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Analysis

Keeping up with the Gallaghers

Very few television shows that are rebooted from a foreign series end up being as enjoyable, nor as authentic in capturing the essence of what their predecessor was trying to get across. They often lack what made the original so unique and loved. However, in the case of the US remake of Shameless, the series went far beyond the source material of the original and frankly forgettable British counterpart.

Now seven seasons strong with an eighth only days away, many are undecided as to whether the series has outlived its time on the air or if it can survive another couple of seasons before finally ending, especially with the content becoming much darker than where it began. Now Shameless has never shied away from material that is suggestive or as the title implies… shameless. This was to be expected, however, as the children of the Gallagher family grew up and and faced more adult situations even considering their sort of younger age.

Yet, this is also what makes the Shameless reboot so memorable. Sure, a lot of people started watching the series for the raunchy content, but they got slapped with an unapologetically realistic portrayal of the lives of those who live in the more underprivileged neighborhoods of the United States. The ghetto, as it’s colloquially referred to throughout the series. As far as these neighborhoods go, the series ran with one of the more well-known ones: south-side Chicago, which is up there with other infamous areas like Detroit and Compton.

However, what really makes this series so memorable is its pinpoint focus on the character development of literally every single character in the show, even those we don’t see anymore. Across seven seasons we’ve seen all the Gallaghers and other central characters grow up, change for the better or worse, and live through some truly trying situations in which they don’t always come back from the brink the same person. As a bittersweet staple of the series, some characters become exactly who we want them to be while others become something that both they and we hoped they never would.

As the eighth season nears, I want to look back at the arcs of our favorite members of the Gallagher family. How they began the series, how they’ve changed over the seven years up until now, and where we hope to see them go in the new season.

For this piece I’ll be giving some brief recaps of the major members of the show’s main cast, including most of the Gallaghers. I’ll leave out Monica because she was never really around and Liam because his plot is all interaction with other characters. For obvious reasons, these recaps will not include everything otherwise this would require a book, so if you think I didn’t mention something major it’s because I couldn’t fit it in, but we can discuss it in the comments!

Warning! Spoilers are imminent, so if you haven’t watched all 7 seasons then read at your own risk.

Frank

Let’s begin with the self proclaimed patriarch of the Gallagher clan: the drug addicted, drunk, useless, and severely offensive father, Frank. In the early seasons he tended to just be a hindrance to Fiona and Lip as they worked to provide for their younger siblings. However, a trait that he carries over through the entirety of the series is his outspoken and ridiculous views on politics and governmental theories and his ability to squeeze cash from seemingly nowhere. Rather stereotypically, this is actually is the result of taking advantage of federal aid programs such as welfare and disability. He sometimes goes as far as purposefully injuring himself to reap the benefits of these programs.

After being kicked out (a running gag honestly) by his family he shacks up with a local woman with sever agoraphobia, Sheila. It is very easy to hate Frank, I mean he is literally just a horrible human being, but his saving grace in the early seasons is that we get the hilarious if slightly sad existence of Sheila, who is among my favorite supporting characters. Her issues with her overly religious husband and very sexually active daughter, Karen, give an opening for Frank to take full advantage of her neediness but with a cost of getting dildos shoved in his rear, and all we can do is laugh at him for it. His time with her is marked by some serious stuff: Karen acting out a daddy sex fantasy when her own father humiliates her publicly, being taken advantage of by Karen who in a state of madness films her having sex with him while he’s unconscious, and the resulting suicide of her father when everyone sees it.

We all do, Frank. We all do.

This plot stays for a few seasons and we see Sheila finally leave the house, be a surrogate mother to Karen’s child with down syndrome, start a relationship with Karen’s sex-addicted ex, and eventually move away late in the series. Meanwhile, in a bid to scam a daughter he never met, Frank finds his first born, Sammi. When he brings Sammi and her son into his and Sheila’s life, a power struggle begins. Frank’s liver does give out in season four and it’s an ugly affair. A botched illegal transplant, however, leaves him a kidney short but bumps him up on the list for a transplant which he really does not deserve. Sammi’s pathological need to be important causes an abusive relationship with her father, which he again deserves. He somewhat controls his drinking from then on in a bid to maximize the lifespan of his new organ, but quickly spirals down again once Sheila leaves for good.

In season five he meets Bianca, a young doctor who was just diagnosed with stage 3 cancer, and tries to show her the time of her life. In a weird way Frank falls for her and the two even end up moving to Costa Rica until she tragically ends her own life. Frank’s overall loss is kind of redeeming but not really as he goes back to being the same old Frank once he starts his “cancer concierge” scam and subsequently ruins Fiona’s second marriage. In the most recent season, Frank unites the city’s homeless only to caught mid-scheme, and his new family throws him from a window. At the present we kind of feel bad for him with how he takes the death of Monica (the mother of his children), but we know somehow he’ll do something else to destroy that.

Fiona

Fiona is the eldest of the Gallagher children and the one with the most responsibility. We really feel for her at the start of the series; she practically raised all of her siblings due to Frank and Monica’s drug abuse and neglect and she did a pretty good job. She’s a high school dropout out of necessity for her siblings and works dead end jobs to supply a living for everyone. A big part of her early plot includes Jimmy-Steve, her lover at the time who earned a living stealing and selling cars. The two would have a constant rocky relationship because of his inability to be truthful, even with his name. Things take a turn for the worse with them when she decides to become her siblings’ legal guardian, a decision he feels was not solely hers to make. He does disappear several times, but always returns to further ruin Fiona in more ways than one until he says his final goodbye in season five.

Fiona: nearly every episode

In season three Fiona lands a really good job with a cup company and for once has stable money and benefits. Things look great for her, she’s dating her boss, and the family is doing well in her care. That is until her boss’s brother decides to appeal to her need for a dangerous bad boy and they end up having an affair in secret, which Fiona hates herself for. This really is a turning point for Fiona as she ruins a great thing and, in the aftermath of her sorrow, accidentally leaves a bag of cocaine that was given to her by her boss’s brother lying around during a party and her baby brother Liam inhales a lot of it. She’s arrested for neglect but gets off with a very short prison sentence and house arrest.

Through all of this, however, she still maintains a very selfless attitude towards her own life. She still cares for the fortune of her siblings over her own, yet subtly this attitude begins to change. She lands a job as a waitress with a former addict who takes similar people under his wing, and she tries off some new plans and schemes to help her family survive. In a spur of other relationships she ends up marrying Gus only a few weeks after hooking up with him, which ends in tatters when Jimmy-Steve comes around to rock the boat again. She ends up slowly falling for her boss at the restaurant, which looks to be another good thing for her. She’s finally happy, until Frank ruins it by exposing her husband to be’s relapse back into heroin on their wedding day.

In the most recent season, Fiona has all but abandoned her selfless attitude and replaced it with a cold new one that says none of the children but Liam are to rely on her anymore. She takes control of Patsy’s Pies as manager and reinvents the place to bring in a bigger cash flow. She discovers Tinder, which she uses to get some sex with no strings attached, and even becomes a player in property investment. The seventh season ends with a return to her more selfless nature, slowly, but also the cold hard fact that she cannot dwell in the past anymore. This is apparent when she is so unfeeling at Monica’s death, even punching the dead body in a fit of anger. At this point, while it is nice to see Fiona finally succeeding in doing things both for her own welfare and to further her future, we have to ask if it’s worth losing her family.

Lip

Probably my favorite character on the show in recent seasons, Lip is the complete pinnacle of the show’s ability to show off its characterization. Among all his siblings, he is definitely the most intelligent, and boy does he know it. In the first few seasons of the series he shows this, as well as a willingness to provide for his family by using his book smarts, getting cash for taking standardized tests for his peers and writing out essays. He uses his street smarts meanwhile to hustle and use an ice cream truck to sell pot and alcohol to younger teens, which is of course illegal but not unheard of. He does get caught eventually, taking tests that is, but this only serves to help with getting into college.

Lip’s horrible flaw however is how easily he is prone to misplacing his feelings, whether within another or within his vices, and that inhibition tends to grow worse and worse with every passing season and every heartbreak. For the first half of the show he is mostly involved with Karen and Mandy Milkovich. Karen and Lip are very non-monogamous early in their relationship but after some time Lip gets pretty attached, and it’s made worse when Karen gets pregnant and uses it to keep him around by telling him that it’s theirs. Once the child is born and Lip realizes that surely an Asian baby isn’t his, Karen abandons the child to her mother due to his down syndrome and pretty much disappears from the series.

Lip has a good thing with Mandy after that, even though she is far more attached than he, though it’s really sweet that she wants to further his life by applying for schools behind his back and just generally being supportive. Even if he is being a dick about it. By the latter half of season 3, Karen returns and tries to rekindle things with Lip. Once Mandy has had enough of this however, the love triangle between the three ends with Mandy running down Karen with her car, causing Karen massive brain damage. As one might expect, this effectively causes Lip to break off any further relations with her.

Lip basically every appearance

For the most part, Lip’s plot in the rest of the show revolves around his involvement with different women during his time in college. First there’s the vengeful rich student named Amanda, who basically is the closest thing to an actual girlfriend he’s ever had, then there’s a professor who wants nothing more than to have fun with a student. His relationship with the professor is weird at first because her husband is pretty much okay with it, but once Amanda finds the leverage she needs this turns sour and causes Lip to not only lose this professor but go spiraling down a pit of alcoholism that eventually leads to his expulsion from college. Lately he’s in a complicated affair with one of Fiona’s employees, but things turn quite ugly when he attacks her son’s father. For much of the recent seasons it’s been hard not to see Frank in him, which is a terrifying prospect. We’ve seen Lip ruin a lot of things in his life, but hopefully that will change. His willingness to finally get some help at least gives us some hope.

Ian

Ian is yet another example of the show’s absolute complete respect for character development. The third eldest sibling and definitely the most interesting in terms of plot line, Ian goes through some pretty tumultuous changes throughout the first 7 seasons of the series. Our first impressions of his character are that he’s very pro military, with his ROTC training and overall fit nature. He’s also the only gay Gallagher, which he pretty much hides from the rest of his family. Lip is the first to discover this when he finds a hidden pornographic magazine disguised as one for straight men and then catches Ian in the act with his boss at the bodega. The earlier seasons don’t put a huge emphasis on Ian’s sexuality other than him coming out to his siblings slowly. Equally shown is his relationship with Mickey Milkovich, which is mostly physical as Mickey really isn’t convinced he’s completely gay.

This takes a turn for the worse when Mickey’s homophobic father catches them and beats the hell out of both of them, then to add salt to the wound forces Ian to watch Mickey impregnate a Russian sex worker named Svetlana, who later he’s also forced to marry. After some real trouble with Mickey, at the end of season 3 Ian loses his temper and joins the Army. He returns near the midway point of season 4 without telling anyone and and starts working as a dancer and sex worker at an exclusively gay male club. He seems very different in personality when Lip finally forces him to come home, exhibiting the same signs of bipolar disorder that his mother Monica has.

I’m not crying, you’re crying

He struggles for a long time after his diagnosis with the disorder and does some very erratic things, like stealing Mickey’s son and running away. In the later seasons he does find a balance with his medication and seems to be in a much better state of mind, especially with Mickey forced out of his life. Like Lip he’s got a troubled love life, as he dates a bisexual man who refuses to admit that anyone can be 100% attracted to one gender. Recently he’s involved with a transgendered man who tries to educate him on nonbinary culture, which he knows almost nothing about. The last we saw of Ian was him running away with Mickey who had escaped from prison, only to finally let him go. The moment is bittersweet for his character, but not without its implications as he decides to tell his current lover about the situation.

Carl and Debbie

Other than Liam these are the two youngest of the Gallagher family. In the first few seasons they’re really just filler, but we still grow to love them the same. Carl is a juvenile delinquent and overall daredevil and Debbie a quiet but inquisitive young girl who for some reason gets too easily attached to things, unfortunately even Frank. The two really keep to their childlike (and in Carl’s case possibly psychopathic) states until they finally become teenagers.

Carl ends up getting himself into the drug dealing market, which eventually leads to him going to prison along with his nephew Chuckie (Sammi’s son). As Veronica puts it, he does “make juvie his bitch” and comes out with respect from the gangbanging community. From then on he’s mostly seen with his friend Nick making obscene amounts of money, which he wastes ridiculously until he makes the adult decision of buying the Gallagher home back after it’s sold for auction. He also gets involved with the daughter of a police officer after Nick is sent to prison for murdering a child who stole his bike. Carl does all sorts of crazy things for this girl… like getting his foreskin surgically removed. When he finally realizes that she sleeps around he gets friendly with her father, who ends up convincing him to attend military school to turn his life around.

Debbie on the other hand becomes obsessed with being a teenage mother in the latter half of the series. This comes to fruition when she successfully lies to her boyfriend Derek, saying she’s on birth control when she actually isn’t. The two engage in unprotected sex and she does get pregnant, causing his family to move him away so that his life will not be burdened by a child. Fiona tries her hardest to convince Debbie to abort the child, even going so far as to say she will not help support it, which just causes a great rift between the two Gallagher sisters. Recently she’s been learning the hardships of being a teen mom and, no thanks to Frank, she basically tries to sell her own daughter. Debbie is now in a somewhat stable if unconventional relationship with a man bound to a wheelchair. The man is the brother of Sierra (Lip’s current love interest) and has a mental handicap as well as a physical one. Outwardly however, Debbie has changed from a sweet girl ready to believe in anything good in the world to a very defensive and moody young woman who we really hope patches things up with her sister.

Could not stop laughing because this is basically their relationship in a nutshell

As I said before, it is really hard to include everything that’s happened in the series up until this point. Yet, we can discuss this at length in the comments so please do so! I’ll see you all when the new seasons starts!


Images Courtesy of Showtime

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    Hey, everyone! Just your friendly neighborhood nerd. From NYC/NJ, 28 years old. Ask me about a Fandom and I can go on for hours. Firefly, Penny Dreadful, and A Song of Ice and Fire are my favorites, let's get nerdy.

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