And like finding a bum sleeping outside your front door, Shameless has returned more vulgar and more brazen than we remember. Would you have it any other way?
Indeed, the premiere episode of Shameless season five, “Milk of the Gods,” feels like a course correction by John Wells and the other writers after the heaviness of season four. Whereas that last year sacrificed much of the comedy for a rather profound look at Fiona’s descent into familial addiction (as well as the surprisingly unfortunate bipolar disorder that Ian took up from Monica), season five is at least beginning with much of that old Gallagher swagger. It’s summertime, school’s out, college is finished, and surely that drug-peddling ice cream truck is only days away from being rinsed off (assuming Kev can get away from his mommy blogs for long enough). So, as the characters invariably change with the seasons, this particular warm weather opener is at least as idyllic as a June ride along Lakeshore Drive.
This turnaround is displayed no better than with Fiona Gallagher, who fell hardest in season four. The upper-middleclass life that Fi flirted with is long gone, but her old habits are not totally removed. After all, her first post-prison job has a new hunky boss that she is making eyes with. However, even with this old chestnut, there is hope for smarter choices. For starters, new boss Sean Pierce will not be pushed around like the blonde dullard from last season. While he rather inappropriately may grab her arm at work or help her clean out a pool with baby Liam, he won’t let her pout her way into a free salisbury steak (especially for Frank of all people!).
However, unlike last season, Fiona is resisting the new employer for the time being, and she’s showing similar constraint around two more potential callers, including a British rocker with an accent and a patron named Angela, who appears to be coming for more than just the food. But perhaps Fiona is growing up, because the impulse to give into either of these potential bad influences is as tightly controlled as her ankle monitor. The scenes are so far not the most fiery stuff Emmy Rossum has had to work with—as she gets to swim when Fi is drowning in the deepest sea—but it is nice for a brief respite from her character’s previous sorrows. If we’re lucky, Fiona really is growing out of impulses that had once spiraled her toward a Frank Gallagher-sized tragedy.
Also on the matter of Frank, William H. Macy is showcasing his character’s unflappable ability to never change his ways too much, drunk or sober. Due to having a new liver, Frank is on medication and off the booze. Mostly.
The best plot of the night, and indeed the title of the episode, shows where there’s a will, there’s a way. And Will Macy is finding a way to keep Frank Gallagher the charismatic schmuck we all love or love to hate. Luckily, it’s much more the former here since Frank’s quest to craft a new 130-proof beer for his sole drink of the day is just dumb enough to make him a hero. It also allows him to be rather indifferent to his own daily life.
Frank is now married to Sheila Jackson, but while she treats it like a real union, to him it is only an excuse to find the bacon necessary to power his “Milk of the Gods.” His daughter Sammy is reverting into the kind of teen rebellion not seen since Karen Jackson. In fact, Sammy’s daddy issues are more bordering the line of caricature since she is pleasing strange men on Sheila’s sofa in front of her brain-dead offspring.
Staining the couches of South Side’s OCD Queen is like crossing the Rubicon. It is now all-out war between the two women in Frank’s life, but all he cares about is making sure he has a good drink. I’ll cheers to that comically golden disposition, and overlook his snide remark to Fi at the diner. Hell, I’ll throw in another toast to hoping he didn’t croak from his first taste of that bacony milk.
Yet, the character changing the most in the premiere is the one who has fought transition for the whole series.
Summer is the perfect excuse for Lip to come back full-time to his childhood home. But his return is not one of conquest; Lip is now realizing how different his life is from dorm parties. His college girlfriend wants him to move in with her, and he is resistant of that idea but far less so than when some neighborhood kids want him to smoke up with them. Similarly, Mandy Milkovich is someone he is keeping away from, even if she is the reason he is at the University of Chicago. I sense that a subtle groove to season five may be as gentrification eases its way into the neighborhood this season—of course initially being dismissed as Jehovah’s Witnesses—Lip might soon find himself in the graying middle of this culture war. Because at the moment, he seems to be questioning whether he belongs to either side.
It also appears to be a war of sorts in Kev and V’s household. In a subversively welcome twist, Kev is the one who has become baby-crazy, and his wife is the one who just wants to get out of the nursery and go to work. As we’ll showcase below, her reaction to his preference for Mommy Blogs over fellatio was the best joke of the night.
What isn’t a joke, however, is how Ian is reacting to his likely existent mental issue. Unlike Monica, Ian has a real support group with his family and Mickey. He and Mickey’s wife are even appearing to get-on these days since they made breakfast together (a far cry from where they were this time in season four). But despite Fi’s constant prodding, he is refusing to see a psychiatrist. I genuinely appreciate the deftness of how this is being handled; it is also rewarding since it brings Mickey unofficially into the Gallagher fold as another member of the clan.
Mickey is still of course making ends meet by either pimping or amusingly ripping off a family of their furniture. But a genuine highlight was watching Fi and Lip accompany Mickey on an “errand,” and all the beatdowns it pertained, to talk about Ian’s condition. Without skipping a beat, Mickey will pause in mid-sentence about helping Ian to then beating a man mercilessly for hitting one of his girls. Now, it’s back to Ian.
These are the kind of moments that make Shameless a pleasure to watch.
After last season, Shameless has made the calculation to bask in the humor that it is best known for. That includes Frank walking past Sammy as she’s having sex with a guy in the living room, and Mickey bartering over the wholesale of someone else’s furniture. But this return to the dog days of summer feels knowingly hesitant. After all, the gentrification subplot that’s in the marketing was barely teased, and I would be greatly surprised if Fi has everything together for the rest of the series from this point on. Or by next week.
Summer lasts for only so long, especially in Chicago. But before the leaves fall, it’s nice to just be chilling with the Gallaghers in the backyard and happy for a moment. Or passed out by the lake again, as is Frank’s preference. May he never change…
Most Shameless Quotes of the Week
“Kids in this neighborhood are raised on kool aid and powdered milk. Formula would be a step up.” –V
“I bet if your baby was sucking your dick, you’d be into it.” –V
“But what if Mom brings home some man from the bar?” / “You just put a pillow over your head and wait for her to be finished!” – Chucky / Sheila
“If I can only enjoy one beer a day, why not make it 130-proof?” – Frank