After a season finale that left both its characters and audience reeling, “Shameless” returns to its status quo. The Gallaghers have all undergone extreme changes: Lip (Jeremy Allen White, “Movie 43”) was dropped off at rehab, Fiona’s (Emmy Rossum, “The Phantom of the Opera”) wedding was brought to an abrupt halt, Debbie (Emma Kenney, “Epic”) had her baby, Carl (Ethan Cutcosky, “The Unborn”) lost his virginity and Frank (William H. Macy, “Boogie Nights”) was thrown into a lake. In this season’s premiere though, the series manages to re-establish a sense of normalcy as its characters grapple with regaining control over their lives.
Now entering its seventh season, “Shameless” has established a clear narrative pattern for its ensemble of unique and complex characters. Each character is faced with an obstacle or opportunity that challenges their assumed pattern of thinking, and we’re taken along for the ride until their circumstances inevitably turn disastrous and they return to their routine for a while.
Fiona is a prime example of this paradoxically circuitous character development. Her storyline through the past six seasons has hinged on a series of failed relationships. Each time, her pursuit of a life independent of her family leads to a period of happiness that blinds her to the grave outcomes to come. Her first relationship with Jimmy (Justin Chatwin, “War of the Worlds”) not only led to heartbreak, but also to a drug offense that put the youngest Gallagher, Liam (newcomers Brennan Kane Johnson and Blake Alexander Johnson), in peril, and put her on the outs with the rest of the family. Then came her brief, doomed marriage to Gus (Steve Kazee, “Working Class”) and her subsequent relationship with Sean (Dermot Mulroney, “New Girl”) that held a small bit of hope and even greater heartbreak. This final straw for Fiona puts her off relationships in Season 7 as she focuses on her job and the family. Rather than playing the game of “who will Fiona’s love interest be this season?” the season will hopefully focus on what makes Fiona the relatable and admirable character that she is.
As she bustles through the Gallagher house waking up its inhabitants, a familiar image of a day in the life of the family ushers in a renewed sense of the ordinary, even though all the characters are now in vastly different stages of their lives.
Integral to this return to normalcy is Frank’s survival after being thrown into the lake in the dead of winter. He awakes in a hospital bed after being in a coma for nearly a month, depicted by a surreal underwater dream sequence that resurfaces the events leading up to his coma (none of which he remembers upon waking up). In typical self-centered Frank fashion, he is disappointed that no one came looking for him while he was hospitalized, unaware that his own family were the ones that put him there. Frank raiding the Gallagher fridge and hauling himself up to Fiona’s room and nailing the door shut is nothing if not a familiar scene, but it raises the question of his significance to the overall plot of the series.
Now that the kids are grown and Fiona has established herself as their primary caregiver, they are out from under Frank’s thumb. His typical antics are minor inconveniences compared to the individual problems the family members each face in their own lives. Debbie resorts to theft to provide for herself and her baby, Lip readjusts to life outside of rehab (which didn’t seem to have much of an impact on him), Ian (Cameron Monaghan, “Gotham”) jealously follows his boyfriend, Caleb (Jeff Pierre, “War Dogs”) on a dinner date with a high school girlfriend and Carl… well, Carl must cope with the revelation that he’s the only uncircumcised Gallagher after his girlfriend Dominique (Jaylen Barron, “See Dad Run”) refuses to give him a blowjob. In possibly one of the most hilarious twists in Carl’s story, he electively gets circumcised at the age of 16, unblinking at the $1500 sum of his operation, just to get what he wants from his girlfriend.
Carl’s determination is unparalleled by Frank’s, however, whose ability to fight off mortality despite his dependency on alcohol and drugs continues to surprise even his family. While entertainingly cynical, Frank’s perspective on life is no longer one that dictates the course of the story. Whatever self-serving scheme he thinks up next will likely be a small blip on the family’s radar — an annoyance rather than an obstacle — shifting the focus of the show to questions concerning the fates of the characters more central to the plot.
“Shameless” now must reconsider how it’s going to answer these questions. Lip spiraling back into alcoholism, Debbie getting busted for stealing and Fiona self-destructing in another toxic relationship would be the predictable courses of action. However, the show’s appeal is its lack of predictability, the absurd and unexpected circumstances that launched its characters into paths no one could imagine from the very first season. And if the show follows its formula, they will inevitably end up back where they started. Though a fresh start is exactly what this season needed, it needs to recapture the element of flippant absurdity that made the show so successful in the first place.