If you’ve never watched Showtime’s Shameless, get on it. The American version of a British show by the same name, Shameless tells the story of alcoholic deadbeat Frank Gallagher and his industrious children as they find ways to grow up without him in Chicago’s infamous South Side. And by “grow up,” I mean drink, fight, and otherwise blaze their way to survival- preferably while setting off a firecracker or two.
Dark comedy jackpot.
While it is hilarious, Shameless is a far cry from sugary feel-good sitcoms like Modern Family. The gritty South Side setting is the perfect backdrop for the various shenanigans involving drugs, violence, and the occasional arrest. In all reality, some storylines are fairly dark, but the show has such comedic elements that it doesn’t feel depressing.
It doesn’t sugar-coat or romanticize poverty.
The Gallaghers are poor- like, “kids get jobs around age 13” poor- and the show doesn’t shy away from that fact. The opening scene involves the whole family sitting around the breakfast table, literally pulling change out of their pockets to pay the gas bill. They can’t afford a car, and are frequently seen working odd jobs to make ends meet. Various sub-plots have revolved around the heat being shut off, pooling money to buy food, and difficulty accessing education. This is a theme in their community as a whole, and unlike previous “working class” shows like Roseanne, it’s never exploited or played for laughs- this is their lives.
To quote the show, “F**king Gallaghers!”
The series stars the Gallagher clan in all their unbridled glory. There’s Frank, the alcoholic deadbeat father; actor William H. Macy has won multiple awards and received two Emmy nominations for his performance. The oldest daughter, Fiona, is about 21 when the show starts, and it quickly becomes clear that she’s been responsible for the entire family since she was a teenager (their drug-addicted, mentally unstable mother abandoned the family years ago). Phillip “Lip” Gallagher is a womanizer, schemer, and apparent genius- however, his family’s poverty makes education hard to come by, despite his obvious intellect. Ian Gallagher begins as a closeted ROTC member, and his struggle to accept himself is one of the show’s most touching performances. Then there’s nurturing Debbie, troublemaking Carl, and quiet Liam.
Multi-dimensional female characters.
The women of Shameless are shown as imperfect, dynamic beings struggling for independence despite their poverty. Fiona is shown as the breadwinner of the family and it is revealed that she was forced to drop out of high school to care for her siblings. Veronica, Fiona’s neighbor and best friend, is allowed to have moments of vulnerability despite her vivacious personality. None of the female characters fall into the one-dimensional “strong independent woman” trope- they’re allowed to have moments of emotion and retribution despite their dynamism.
The counterpart to the our intrepid main family, the Milkovich clan hails from the same neighborhood- and make the Gallaghers look like the Kennedys. Despite being frequently in and out of prison, the Milkoviches brought us fan favorite Mickey Milkovich, whose character development ultimately becomes the best in the series. His sister Mandy is tough, moody, and complicated. She often shows the graver realities poverty bears on women, but refuses to be looked down upon.
The best next-door neighbors ever.
Kev and V are one of the best couples on TV. They are shown to be unapologetically sexual, but very committed to their relationship. V is Fiona’s best friend, and her refusal to apologize for being exactly who she is makes her character unforgettable.
The show touches on real issues, like classism, mental illness, and gentrification.
Classism is an issue that’s frequently depicted. Fiona states in the pilot, “why am I having to apologize for [my upbringing?]” While a wealthier character frets about his family drama, Kev points out that everyone else’s biggest problem is to keep food on the table. When (spoiler) Lip finally gets to college on a full scholarship, he realizes his neighborhood school’s education was so subpar he has to struggle to keep up. The show makes no efforts to hide how Frank’s alcoholism affects his family. In the fifth season, gentrification is confronted- we see people getting evicted as housing prices rise. As Lip puts it, “the people I grew up with can’t afford to live here anymore.”
8. Moments like this.
9. And like this.
10. And like this.
11. And this.
12. And this.
13. And this.
14. And this.
15. And this.
16. And this.
17. And finally, this.
Fight on, Gallaghers.