, even more thoroughly than Frank who at least wanders past the old homestead for drug money every couple of weeks.
However, she makes her intentions clear when she attempts to take Liam as her only child to be raised with the new lesbian truck driving “love of her life.” It is a quiet admission that she screwed up royally raising her other kids, so she’d rather just start from scratch with Liam, a new life to destroy while ignoring the rest of the blood of her blood. It is a horrifically callous thing to do to one’s own kids, and probably a fate even more horrible for Liam, who despite his troubles in Season 4, never ended up in the crack den that Monica would.
13. Hurricane Monica Attempts Suicide for Thanksgiving
A sadder moment of shamelessness, this, Monica upsets what was an otherwise happy Thanksgiving at the end of season 2. While no turkey had been carved, there was plenty of bald eagle (courtesy of Carl), and good cheer going around between the whole clan, including a reunited Fionna and Simmy (Steve/Jimmy).
It does not last though when Monica, suffering another bout of depression due to her Bipolar disorder, goes into the kitchen and decides to carve her own arm. There is something definitely depressing about her not being able to handle moments of happiness. But it’s also dispiriting the whole family can’t even have a Thanksgiving without at least one Gallagher going to the hospital. Happy holidays, folks.
12. The Time When Frank Traded Liam In For a Gambling Debt…
This could just be a list of Frank’s 15 most shameless moments, because here is a man who never met a good decision that he didn’t puke at the sight of before running in the other direction with a cackle. In truth though, it wasn’t entirely Frank’s fault that Liam became leverage for his gambling debt after he challenged (with more than a hint of racism) a fellow Alibi bar patron that he couldn’t stay conscious through two taser blasts (spoiler alert: he did). So Frank took Liam without permission from his more responsible kids as a panhandling prop to gather the $10,000 due.
And when the drug dealing shark came to collect, and then kidnapped his son as collateral, Frank not only ignored them taking Liam but shrugged it off without telling Fiona, Lip, or anyone that could take responsibility. Nope, Frank just shrugged off his son’s kidnapping, proving once again that he is God’s perfect asshole.
11. The Time When Fiona Slept with Her Boyfriend/Boss’s Brother…Twice (or more)…
Emmy Rosusm‘s Fiona committed spectacular career and relationship suicide when she let lovably bland Mike’s older, drug-addicted brother tap into her own addiction for sex with complete morons. Robbie is the kind of guy who will do cocaine tomorrow and, well past 30, ask his parents to flip for his spa rehab treatment tomorrow. In short he’s the perfect target for Fi to blow things with Mr. Vanilla, who wanted to do stuff like take her out to dinner for her birthday or have a phone chat every night.
Mike isn’t for Fiona, but talk about throwing the race to get past the poverty line right at the photo finish. When Robbie calls Fi an addict for sex, excitement, and all other momentary vices, she begrudgingly believes him. Sadly, it sets up a far less characteristic screw-up involving cocaine and Liam that is less shameless and more tragic…
10. The Time When the Milkoviches Dug a Grave in the Mary Kay Letourneau Stand-In’s Front Yard…
That is one way to get rid of the competition! When Lip Gallagher discovered that a child predator lived in the neighborhood, he set up one of Shameless’ best gags by gathering an eclectic posse of otherwise isolated factions to kick this guy’s ass. Except it wasn’t a guy, it was a hot 20-something blonde teacher who likes them young. Real young. Lip still wanted her ass, but in a very different way. After erstwhile-girlfriend Mandy Milkovich figures out what’s going on, she gathers Mickey and her other brothers to handle things the Milkovich way—a style far beyond those Gallaghers pansies.
When Miss Thing opens her door one chilly evening, she meets a chipper Mandy, smiling as the big bros are four feet deep in a freshly dug hole in the garden. Mandy gives her a choice: she can pack all the things she can in the next 15 minutes and go, or wait for the Milkoviches to reach the magic number of six feet and go in the hole. As Mandy grins at one less predator in Chicago fleeing into the midnight darkness, anyone could tell that Mandy was more than a little disappointed she couldn’t fill the hole with more than a threat; luckily, her brothers had some other poor faceless schmo ready to go. Never waste a perfectly good grave, especially in soil that soft!
9. The Time Debbie Gallagher Got Pregnant to Keep a Guy
Debbie Gallagher had a rough childhood. Fiona did her best as the older sister trying to also play den mother, but she really couldn’t give Debbie the type of attention she needed, or the family life she craved. And crave it, she did. So much so that when she became a teenager and faced the prospect of a life outside the Gallagher house, she decided she might make one of her own, immediately, especially if it could “trap” a guy.
So in season 5, she makes the conscious choice to lie about “being on the pill” when she has sex with Derek at the age of 16. And upon getting pregnant, she thinks she will be able to keep the boy and have Fiona to help raise it while she finishes school. Instead Fi tries to force her into an abortion, which is its own thorny issue, but then so is Debs keeping the baby she thinks will earn her the family life she always craved. Instead Franny puts her on the path of dropping out of high school and having a responsibility she just as often tries to shirk as take seriously.
8. The Time When Debbie Saved the House…by Accusing Cousin Patrick of Molestation
Oh, they grow up so fast, don’t they? When the series started Debs was the loving younger Gallagher sister who only wanted Frank to spend more time in the house, and maybe to have a Great Aunt Ginger around to bake them cookies (more on her later). But like her older siblings, she has to grow up eventually. For this family that means realizing that:
a) Frank is useless piece of shit.
b) Monica’s probably worse as the emotional hand grenade with the pin always falling out.
c) The only way the Gallaghers will ever get ahead is if someone else is going down hard.
Luckily, she learned that last bit at the exact right moment when she almost sent Cousin Patrick away for probably 10 to 15. Patrick had proven to be as big a Gallagher as the rest of the family when he wrote his cousins’ house in his name on a forged will that supposedly belonged to Great Aunt Ginger. So when the body was finally exhumed and the last social security check had been cashed, he was ready to evict his own cousins to make a little extra on the side. But when Debbie discovered her voice in front of the evicting cops, it seemed like Cousin Patrick also wanted a little more on the side. The kind of side that would end with a shiv tip in prison.
When faced with those kind of charges, the Gallaghers kept their house with a diminished rent check of only a few hundred dollars a month, and Debbie earned her first ounce of seniority respect as a force to be reckoned with from Fiona and Lip. It was only the beginning.
7. The Time Frank Tries to Ruin Fiona’s Wedding/His Kids… Try to Kill Him?
Technically what Frank Gallagher did on the day of his daughter’s wedding saved her a lot of pain. He’d discovered her husband-to-be Sean (Dermott Mulroney) was an addict who’d relapsed and was still going to marry her. She was entering a marriage under false pretenses, and Frank would in his own way stop the heartache. Of course that isn’t why Frank did it. He was simply pissed and snotty about his daughter refusing to let him give her away.
So he spied on Sean looking for anything he could latch onto would ruin Fiona’s big day. And boy did he found it. He intervened not as a concerned father but as a vengeful bratty child who wanted to inflict the maximum amount of embarrassment and shame on his daughter. And that he did, humiliating her in front of all their friends and family.
Ergo his children tried something they’d never attempted before: Throwing papa from a bridge. Did they think the fall would kill him? They certainly had to be aware it was a possibility, particularly on a cold Chicago morning. Frankly, my dear, I don’t think they gave a damn. Pity he survived.
6. The Time When Sheila is coaxed into Killing Frank’s Mother…
Death is part of the circle of life. And if that life is as rotten as Gammy Gallagher’s was, then we might be ready to close that circle early. Unlike her kicking and screaming son in Season 4, Grammy not only welcomed a shuffle off this mortal coil, she longed for it. And she found the perfect instrument to end her cancerous suffering in the guise of Sheila Jackson, the sweetly endearing neighborhood fool.
Sure, Grammy and Sheila got off to a rough start with accusations of one being a crude, rude, monster mother, and the other being a homebody vampire, but the two found an understanding when Sheila became Grammy’s nurse in Frank’s absence.
Grammy even convinced Sheila that part of those nursing duties included kindly smothering her into the afterlife. That is one way to make an exit, and Sheila actually thinks she is doing God’s work! It is a moment that is equal parts tender, horrifying, and laughable. In short, it is pure Shameless.
5. The Time When the Gallaghers Kidnap “Aunt Ginger” From Veronica’s Nursing Home…
The good thing about Alzheimer’s patients is they can keep some damn big secrets: like being kidnapped or dressed as a long dead Ginger Gallagher. To rewind for a moment, Great Aunt Ginger was one of the hardest working Gallaghers the family has ever known. She practically turned her preferred street corner into her own place of kneeling. But by the time she died, she had reached the golden age of Social Security checks.
So without telling anyone, Frank Gallagher buried her in the backyard and collected her SS money for over a decade. Now whether he told everyone else that she moved to Michigan because he knew her passing would break their hearts or because he wanted to keep the money for his booze is a mystery left completely solved by common sense. Nevertheless, when the federal government finally caught on something fishy was happening, the beans are spilled and the Gallaghers have to scramble to find a new “Great Aunt Ginger” or face child services.
Enter New Great Aunt Ginger, compliments of Veronica’s nursing home for the severely forgetful. It is hard to tell what is sadder, that the day the Gallaghers spend taking “holiday” pictures for a lifetime with the new Ginger went by as a real day of family activity for the confused woman… or that this was the first time Debbie felt like she had a maternal figure to latch onto. It is a twisted warm and fuzzy resolution to this early, infamous Shameless supblot.
4. The Time When Mandy Facilitated Karen’s “Accident”….
For the Milkovich family, nothing says love like an attempted murder. So Mandy must have really loved Lip, because she did it twice. The first time was a (possibly) idle threat to the inappropriate teacher, but there was nothing idle about Mandy’s methodical destruction of Karen’s life.
To be clear, Karen is not a good person. In the scene leading up to her accident, Sheila takes responsibility for her daughter turning out as such a repugnant human being, and the pain of the sequence is that there is some truth in it. But whatever Karen or Sheila’s failings, it does not excuse what comes next.
Karen receives a text from Lip, promising to make amends for the mean things he last said to her if she meets him in the park. But instead of finding Lip’s proverbial mouth, she ends up kissing an SUV’s metallic grill when it plows into her going at least 40 mph. Sure, Karen lives, but she is now as mentally gone as her special needs child, Hymie.
Mentally handicapped for life, Karen’s story is done, ending in a way more broken than any Gallagher’s has so far experienced. What Mandy did is incredibly evil: stealing a phone and setting a trap that she had hours to contemplate. Karen was bad for Lip, but Mandy did something rare even for a show like Shameless: she crossed a line.
3. Frank Calls DCFS on His Kids
Another line was crossed in the third season, and it revealed the true awfulness of Frank’s parenting skills. To be fair, we’d known about “Father” Frank since he punched Ian in the face in the series premiere. Plus, there is that time he used Liam as collateral listed above. However, at least the latter moment was written with a tongue-in-cheek, as the show never doubted Fiona and Lip would get the lad back.
What was done without an ounce of humor is the time Frank threw a pity party for himself and then called DCFS on his own kids. Why? Because they kicked him out of the house after he acted the belligerent drunk for the millionth time. So, nursing his wounds at the Alibi, he decides to show the ingrates by calling Child Services on them, revealing his kin are living without parental supervision. The act of pathetic revenge nearly loses all of Frank’s children to the foster care system, with Fiona spends the whole season fighting desperately to keep the kids… and consigning her future to the trash heap as a result.
Frank should’ve gone off that bridge much sooner.
2. The Time When Frank Pretends to Be a Boyfriend to His Estranged Daughter…
When diagnosed with cancer, most people would do anything to survive the harrowing fight. But Frank isn’t most people, as he does them all one better: he tracks down his eldest daughter, who he has never met before, and pretends to be a straight-edged Good Samaritan looking for a date. Clearly Sammi has daddy issues when she looks at Frank as a suitor and is willing to give him a slice of her liver after two dates.
To Frank’s credit, he never seems into kissing his daughter, making out with his daughter, seeing his daughter in her underwear, or apparently grinding on his daughter off-screen. But he still does it all. It is quite honestly one of the most disgusting, deplorable, and instantly iconic Frank storylines in all of Shameless. Miraculously, Sammi stays by Frank’s side as a daughter when the truth comes flooding out. Some viewers may condemn her, but how many of us still watch after seeing the other crap he’s gotten up to? In fact, this isn’t even his most outrageous medical scam…
1. The Time When Frank Lied About Dottie’s Transplant and then Broke Her Heart…
Yes, the most lowdown, brazen, and high-handed action came early in season 2 in a moment that feels like it was (almost) paid back by the universe’s karma in season 4. It’s the time when Frank knew about Dottie’s heart transplant… and then still banged her to death. Literally. Frank found out that “butterface” Dottie, the Alibi’s former good-time girl who worked for the city, is quickly dying and is in need of a heart transplant. The likelihood of her surviving this is so low that Frank is willing to marry her and knowingly “light a candle for you everyday.”
What he really wants is to be placed in her will for all that government pension money. He doesn’t even have to sleep with her, because the act of making love will kill her barely-operating heart. So when bride-to-be Dottie is in the shower, Frank is the only one to hear her get the call: she has won the medical lottery and is going to get a heart transplant! Except, she’s already dead. At least that is what Frank tells the hospital before hanging up.
And it was all for naught. Dottie ended up giving her money to the estranged adult daughter she barely knew, leaving Frank with nothing. Frank’s only consolation prize is that she is sick of waiting for a heart that will never come (Frank made sure of that), and she requests that he screws the life out of her, which he does with aplomb.
He didn’t let her know about a heart transplant for money that he’d never see, and he still sleeps with her, knowing full well that this will be how she dies. Frank killed Dottie and won’t even light a candle at the church without stealing some donation money. It does not get more Shameless than that.
Editor’s Note: The original version of this article was published on January 11, 2015.