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Review: Shameless (USA)

ByJuliet Tolley

Nov 29, 2017

Usually, after eight seasons, most shows begin to lose their steam, heading in the direction of painfully redundant. This sort of ‘too many seasons’ curse, however, has not yet affected the ongoing Showtime series Shameless USA. The series still stars the same band of characters: William H. Macy as the ever-present, though painfully neglectful father Frank Gallagher, Emmy Rossum as the family’s superstar daughter/sister/matriarch Fiona Gallagher, and the rest of the family crew: Lip, Ian, Debbie, Carl and young Liam.

The show picks up from last season’s end point when the family’s chaotic and bipolar mother Monica has just died. While some of the children have easily recovered from this tragedy, Ian, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, is struggling far more than his siblings to reconcile how he truly feels about his mother’s passing. We also see Lip, Debbie, Carl and Liam picking up their own side plots, as well as the family’s neighbours, Kevin and Veronica, dealing with their own complicated situations.

While this seems like an overload of characters and sub-plots to commit to, this is truly what Shameless USA does best. It follows many diverse and complex stories of several different characters, all with unique perspectives, comedic edges and of course the tragic and dramatic pull, to depict what it’s actually like to be poor in the south side of Chicago, typically credited as one of the most crime-ridden areas in the world. Like the show’s title pronounces, these characters are often incredibly shameless in the way they ‘get by’, the way they obtain money, pay the rent, and at the end of the day celebrate the meaning of family, despite the sins all have committed.

        As the show finalised its seventh season last year, some viewers felt it to be the perfect place to wrap up the series for good: the characters we have known and loved for almost a decade are all starting to land on their feet. In the final minutes of the last season, a beautiful montage plays of scenes depicting wellbeing and happiness of these characters as they embark on exciting and potentially tumultuous new journeys. While many think there aren’t many stories left to tell, the commencement of season eight proves that this family will always find its way into tricky and complicated situations.

This season seems more committed to the “comedy” label of the show, ringing a different tone than the past couple seasons’ narratives which were soaked in a nearly obtuse layer of drama and sadness. The stories this season seem funny and light-hearted, but knowing the trajectory of Shameless USA’s past, the hilarity won’t last for long. Soon enough, we’ll see the entire Gallagher band come together to unravel playful bits, embarking on adventures that may or may not affect the stability of the family.

Shameless USA  has always embraced interesting and inclusive narratives, and this season is no different. Last season we saw Ian Gallagher, an openly gay man in Southside Chicago in a new relationship with a trans man, embracing the intricacies of trans-narratives that hardly ever get proper representation in television or film. This season, Kevin, a strong and stereotypically masculine man is braced with a possible breast cancer scare, opening up the field of exploration into a man’s experience of a typically considered ‘female’ disease.

The show seems constantly committed to entering uncharted territory in terms of narrative, and must always be applauded for that, though it is important to remember that it is ultimately about a white family from the south side of Chicago. Acknowledging the white privilege of the family is essential for understanding the way they always manage to ‘get by’ and succeed without any significant consequences. Despite that, this show has the ability to always impress, largely in part to the incredible writers, but also thanks to Emmy Rossum – a brilliant actress who, after so many seasons and a slight scandal about equal pay, still shows up and delivers (arguably) the most incredible performance on television today.

If it weren’t for Emmy Rossum’s incredible grasp on the vulnerability of her character and her unending commitment to conveying the Gallagher family’s instability, Shameless USA wouldn’t exist as it does. Hats off to a series that can, after so many seasons, continually find its unique identity and continue to assert its place within the wealth of other series that television now has to offer.

Image: Vagueonthehow @ Wikimedia Commons

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