For those who haven’t watched Shameless (and we’re talking the U.S. version here, for simplicity’s sake), and even for those who have casually binged, the general perception of the show involves a deliciously dysfunctional family portrayed in a humorous light. And that’s partially true, for these characters roll with a multitude of punches in every episode. It’s hard to keep a Gallagher down, after all, but season eight took a different turn by maintaining enough of the show’s light tone while digging up the roots of this family’s emotional paralysis and, even more so, by showing multiple players’ inability to form proper dynamics outside the f*cked-up family unit.
My anti-hero loving friends, that is how this show has persisted in a cherished state, despite all the terrible things within — by hosting antics while steadfastly remaining a character-driven series. That the show could last this long (it’s fast approaching episode 100) past its initial gimmick is one thing. That it can continue to spawn compelling new storylines full of humanity is another. These characters’ plights are familiar — widespread, even — to many viewers, regardless of whether there’s a common struggle to stay above the poverty line.
The thing is, we Americans like to pretend that our current collective garbage fire is tied to recent political cycles, but it damn well has bubbled up for decades. The latchkey kids of yesteryear can attest to that much, and there’s a deep-seated fear that runs rampant for now-adults who didn’t reap the benefits of healthy parental attachment. That’s where we find the Gallagher siblings, who have somehow managed to stay financially afloat, yet their inner selves still bear significant scars, and they can’t progress. This can be difficult to witness.
Still, the show remains irresistibly watchable, thanks to the still-plentiful elements of the ridiculous, including “father” Frank (the role that William H. Macy was born to play) casually amputating his daughter Debbie’s gangrenous toes, or everything that young Liam has been subjected to over the years. It’s also impossible to know whether Ian’s new “Gay Jesus” persona will go anywhere relevant next season. There are, as always, plenty of balls in the air, and much of the seriousness boils down to a word — codependence — that’s widely whispered in therapists’ offices, a term that practically describes an epidemic, which is the cornerstone of why the Gallaghers are so relatable.
Yup, these characters are all in various stages of realizing their codependent trappings and tendencies, and they’re learning (or not) to stand as individuals, whether it’s steeped in substance abuse or something else. For a trio of Gallaghers in particular, they reached crucial points in their recovery while approaching season nine. Let’s see where they stand now.