This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 10 Episode 1
“Life is suffering. We’re born just to die.”
As Shameless heads into its tenth season, it enters a new era with Fiona Gallagher out of the picture. Every season of Shameless features its characters in flux to some extent. However, this sense of change is particularly present in this premiere now that Fiona—arguably the glue of the Gallagher family—is now gone. Without Fiona, everyone’s searching for a sense of identity and who they are in her absence and this even extends into the show itself. “We Few, We Lucky Few, We Band of Gallaghers!” proceeds confidently in this new world, yet it succumbs to the typical faults that plague Shameless. Nevertheless, it’s still an enjoyable return to this dysfunctional family.
Six months have passed since the end of the ninth season and Debbie has fallen into the role of the Gallaghers’ new matriarch. She also gets a healthy leg up due to the $50,000 that Fiona left her with before her exit. Debbie’s behavior has been super questionable in the past, which makes it such a shock that that the Gallagher home almost doesn’t seem recognizable at first due to the relatively tidy condition that Debbie has kept it in. It appears that she’s stepped up to the plate here and accepted the responsibility that comes with the money that Fiona left her.
Shameless comfortably pivots Debbie to the Fiona role, even if she tellingly shouts at everyone that she’s very much “not Fiona.” As the show does negotiate around these changes, it is a little startling to take notice of just how much everyone has grown over the course of these ten seasons. Debbie’s daughter, Frannie, is basically the age that Liam was when the show started. Not many television shows last for over a decade and it’s smart for Shameless to reflect on and embrace this change during this transitory season.
Debbie’s actions guide a lot of the events in this premiere. She maintains responsibilities and is able to keep everyone on task. Debbie’s also particularly on top of the family’s finances and has a very careful plan to make sure that she doesn’t blow the luxury that Fiona has allowed them. This meticulous attitude makes it all the more disappointing when it turns out that Debbie is soon to be in over her head with an outlandish scam. It’s behavior that feels a lot more reminiscent of Frank than it does Fiona. It’s only a matter of time until this precarious house of cards crashes down.
Frank is now back on his feet after his severe leg injury, but a walker hasn’t handicapped his ability to take advantage of the naïve. Frank attempts to milk his injury for all it’s worth as he tries to scam as many drugs in the process. This is business as usual for Frank. He rages against the system and causes big scenes to do as little actual work as possible. He completely undervalues his family through this premiere and the way in which he describes Debbie is almost comical in how callous it is. The one major change in Frank’s life is that he reunites with Luis Guzman’s Mikey so he now has some kind of grift ally through his misadventures. I’m not sure if I ever needed to see Mikey again, but there is an easy hobo chemistry between him and Frank.
Carl also finds himself at a crossroads of character now that he’s finished his training and back from military school. This episode sets up a somewhat contrived circumstance for why the military wouldn’t want to accept Carl and why his bridges are effectively burned in that direction. It’s a messy solution to all of this, especially considering the years that have gone into this character arc. It’s clearly a reason to continue to keep Carl close to home, but at least it doesn’t belittle his character. It’s a little tragic that Carl doesn’t share his graduation with his family, but it is nice to see Kelly back by his side. It looks like Kelly’s presence may just be temporary before she leaves for the Navy, but she’s a welcome carryover from the previous year. She and Carl basically just have a prolonged bout of sexual intercourse to make up for lost time.
Carl attempts to bury his worries in pleasure, yet Liam faces a problem where there isn’t such an easy means of distraction. Last season had Carl start to scratch the itch of his African American roots and heritage and he’s only gone further in that regard. It’s rewarding to see Liam try to chisel out a stronger identity for himself, but he spends the majority of this premiere as everyone’s punching bag. If nothing else, it’s nice to see him spend more time with V, which feels like a relationship that should have blossomed naturally years ago.
V is busy administering sage lessons to Liam, but her husband is involved with remarkably sillier fare. Kevin has gone through many changes over the course of the show, but now he faces one of his biggest yet as he grapples with mortality and becoming older. Kevin doesn’t know how to look at himself in this new light as he faces dipping testosterone levels. Kevin decides to combat all of this by stripping at a gay club so he can buy the right kind of basketball shoes.
This is the most ludicrous and tangential of the stories in this episode, but it’s consistent with the growing pangs that everyone experiences. It’s just such a bad idea and the fact that he doesn’t tell V about it makes it even worse. If she was stripping and didn’t tell him about it, he’d be furious. It will be interesting to see if this goes anywhere deeper for Kevin and he sticks to this revenue path, or if it’s just meant to be a comical distraction for this episode.
On the opposite side of comedy is the life that Lip has settled into with Tami. Tami is currently very pregnant and it’s just so nice that Lip is finally happy and that his life isn’t self-destructing. Of course, this bliss can only last for so long and Tami is rushed to the hospital for an emergency C-section. There’s a lot of disorder in this premiere, but the moment where everybody stops what they’re doing to heed to Lip’s cry for help is vintage Shameless and enough proof that this show still knows what it’s doing on some level. Just as the eldest Gallagher leaves the nest, a new member is added to the family. It’s a powerful image to go out on, even if it does feel manipulative to leave Tami’s fate a grim mystery.
“We Few, We Lucky Few, We Band of Gallaghers!” faces a tough task, but is able to handle the pressure. However, due to how half a year has gone by, a lot of this premiere feels like it’s playing catch up to reorient the viewer. It’s a rather disjointed episode that doesn’t really offer enough of any character’s storylines. There’s not much closure to Debbie, Carl, or Liam’s plots and Frank’s simply revolves around getting new couch cushions. Lip’s plot is really the only one of substance here while much of the rest feel like they’re filling up time. It’s obvious that these stories will grow in the coming weeks, but they’re currently thin. I wouldn’t say that the series suffers without Fiona, but it still feels like something’s missing here. It’s a premiere that’s simultaneously very busy, but accomplishes little. It at least doesn’t overstuff itself by also putting Ian and Mickey in this episode. Now that the dust has settled from Fiona’s exit, Shameless can get back to its usual mayhem.
Welcome to the Southside, new Baby Gallagher.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, and Bloody Disgusting. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and that Hannibal is the greatest love story ever told. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.