Southside Chicago stepped back into the spotlight for season eight of “Shameless,” which premiered in early November of last year. “Shameless,” which is based on an original series in the UK, follows the outrageous Gallagher family as they struggle to survive in one of the most dangerous and impoverished cities in America. Any season of “Shameless” can be difficult to watch, even if you’re a “Showtime” or “HBO” veteran. Although the series is critically perceived as a comedy, it incorporates sensitive (and not to mention completely uncensored) issues such as drug abuse, mental illness and poverty. Season eight was no different – watching Frank Gallagher cut off his daughter’s toes with branch clippers was hard for me to stomach – especially while eating dinner. However, this season was seriously lacking in the traditional Gallagher chaos that made me love it in the first place.
My main complaint about season eight is the fact that the show no longer revolves around a family dynamic. Fiona finds success as a landlord and moves out of the famous Gallagher home, distancing her relationship from the family and her series-long best friend, Veronica. Lip becomes further entangled in relationships and sobriety. Ian evolves from a gay rights activist to a full-scale cult leader in the midst of three episodes (about which I have many opinions) – and let’s not forget momma Debbie and military Carl, who are now old enough to develop their own storylines without the assistance of their siblings. The only familial aspect left in the show is the growing relationship between Frank and his youngest son, Liam, but what about those insane Gallagher family antics that we all know and love? I’m talking about the time when the kids faked Frank’s death to avoid paying a debt he owed to drug dealers. How about when Fiona fought for guardianship over the children in court? The first few seasons, arguably the most successful seasons of the series, caught so much attention because America fell in love with this deadbeat, deranged family that went to unimaginable measures to survive in Southside Chicago. I hate to say this, but the family members’ individual successes make the show significantly less compelling.
Now, let’s talk about everyone’s favorite family patriarch. As an avid fan of “Shameless,” I’ve always wondered what Frank Gallagher was like before the infamous Monica, who passed away at the end of season seven. Frank has mentioned more than once that Monica was a cancer to him. He claims that she was the reason he became such a degenerate. Yeah, sure Frank. So, when Monica bites the dust and leaves the family for good, what does Frank do?
He actually proves us wrong.
“Sober Frank” was a new concept that I initially loved. He becomes an attentive father to Liam and a hardworking employee, both of which I had previously thought impossible for Frank Gallagher. He refuses to drink and actively seeks to make amends with those he hurt, including his children. Of course, the older Gallagher kids are too smart to accept Frank’s apologies, but it’s worth a shot, right? He takes advantage of Liam’s youthfulness and naiveté to become the wholesome dad he never knew he could be. However, what’s “Shameless” without Frank’s ridiculous and irreverent behavior? I grew sick of “Sober Frank” about three episodes into the season, right about when he was promoted at the gardening and home-goods store. Frank Gallagher was not made to be a good father. He is a character created solely for chaos, and without him, the season seemed, well, empty. It seems as if writers realized their mistake early on, because Frank’s luck turns south around episode six when he loses his job and realizes that the American dream isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Cue the return of deadbeat Frank, who decides to illegally herd immigrants into Canada for a living. He maintains his friendship with Liam and surprisingly keeps his drug and alcohol use in check, but he dives back into the world of theft and deceit fairly quickly, much to my relief.
While Frank was hopping back on the wagon, Ian was busy falling off. Before I get into Ian’s storyline in this season, I feel the need to emphasize that I have always loved Ian’s character. It’s hard to accurately portray mental illness in the media, particularly in TV shows, but Cameron Monaghan (Ian Gallagher) depicts the life of a young adult with bipolar disorder flawlessly. Much of Ian’s life revolves around his struggle to maintain a stable mental baseline while living in a toxic environment. Having said that, season eight takes a turn for the worse for Ian when he finds a passion for religion. While trying to free young teens from religious conversion programs, Ian becomes a YouTube icon and develops quite the fan-base around the country. What starts as inspiring speeches at local churches turns to chaos as Ian becomes the symbol for the “Church of Gay Jesus.” The plot gets, well, iffy because Ian is displaying tell-tale signs of a manic episode. To an outsider, Ian looks like a passionate youth raising awareness for a noble cause, but viewers of “Shameless” see a different side to Ian. This behavior is reminiscent of that in season five, when Ian spontaneously kidnaps his boyfriend’s child and sets out on a road trip across the country. This time around, Ian kidnaps a teenage boy from his homophobic parents and sets fire to someone’s truck. Needless to say, he’s setting himself and others in danger amidst a possible manic episode. Unaware of his medical condition, his peers are only encouraging his antics by worshipping him as “Gay Jesus” (and painting a banner of Ian nailed to a cross). Of all eight seasons of the show, this is my least favorite storyline for Ian. Even if he is experiencing a manic episode, the plot feels a bit forced and a little too provocative. Frankly, it was just uncomfortable to watch.
Although I found season eight of “Shameless” overall disappointing, a few characters served as redeeming factors that helped make the show a little more watchable. Liam, who had previously been too young to contribute to the plot, now serves as both a comedic relief and a relatively sane character in contrast to Frank. The writers did a great job developing Liam’s character as a neutral member of the family instead of another problematic child. Lip, as always, takes on a more serious role. He continues to strive for a sober life, all the while carrying the weight of everyone else’s problems (I’m looking at you, Sierra). Of course, I could have used more Kevin-Veronica-Fiona interaction, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching Kev and V interact with Russian immigrant Svetlana after selling her out to immigration services. It’s the little outlandish plotlines, surrounded by the stress and chaos, that keep me interested in the hectic lives of Southside Chicago’s favorite residents. Yes, season eight may have missed the target, but I’m definitely staying strapped in for season nine.