This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 11 Episode 3
“Gender’s a social construct.”
Shameless is a series that’s always been very interested in how its Chicago neighborhood influences its characters. Coming as a remake from a UK series, Shameless’s new environment becomes one of its most important changes. This series constantly labels characters and tells them what they can and cannot do, while this perception internalizes and festers. This final season has taken an even greater interest in these themes and “Frances Francis Franny Frank” specifically filters them through gender norms.
This is hardly the first time gender has been examined on Shameless, but this episode repeatedly challenges ideas that would have been accepted back during the series’ earliest seasons. Ian and Mickey kickstart this discussion, but it’s something that becomes unavoidable, whether it’s through the pretense of a beauty pageant, Carl’s new female training officer, or even Frank’s quick aside that Franny is “like Rain Man…but a girl.” Shameless’s final season looks forward to the future of not just the Gallaghers, but all of the South Side, and episodes like “Frances Francis Franny Frank” highlight just how much they’ve grown.
Each episode of this season has shown some new kind of relationship problem crop up in Ian and Mickey’s post-marriage life. This may be Shameless’s plan for the two of them this season, which is an energy that works for the show, but “Frances Francis Franny Frank” involves what’s by far Ian and Mickey’s simplest problem to date. This episode’s quest to answer who is the “man” in their relationship is extremely low stakes and territory that would have been inherent to the two of them pretty quickly into their romance. It’s used as comedic relief here more than it’s meant to prompt any big changes between the two of them, but it does pry into the episode’s larger theme of gender roles.
Both Ian and Mickey turn to different circles that weigh in their perspectives on what makes a “man” and a “woman,” to therefore figure out which of them can be slotted in these roles. There’s no major revelation here, but it gets characters talking about broader topics that feel representative of the entire South Side’s points of view. These opinions hang over some characters more than others and Ian reaches his breaking point at his job. His frustration is honestly understandable after what he’s put through, but Ian’s fresh vulnerability allows the dynamics between him and Mickey to once again transform. Mickey lucks into some new work helping out Kevin and V with their money laundering and their humble drug operation continues to grow.
It makes sense for Mickey to align with Kevin and V’s new revenue of business, much like it did for Frank. However, other than this new partnership, this material is rather dreadful. Any tension that existed between Frank, Kevin, and V from last week is completely erased as Kevin gets lost in the glory of expendable income. Kevin flaunts all of this in such an irresponsible manner where he’s practically asking to get robbed. The past few seasons have shown Kevin in a greater need of validation, but he should absolutely know better and not require the approval of these random strangers. He 100% deserves to get robbed in the manner that he does and it’s seriously depressing that he’d jeopardize his family’s income like this. Hopefully Mickey will also be used to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again.
Ian and Mickey aren’t alone with their work-based stress and transitions. Carl gets a new training officer after his previous one remains in intensive care and at death’s door. There’s immediately a connection as Carl’s new gung ho partner doesn’t belittle him and uses a very empowering attitude to inspire good work. Her “Billie” nickname that she gives him because of how Carl resembles Billie Eilish is also maybe the funniest thing that Shameless has done in years. This relationship is so compelling because the values of Carl’s partner aren’t necessarily broken, but she’s hardened to the point where she has no patience for unnecessary bullshit from either the public or her profession. She makes it clear that she views herself as a cop and a dispenser of justice more than she brings her race or gender into the equation.
Carl’s glee over his progress at work is really satisfying. He hasn’t looked this happy in a while and it’s so freaking adorable that he shares a picture of his first arrest with his family. It’s a welcome change of pace to see Carl’s fulfillment come from his work rather than his romantic fling for the season. It definitely reflects a maturity in Carl that would have seemed impossible years ago. However, it also looks like Carl may already be conflating work and romance as he potentially builds an infatuation towards his new partner.
Carl works hard to build a version of the South Side that his future children would be proud to live in, but Lip and Tami grow consumed over much more personal doubts about the future. Lip and Tami appear to be in a healthy place for the time being, but they learn that Brad and Cami’s baby has developed considerable heart problems. It’s a difficult situation that’s not really fair to Lip or Tami. Tami is clearly lost in panic and Lip would obviously do what he can to help, but $65,000 might as well be one million dollars to him. The Gallaghers have never had that much disposable income in their lives.
It’s all very manipulative melodrama, but it may lead to something productive for Lip. He may begin to get steady contracting work after people notice the renovations that he’s done to his house. Lip’s life has taken some seriously surprising turns over the course of the series. This would be a development that doesn’t only make sense, but also be a smart way to turn the former burden of Lip and Tami’s home into something that allows their lives to become enriched in a totally different way. It works even better that it’d be growth that happens purely because of the level of dedication that Lip puts into his work.
Throughout everyone’s respective crises, this whirlwind of chaos scatters the Gallaghers in different directions. A prolonged passing of the buck results in a neglected Franny ending up in Frank’s care, which turns into one of the first real bonding experiences between these different generations of Gallagher. Frank needs to help Franny get to school, which is a super benign storyline, but it might as well be getting Franny to the moon for how high Frank is when he inadvertently volunteers himself for this task. The decision to make Frank perpetually high this season while he tests product for Kevin and V is a nice touch to all of this and Macy clearly has fun working this into his performance.
The distance that’s been previously kept between Frank and Franny makes their dynamic together feel fresh and exciting. It should really be sickening to see Frank use Franny as an asset on his drug runs as he naturalizes her to this level of grifting. Strangely, Frank’s misconduct blossoms into a place of sweetness where he can strip away all of his charlatan tactics and just genuinely enjoy the company of his granddaughter. Franny’s decision to wear her dress to please Debbie because of something that Frank tells her is an extremely tender conclusion and shows that he’s left a good impression on her, despite everything. I’m genuinely mystified over how Frank may currently be this season’s best character.
Frank’s technical success with Franny only makes Debbie feel worse about the failures that she’s recently faced. She screws up in a colossal way in this episode where a litany of irresponsible reasons result in one of her clients getting robbed. It’s actually appreciated and perhaps necessary that Debbie gets called out in the way that she does. She’s offered no sympathy and is forced to confront the consequences of her actions. Hopefully Lip’s harsh words will be able to prompt some change in her life.
Debbie is also caught up in a dangling storyline about the Little Miss South Side pageant that doesn’t really amount to much. It’s there to facilitate the episode’s final emotional beat where Franny helps her mother feel better. It’s a strange way to go about all of this, especially when considering the previous episode’s Debbie and Franny material, but it never steals too much focus away from the episode’s many other plots.
Despite the smaller scenarios that consume “Frances Francis Franny Frank,” things spiral out of control in a way where characters are left in various places of stability and instability as the episode comes to a close. Everyone is in fine form here, especially Frank and Carl, but at times this installment feels more like a collection of smaller pieces than it does a cohesive story, even if there is a unifying theme to tie it all together. There are many half-plots going on that I assume will receive payoffs in what’s to come, but Liam’s cafeteria revolution from before seems to be over, so it’s hard to say.
Shameless episodes always feel incredibly crowded and it typically doesn’t work in the show’s favor. It shouldn’t be afraid to leave characters out of the spotlight or find more ways to bring characters together rather than jump between a mess of disparate threads. The season is getting better in this department, but there’s still a ton of excess when it comes to characters and stories. Shameless needs to focus and figure out where it wants its characters to end up more than it needs to worry about who is the man or woman.