— By Carly Twehous —
Here’s the pitch:
South-side Chicago. Six Irish-Catholic kids, raised by the oldest sister, Fiona Gallagher, from the time she was eleven years old. Their father, Frank, is a drug addict and alcoholic con-man, who has frequent flyer miles at the local ER because sometimes overdosing is the only way he’ll get a decent bed. Their mother is psychotically bipolar and mostly out of their lives, but when she shows up, Monica becomes the Gallagher word for the devastation she leaves in her wake.
There is no better example of human brokenness, tragedy, and the raw desperation to survive in a world of stacked odds and cruel fate than Shameless. Despite the semi-frequent unhindered vulgarity, the rather shocking content that most definitely earns that M rating, and the jaw-dropping and gut-wrenching tragically comedic situations in which the Gallaghers continually find themselves, this show demands the attention of everyone, especially those particularly concerned with redemption.
The thing is, these characters have reached such a level of inane brokenness that I am not sure there is an adjective out there that can do them justice. You just have to see it.
Fiona gives everything for the kids she’s raising and the responsibility she did not so much as choose, but had thrown upon her one day, when her parents were on a bender. She’s too young, she’s a victim of circumstance, she’s unpredictable, and yes, the world is quite literally out to get her, but she’s a Gallagher. She gives it right back and despite all odds, she always lands on her feet.
(So help me, I kind of want to be Fiona Gallagher when I grow up.)
Lip is the south-side’s Golden Boy, and, consequently, a walking, talking heartbreak. He’s the one who could have gotten out, with his fancy scholarship to MIT and his tact for breaking the rules once he’s learned the game. Except Lip is a product of his genes and addiction runs deep. And no matter how far he runs, the South-Side Rules will always take priority.
Ian’s the wild card with the biggest heart, who, like his mother before him, is bipolar. He loves without reserve, falls hard and falls fast, and so often crashes and burns that it’s a wonder he finds the strength to stand back up, time and time again.
Debbie’s different, a little more prone to wallowing in self-pity and making herself into a victim than her older siblings, but deep down, she’s got that same Gallagher fire and brimstone pumping through her veins.
Carl was the psychotic kid who microwaved his sisters’ Barbies and skinned the neighbor’s cat. But life on their side of the tracks is not kind and Carl had to grow up and grow up fast. Now, he’s just about half a step short of a respectable human being.
Frank, on the other hand, is probably passed out on a park bench somewhere, missing his left shoe, with no idea how he got there.
This show doesn’t shy away from anything. Shameless is a rather apt title, but it’s in reference to a group of people that the world has flushed down the proverbial toilet. The Gallaghers have nothing, save for this ingrained Irish stubbornness, coupled with those brazen Chicago attitudes, and a flare for destruction, should anyone threaten their family.
These characters are a whole new category when it comes to human brokenness. Every single one of them is, well, horrible, but no one on God’s green earth can deny that every single member of the Gallagher clan is redeemable.
Yes, even Frank.
This want of redemption is the reason why the audience still roots for them, eight seasons in, and still feels the overwhelming Gallagher pride in the South-Side Rules, even though most of us have never been to Chicago. The audience knows these characters are going to fall. We signed on for tragedy, because tragedy is inevitable.
Instead of the Shakespearean ending, Shameless gives us just a little bit of hope, a little bit of comedy, and an inexplicable desire to punch the air on the rare occasion that the scheme of the week actually succeeds. The Gallaghers are a wing and a prayer short of falling into oblivion, but until such time as the world ends and the devil comes calling, they’ll stand on the parapet, shouting obscenities into the void.
That may not be admirable, per se, but they’re sure as hell understandable.
Though these characters are the polar opposite of heroes, there’s something about these Gallaghers that keep us believing in their redemption, even if almost all the evidence is to the contrary. It’s that fire that makes Fiona Gallagher a reckoning force. It’s Lip intelligence and the way he owns his mistakes, then fights that much harder because he’s made them. It’s Ian’s blind devotion and heart of gold, and Debbie’s sass, and the way Carl finally learned to grow up. It’s Liam’s innocence and Frank’s tenacity and stubborn will to live.
It’s that Gallagher flair for the dramatic. It’s the reason jaws drop and eyes go wide at the bizarre goings-on in south-side Chicago, that hope against all hope that fate will be kind enough to let the Gallaghers fight one more day.
The people aren’t heroes. See, they’re far more important than that.
The Gallaghers are the reason we believe in heroes.