This Shameless review contains spoilers.
Shameless Season 8 Episode 1
It waves there, gracefully flapping in the breeze. Old Glory is meeting morning glory, which likely wouldn’t be considered an unusual sight in almost any other yard in America. But this isn’t just any yard. It’s the Palazzo de Gallagher, and on these not-so-hollowed grounds it’s a bit unusual. But not really, at least not in 2017. As Carl says while looking straight at the camera, “America first, motherfuckers.” The Gallaghers are in the Trump era now. God help us.
Indeed, when any show reaches its eighth season, there is an understandable tension about how the series will reinvent itself or stay relevant after nearly a decade. When that package also promises total reprehensible behavior in its title, clearing that hurdle starts to appear intimidating. But luckily for Shameless, it is the season of the reprehensible in American life, and the series takes to 2017 with vigor and aplomb.
In addition to the aforementioned moment where Carl, a former bully, pays fealty to the unnamed King of all Bullies, the season 8 premiere was crawling with timeliness. One of the finer touches involved Svetlana renaming the Alibi Putin’s Pride, turning it into a veritable salute to the other man alleged to be running U.S. foreign policy. And it was a pretty goddamn hilarious turn when Veronica, sick of her man shaking it for tips, calls in ICE on Svetlana to clear out the bar. Albeit in the modern world, ICE agents need to hear the word “prostitute” to turn their attention away from rounding up undocumented Mexican and Central American immigrants.
However, even if V just succeeded in getting rid of some of Svetlana’s extended family, she better watch herself since Svetlana is still here legally, and as such will likely survive any arraignment to return to the South Side and rain holy hell down on the snitch who gave her a wonderful black eye.
Kev meanwhile gets to enjoy his own diversion into topicality as it appears he is heading toward a long medical odyssey this season. How serious can it be about a man being accidentally probed for breast cancer by a john feeling up his chest remains to be seen, but we imagine the healthcare system is going to get another good ribbing when Kev starts going in for exams.
Yet while many of these subplots enjoyed infusing the series with a modern griminess, which was not there when season 7 first began airing, at the end of the day it is all in service to how the Gallagher clan sinks or swims, climbs or likely climbs-a-little-way before-massively-falling-yet-again. Still, I have hope for some of these plucky folks.
Fiona by providence or untapped business acumen was able to land herself into a nice windfall from the laundromat. And her stab at modernity by way of catering to gentrifying hipsters felt a little more honest and sincere of Shameless. Thus also a little more depressing. Whether it’s the cute young couple or the douchebag with the bike—and it will probably be the douchebag we see again—neither party who was interested in Fi’s top floor apartment is from the neighborhood. In fact, Fi’s new potential friend/confidant-tenant, Vanessa, even stares in awe at Fi. “An actual South Sider.” The neighborhood’s changing and Fi is set to profit by it.
And I say, good for her. After so many false starts for success, we are near the end of the series’ run and Fiona deserves to get something back from the streets that took so much from her at an early age. And after being premature den mother to an electric Gallagher brood, being the “slum lord” can’t be much worse. Vanessa as the “handy woman” who has Fi’s back is a curiosity since it doesn’t seem likely Fi’s in a place to have too many new voices in her life—even random Tinder hookups have lost their appeal—but she has a spunky enough introduction, and we’ll see how Fiona gets to know her new tenants.
Speaking of kicking Tinder to the curb, Fiona’s bout of dating-not-dating can be a bit repetitive but at least it is a subplot. Ian and Lip unfortunately are saddled with trying to reconnect with romances that they previously squandered. For Lip it was due to his drinking and for Ian it was for his Mickey (sigh… Mickey).
Of the two, Lip’s is more poignant, at least for tonight, because him even trying to hint at a romance with Sierra is not only doomed to failure, but it could send him back into the drinking spiral that has been so recently destructive. And total. Despite having a mind that seemed destined for a PhD (or robbing folks blind on Wall Street), Lip is now a mechanic. It’s shitty that Sierra will give her scuzzy ex a second chance because he’s her baby daddy, but Lip already seems to have screwed this up. And yet, unlike all the other Gallaghers who’ve had Carl move their “inheritance” meth from Monica, Lip gives his cut away to his professor… to repay for his trip to rehab.
I’d like to say the rehab will stick for lip, if only because it feels like Shameless has already laid Lip as low as it can by taking away his future. Similarly, it’s a bit troubling that Carl is moving meth back on the street so readily in season 8, as he views military school as his ticket out of the gutter. Meanwhile, he is playing with the exact kind of fire that Shameless writers love to use in order to shatter any semblances of ladders of opportunity for the Gallagher team. Just ask Fi about that one-time she did coke in the house, or Lip about… well, all of his collegiate escapades.
Perhaps then on some cosmic level, Frank is the most honest of his cohorts. After all, the eighth season bow is named after the not-so-great dad, and instead of dreaming of what wonders meth-dealing could bring him—a hot tub?!—the skinny dipping scamp just smoked half of his cut by himself. He might’ve lost a tooth, but he also found enlightenment. With Monica gone, as well as the free drugs, he is ready to turn over a new leaf!
Blaming Hurricane Monica for all of his life’s problems, Frank suggests that he is but still the young man Monica once seduced in a haze of blondness. He still has his whole life ahead of him, dammit! And he is going to make something of it. This is also a familiar beat, as Frank has many times attempted to put away the drugs and booze, and be a good papa for an episode or two before disappointing Debbie. And then Carl. And somewhat Liam. Obviously, Fi and Lip before the show even started. So the point is we know where this is headed, but it is intriguing Frank could just blame his demons on a mutually co-dependent enabler. His addictions and failing are his own. He can try to take responsibility for it like Lip might be doing or… do what he always does.
Of course, it will be the latter. Still choosing to blame his supposedly lost love shows a grander vantage of his entitlement, as does him trying to convince folks he is suffering by apologizing to them for decades-old slights. It’s a wonder though how he avoided losing another tooth after implying he killed another man’s dog.
Be that as it may, the fact that Fiona buried her cut, and I believe Liam’s meth as well, with Monica means that Frank will inevitably fall off the wagon and go grave robbing at the resting place of the mother of his children. And if does do that, it will probably somehow come back to hit Fiona, Carl, or all of the kids. He shares his love like that.
However, before things go sideways, I just hope Frank plays some kind of role at Liam’s school. It is one of Frank’s few good deeds getting Liam into that gilded nest, even if they shamelessly use the lad as a poster child for inclusion and diversity to white parents who want to keep their children far away from school populations filled with diverse faces.
As a whole, Shameless season 8 began like how all other Shameless seasons do: by reintroducing us to the characters and having some laughs as we get caught up. What will drive them in the weeks to come and how will their lives become truly fucked up is a bit of a guessing game at the moment, but I’m happy to play along. Just as I’m happy to have these wonderfully endearing degenerates back on TV.
Most Shameless Quotes of the Week:
“Wow, when you’re right, you’re right. I should’ve let you drive.” – Frank to some poor bastard’s tombstone.
“Some cracker told me my life matters.” – Liam.
“Do you really have to ask?” – ICE agent on why he only cares about illegal Mexican immigrants over Russian ones.