This Shameless review contains spoilers.
As he confidently strolls down the cell block, cornrows held high from the self-esteem inherent with finding your life’s calling, Carl Gallagher basks in the repeated chant of “White Boy Carl, White Boy Carl, White Boy Carl.” Carl went up the river as just a dumb kid, but he now is reentering society as a still pretty dumb kid but with a purpose—and he barely even pauses to notice his nephew Chucky, who he made a pasty/drug mule, sitting there with a Swastika on his forehead alongside his gang of white supremacists.
This moment is so very Shameless, and it is also perhaps the biggest indicator of what a new year for the Gallagher clan might look like. We’re leaving the days of Sami, Chucky, and all that randomness behind for Shameless season 6, and things are about to be in transition as the children get older, the neighborhood gets cleaner, and even Frank seems to change—indeed, he still only drinks six ounces of beer a day! He also claims to be in mourning for the love of his life, but some things never change, and this ne’er-do-well paterfamilias’ Lake Michigan-sized narcissism is something that can always be rely upon.
Shameless season 6 is all about new beginnings as most of the children Fiona has tried to den mother take steps further and further away from that den. And in that sense, there is a promise of new storytelling avenues not yet traveled that could make season 6 as wild a ride as the earliest seasons. Indeed, if I had to surmise “Only Miss Her When I’m Breathing,” it would be that the show is finding its footing again and everything is hilarious (for now). Of course, starting with its tongue in its cheek before all Hell breaks loose is kind of the norm for any Shameless season premiere. But even the Hell this time is pretty amusing too.
On that front, the most uproarious plotline is obviously sober(ish) Frank still mourning the loss of Bianca from last year. The girl younger than his eldest daughter (Sami, not Fi) was apparently the love of his life. And maybe really is. After all, Bianca is a woman who never had to love him back since she was dying. And now that she is dead, he never has to risk her turning into anything less than whiskey-soaked, drinking buddy ideal. Since he had to give up booze to get a new liver, Frank is in need of a new kind of vice. And he found a hugely seductive one that involves spending each night by her grave, complete with toothbrush and toothpaste on hand (though nothing will clean away the searing images the groundkeeper gleaned on Frank’s last morning there).
It is also an excuse for Frank to treat his family with the kind sentimental schmaltz and declarations of “I love you” that would not be out of place on an ABC sitcom from the ‘80s or ‘90s. And like those shows are to us, it is every bit as revoltingly irritating to his children. In fact, while Fiona, Debbie, and Ian cannot seem to agree on much of anything else, the matter of Frank’s newfound melancholy is the one unifying factor—and the comedic highlight of a very funny season premiere.
I especially enjoyed watching Frank go through his Hannah and Her Sisters montage where he tries out every religion he can get his hands on: Catholicism, Orthodox Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, even Mormonism—okay, he couldn’t stop even laughing at that last one either, but he still considered it! He’s in such internal turmoil that he even could see Christ blink (or perhaps the good Lord was just rolling his eyes?).
But actual growth was seen everywhere else this year. For the neighborhood, this was most apparent with the continued strains of gentrification. Personally, I am very happy to see this subplot elaborated upon from last year. It had such comedic possibilities, yet it felt strangely abandoned about halfway through season 5 as the drama heightened. There is so much humor to be mined here that it would be a shame to leave the joke at just the lesbian couple cross the street (who are still present and even now have rainbow flags waving apparently every other day). This is most apparent at Kev and V’s bar where Man Buns reign supreme and hipsters move in. For now, these flannel shirts are taking selfies while savoring the authenticity of hanging with low-income alcoholics, but soon they’re going to want cleaner digs. I cannot wait until the episode where Kev has to install an espresso machine!
Meanwhile, Fi is also seeing things get nicer with Sean offering her the job of assistant manager after his previous second-in-command got caught cooking meth. This development is satisfying on two fronts: the first is that it means Dermot Mulroney is sticking around for at least another season after the series left the door open for him moving away to follow his son (which also means, bye bye Gus, even if the actual divorce contract will be saved for a future subplot). Mulroney brings the right kind of grizzled apathy to the character whose laidback and mature demeanor is a nice contrast to both Jimmy/Steve’s shortsightedness, as well as to Fiona’s own freaky, cluttered life.
It is also refreshingly a signal that we are returning to the Fiona of relative ambitions that defined her so well in the first three and a half seasons. Despite her limited education and other restrictions that came with having to play mother to her siblings in lieu of terrible parentage, Fi has always wanted more out of this life than ending up like Frank. And for almost two years, the show has flirted with Fiona being the most like her father and one—ridiculously out-of-character—bad decision with cocaine throwing it all away. Just as it is refreshing to see Lip Gallagher grow into a different role as an almost Southside Dickensian protagonist at the University of Chicago who must battle his Great Expectations, it is also needed for the show to allow Fi to either achieve her Modest Expectations… or succumb to her worst impulses. Because I don’t think anyone wants another season of her waffling in the middle.
After all, there is plenty of strife in the family still with Ian in his own Twilight Zone. He claims to still be taking his meds (though he rightfully accuses Fiona of mothering him about it), yet his role for season 6 remains elusive. Indeed, his one major moment came from reluctantly confronting Mickey once again and confirming that he won’t wait the eight to 15 years that it will take Mickey to get out.
Admittedly, it was kind of horrifying to hear the length of the prison sentence, but then I was forced to remember that he technically did try to kill Sami, and even in Shameless, there are some consequences to attempted murder. Nonetheless, he thinks he’ll be out on good behavior even after agreeing to stab someone in the eye.
Still, I find it odd that Ian has broken things off with Mickey and not because of the prison sentence or his bipolar disorder—he is mad that Mickey wants him on meds, which is the same thing Fi wants. The logic used to keep the star-crossed lovers of the Southside remains strained, but seeing Noel Fisher and Cameron Monaghan onscreen is always a highlight, including in their dying romance tonight. Also, Mickey misspelling “Gallagher” might have been the other non-Frank highlight of the night.
Meanwhile, Lip continues his aforementioned college misadventures with a professor who is old enough to be his mother. And for the proof, he met her son of the same age this week. It is a jarring moment, which continues to make this romance one of the more incredulous aspects of the show’s hyper-reality: the idea that a professor would risk sneaking into a dorm room two or three nights a week is only surpassed by the thought they may stay together after he close-lined her son. This cannot end well, especially since he has a telltale photograph of her sleeping naked in his bed on his phone now…
But this season also hints that Lip might just be headed to a permanently academic career as well. Could we see Lip as a teacher? In all honesty, not yet. Lip’s Gallagher streak almost dictates he needs to be figuring out angles to screw folks over. Just as much as I see him letting a plagiarist slide as a TA, I see him very much working in that hedge fund, figuring out how to take an extra five percent on the side.
But whatever Lip’s path, it most likely will go further than Carl’s, who again, had the most extravagant reintroduction of the season. With a new, deep voice and a discovered vocation as a probable gang member, Carl really is growing up fast! Indeed, Carl should offer a whole new slew of storytelling possibilities as the latest Gallagher to stop treating Frank like a dad, and more as a nuisance. That rite of passage indicates he’s ready for his own mature storylines, which may be going to some grim places in future episodes. Then again, Carl always seemed surefooted on this path, and sure enough since he was closest to Frank when it happened, there is an air of inevitability to Carl’s doomed choices. How it affects the rest of the Gallaghers though is a very enticing new storytelling avenue for season 6.
However, the strongest element tonight is also the one they saved for last. Indeed, the ending of the episode is almost a last minute reprieve to what I feared was going to be a season-long deception: Debbie is still very pregnant.
Continuing the scariest development of last year—Debs intentionally getting herself preggers to keep a 15-year-old boy interested—the younger Gallagher sister has not wizened with a few more months of age. She is still knocked up and she even lies to Fiona, pretending that she is not in hopes of being able to presumably have the baby before Fi and the others know the truth (good luck with that).
In it is the kind of hormonal mistake I can believe is authentic from the same child that once stole a grandmother from a nursing home and accused another cousin of molestation in order to keep the house. But this is especially stupid here since it falls apart for her within days. The would-be father is rushed out of town and instead of taking the hint that (gasp) this is a bad idea and it is time to consider an abortion, Debbie instead views herself as Juliet to a long lost Romeo.
This of course will not end well for her, but luckily the boy’s parents showed up on Fiona’s doorstep with a bombshell surprise. It is Debbie’s body, but this is also the Gallagher brood on the Shameless TV series. I expect to see her being dragged into a specific kind of clinic in the next few weeks even if it takes all three of her older siblings holding her arms as they do it!
But whether that happens or not, the imminent possibility of it makes that a wildly out-there start to a new season. With Debbie chasing the Juno ideal and Carl well on his way to finding his Gangster Paradise, Shameless is proving that, unlike other premium cable shows, it still has somewhere to go. The series is getting up there in years now, but the sixth season is taking the characters to new places (other than perhaps Fi who is circling back to lost ground) and is promising a more complicated and gonzo series than what has come before.
Season 5 was not my favorite year, but season 6 is off to a rollicking start that is so satisfying that perhaps we should also crank out a selfie stick and all start posing now?
Most Shameless Quotes of the Week
“If a man can’t find a little comfort from the Catholic Church, maybe it’s time to admit Martin Luther had a point! Let’s give the Lutherans a try.” – Frank
“Don’t give me that look. What could you possibly have to confess? Your cooch dried up before Nixon went to China!” – Frank
“You’re just offering her the assistant manager position because she blows you.” / “No. I mean, it’s a great side benefit.” – Sean
“Fourteen and already a drug trafficker? I couldn’t be prouder, son.” – Frank