Junius Randolph - Northwestern University
Modern Family helped modernize the concept of “family” on regular TV. The creators whipped together hilarious seasons of a complicated family tree with contemporary issues hanging from its branches. Most episodes end with morals relatable to any family, even if protagonists deviate from the “norm.”
Shameless is Modern Family’s similar antithesis on premium cable. The Showtime dramedy centers around the gravely poor Gallagher family on the South Side of Chicago (North Lawndale to be exact). Dad (Frank) is a drunk. The oldest sister (Fiona) takes care of the family. The oldest brother (Lip) is a genius. The second oldest brother (Ian) is a gay JROTC cadet. The younger sister (Debbie) hustles for every penny. Another brother (Karl) has psychopathic tendencies. The neighbors are sexual freaks. And the baby brother (Liam) is somehow part black. Can you think of a more hilarious set-up?
The Gallagher clan starts hustling as soon as the pilot episode fades in. Fiona works dead-end jobs at various places, bringing little Liam along with her. Lip writes papers, tutors and takes SATs for kids for a hefty price. Ian works at a convenience store for a married man he’s also having sex with. The rest of the kids complete other tasks or come up with miniature moneymaking schemes.
Emmy Rossum deserves an Emmy for her performances, especially in the last two seasons. She embodies Fiona, a woman struggling to find herself while staying sane and caring for her siblings. She instills values in them without present parents, even if they have to bend social norms and laws to survive. Emmy plays the character like she lived Fiona’s life (which she actually did in a way). Fiona also struggles to keep stable relationships throughout the show, finding different types of men that love only a piece or her sweet, but bitter pie.
Fiona is the heart of the show and the backbone of the family. But other characters manage to steal attention. Genius but reckless smart-ass Lip irrationally latches on to emotionally unstable girls while excelling in school. He eventually makes it into college, after a crazy ex-girlfriend, Mandy, applies to schools for him. He becomes the substitute parent while staying a student when Fiona struggles with her own hidden demons. Ian tries to find love all around Chicago, eventually giving up on his relationships and family to illegally enlist. Debbie transforms from the family hustler to an adolescent girl trying to lose her virginity. The Gallaghers are that weird dysfunctional family a couple houses down the street with issues we can all relate to.
The creators bounce the Gallagher family off two other smaller, but equally controversial families as well. The horny Kev and Veronica next door struggle to make a family of their own, while partying with Fiona every chance they get. Agoraphobic germophobe Sheila tries to play "Super Mom" for a sex addict daughter while satisfying her own fetishes with Frank. Over the course of the show they grow with the Gallaghers, providing shameless support along the way.
Shameless also blends outrageously gross comedy with hard-hitting topics like mental health, abuse (both physical and drug-related) and alcoholism. Every hilarious moment like Frank receiving an illegal liver surgery and realizing the “surgeon” stole a kidney, is paired with a moment of heartbreak such as the family’s mother, Monica, returning and stealing their hard-hustled bill money. The show crochets drama and comedy together in a blanket that never quite keeps you warm.
The show structure is as unorganized as the Gallagher clan with various plots running along the entire hour. Characters’ actions might be the nastiest, most shameless thing you think could ever happen on cable. But the concept of strong family bonds keeps a consistent million of viewers tuning in each week. The Gallaghers are America’s poor modern family with a splash of dark humor. I’m still wondering why a show drenched with amazing acting, in-your-face comedy and heart-tugging drama hasn’t swept up awards yet. Shameless just got renewed for a fifth season and season four is ending as humorously dramatic as possible, with only two more episodes left.
So grab some popcorn (or more fittingly, a beer) and watch the Gallagher survival guide to Chicago life this Sunday at 9 p.m. ET. If you don't have Showtime, google the show and watch it through any website you can find. That's what the Gallaghers would do.
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