I Need to Talk About Shameless (a.k.a. I'm Not Crying, YOU ARE!!)
If you know me or have read much of my stuff, then you know I’m a hardcore fan of Showtime’s hit show, Shameless. The drama has just completed it’s 9th season, which sees the departure of the hypnotically beautiful and uber-talented Emmy Rossum as Fiona Gallagher, the de facto matriarch of the dysfunctional Gallagher clan. We all knew it was coming. They told us at the beginning of the season that it would be her last.
It still didn’t help deal with that emotional exit, and that is a testimony to Rossum and the whole cast and crew.
I should preface a bit by saying that this isn’t intended so much as a review as it is a simple opinion piece/editorial/borderline essay. I don’t need to give you the breakdown of the show’s story- if you’re reading this then it’s probably because you’re a fan of the show, too. I’d say that’s a fair guess.
Shameless has always been extremely cathartic for me. Sure, it’s hilarious and entertaining to the Nth degree, but for millions of people out there it means one fuck of a lot more than just easy laughs and the occasional surprising moment of human emotion (prime example of that type of show: Weeds). The show gives us a family that’s horribly dysfunctional in a number of ways (alcoholism, neglect, drug addiction, sexual issues galore, poverty, crime, etc.) who are also fiercely loyal, loving, and protective of each other. They’re South Side Chicago to the bone, street kids who know how to survive. The fights are epic. So are the parties. So is the love.
What has kept people tuning into this show for 9 seasons is the reality of it all. No one will argue that the Gallagher family has the volume turned up to eleven, but even if your fucked up raising wasn’t that bad it still shares the same spirit! It’s a show that doesn’t have to play heavy-handed with the “this is where you’re supposed to cry” moments, because it’s the little everyday stuff that hits home. It’s in the moments like Liam not coming home for days on end NOT being a strange thing. It’s in the response to those sporadic returns of Monica. It’s Frank’s constant drunkenness. It’s Fiona’s poor decision-making when she simply has to cope with the insane pressure of raising her 5 brothers and sisters. It’s Debbie’s teenage pregnancy and not being sure whether or not she’s gay. It’s Ian breaks with reality.
Every character brings something I can identify with. I’m a lot like Lip- the smart one that can’t keep from succumbing to those demons. I’m a whole lot like Ian, too- so much like my mother with all the mental baggage. I have a bit of Debbie- ready to just grow up and get out, only to end up being the caretaker. Carl is my soul brother- bad behavior and a fuck you attitude to match. I’ve even got a bit of Liam- often forgotten and obviously different (though not black ha ha!).
Mostly, though…I’m a lot like Fiona. That’s what made her departure and escape so damn beautiful and heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure. I felt that in my soul.
I grew up under the weight of both expectation and responsibility. My mother is an alcoholic who hasn’t touched a drop in 2 decades, but my youth wasn’t her most shining moment. My father was also an alcoholic who couldn’t control his appetites, but he held it down better than Frank (not necessarily a compliment by comparison). My father is now dead (has been since ‘02), and my mother is a good and Godly woman. But sometimes the damage is already done. I think she was Fiona, in a way, and then I took the reigns. My brother took off to the military; I don’t blame him. I didn’t have that option.
I’ve been a homeless teenager. I’ve stolen to survive and for kicks. I partied way too young. I’ve hurt people…some badly. There were a number of times in my life, crossroads, where I knew what the right decision was and made the wrong one in spite of myself. That’s what Shameless is full of- those moments when you say “fuck it” and embrace the chaos. When there’s that much madness around you and in your own head, sometimes you just feel at home there even when you know you could course correct by choosing Door #1. The handle on Door #2 is well-worn and smoothly comforting.
The flip side of that coin is the love and loyalty. My Mom and Dad fought a host of demons, but they never wavered in their convictions (even if they didn’t always make the right call). They provided and defended for as long as they could. We laughed and partied and loved as hard as you possibly could. I have no regrets. I hope they don’t/didn’t either. In short, I fucking loved my upbringing. I may not be a Gallagher from the South Side of Chicago, but it’s my badge of honor. I wear that shit with pride. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it.
That essence is what Shameless has always managed to capture. Even when it’s being ridiculously zany, it’s still the realest fucking thing ever put on TV. There are those who will say that TV is just entertainment. I tell them to suck a bag of dicks. Shameless is important, cathartic, and therapeutic. You’ll be entertained, sure, but you’ll feel that tug in your soul and that wetness on your cheek. The final scene between Fiona and Frank (William H. Macy a.k.a. the finest actor working today) tears out your heart and stomps on it with the brutal truth of just how complicated shit can be. There’d better be some Emmy Award love for that.
Farewell, Fiona Gallagher. Seeing you leave was simply perfection. You deserved it every bit as much as I deserved it when I took off for the deserts of New Mexico in 1998. We’ve all got a job to do, and part of it is living your life for you.