Shameless Is Making Its Annual Move from Comedy to Drama... Are You On Board?


In each of its three seasons, the U.S. version of Shameless has drawn a line in the plot where it transitions quickly from TV's most wildly inappropriate comedy to an award-worthy drama. The humor is always there, but the harsh realism of the Gallaghers' poverty eventually raises the dramatic stakes much higher we're used to from such an overall funny show. With last Sunday's episode, "Cascading Failures," Shameless took its most confident step toward full-on drama by diving head first into the Gallagher family's deepest, darkest places.

Shameless has always dropped references to screwed-up events that took place before we joined the family in Season 1. Often these were played for humor—Frank's fond memories of a particular drug binge or a reunion with Monica that produced another child. But Fiona's memories were of the dark times when she had to fend for herself and her siblings in the absence of a parent, sometimes while being pulled in and out of government care. Now that we've seen how truly ill-equipped for real life the Gallagher clan can be at their current ages, it's almost impossible to believe they were ever able to survive on their own.

Slowly but surely, the wandering plot of Shameless's third season has been building toward playing its disastrous wild card: a return to life in the system for the Gallagher children. In Season 1, their poverty was not insurmountable. The streetwise Gallaghers had perfected a few scams to pay the bills and, more importantly, avoid the government's wrath. Character-driven plotlines have made a weekly kitty fund crisis unnecessary since then, but the threat of financial ruin has been ever-present for the Gallaghers as a result of Frank's continued welfare fraud. 

Season 2 pushed hardship a little further as Frank's destructive nature all but bankrupted his family. But we also witnessed a fate far worse than financial ruin as Frank's corruption of his wife (again) pushed his family toward emotional ruin as well. In Season 3, we've been treated to the rejection of Frank by each of his children in the name of self-preservation, with Debbie in particular sealing the deal on his ouster from the house. Pushed against the wall, Frank did what we assumed was the unthinkable, and called in his own flesh and blood to Child Services.

After an episode that scattered the kids across Chicago, showcasing their individual talents for survival in the process, the payoff was a gut punch courtesy of Emmy Rossum's wide eyes. The look on Fiona's face as she listened to Frank's anonymous call to was, for me, the show's most powerful moment to date. It greatly opens up the possibilities for the second half of Season 3, with Fiona again fighting to save the family while facing Frank, the government, and a suddenly on-the-fence-about-everything Jimmy as hurdles (and plenty of new ones to come).

If you told me this was Shameless's final season, I'd be 100 percent on-board with this arc as the final test for the Gallaghers. But now that the show has upped the ante, how can it possibly top itself in Season 4 (and likely future seasons thereafter)?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. What do you think is in store for the rest of Season 3? Are you all-in on Shameless's yearly dramatic turn?



STRAY THOUGHTS

– A similar tonal shift would be completely jarring if applied to any other comedy today (with the exception of Louie). Parks and Recreation can move nimbly between comedy and sweetness itself, but while Pawnee can be a messed-up place at times, Leslie Knope's ability to keep the city on track is considerably less fraught with actual danger than Fiona's upcoming battles.

 All this goes to show, of course, that Shameless has been badly mis-categorized comedy during award season, as Emmy Rossum and crew can certainly go punch-for-punch with the best dramatic performances on TV.

 After carrying much of the dramatic weight in Season 2, Lip's been largely carefree this season. Between laser-wielding-battlebot competitions and his mission to expose a teacher who served time for molesting a student, he's had some odd impulses. But clearly we'll see some real Mandy drama ahead. Any bets on how it plays out?

– Kev and Veronica have been particularly great this season as their struggle to create a family was very much the storyline we've been waiting for. Across the street, Jody and Sheila have been more of a miss for me as they navigate caring for Karen's baby and balancing their individual sexual needs.

Comments (51)
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Im loving this show how it can make me laugh, cry and cringe. Its harsh, its raw, its insane and its real. I like the funny, silly parts of the show but I love the drama, they do it so well.
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this was the saddest episode ever! i'm a huge Ian/Mickey fan and that was a real disaster...
:(
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I like that it hits both the funny and the dark side of life in that kind of situation. If it was all comedy it wouldn't seem real and if it was all drama I couldn't take this show. By mixing the good with the bad in their life it makes it more real.

The look on Fiona's face said exactly what kind of a parasite Frank is: he sent his own kids into the system and then claimed "they can't take MY kids away". On top of which this escapade cost Fiona a steady job that allows her to be there for the kids. Now the legal fees are going to wipe out the squirrel fund, and at the end of it all, what have they gained? Frank can do it all over again in a years time because they can't get him out of their lives.

P.S. I was excited when I thought there would be weekly reviews and bummed when I realized it was just for the premier.
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Agreed on the Frank frustration... he's really the villain in this show.

Good to know you miss the weekly reviews - I'll make sure to write at least another piece towards the end of the season! Thanks for reading.
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Shameless is best when it's dramatic IMO
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In Stray Thoughts, you say Shameless is categorized as a comedy during award season. But Joan Cusack was nominated for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in the Primetime Emmy Awards. The Satellite Awards, Casting Society of America Awards, and GLAAD Media Awards also classify it as a drama series. The Prism Awards seem to be the only ones that categorized it as a comedy when they nominated William H. Macy (who won) and Emmy Rossum in 2012 for Performances in a Comedy Series.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1586680/awards
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You're correct - and Showtime actually submitted the show for Emmy consideration as a drama in the past. But I think the fact that it could really be submitted either way is the only thing that prevents it from winning awards.
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may *whatever god you believe in (or the one you don't believe)* bless Showtime for Californication, House of Lies and Shameless. All at the same day
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or maybe the truck of money they get out of it is blessing enough
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A season 4 better than season 3? IN SHAMELESS WE TRUST!
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Since the rejection of the idealistic portrayals of the American family such as the Nelsons of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and the Cleavers of Leave It to Beaver, television has provided us with visions of the uber-dysfunctional family unit, from the Bunkers of All in the Family, the Harpers of Mama's Family, the Bundys of Married with Children, the Connors of Roseanne and now the Gallaghers, dramedies which at once entertain and make (most of) us feel a bit better about our own circumstances.

Most of those shows never delved too deeply into the drama or realism of various issues they raised, preferring to stay in the safer comedic territory, so it is terribly impressive to see such a relatively young cast of actors execute the caliber of material the writers deliver on Shameless. Amidst popular media overrun with images of wealth, privilege and excess, the social and emotional issues Shameless addresses with realism, humor and poignancy are too often closer to reality for too many American families than billionaire playboys, desperate housewives or white collar high flyers. Emmy Rossum is phenomenal, portraying with grace and maturity in every scene Fiona's ever-present underlying anxiety at the tenuous reality she and her family exist in, her desires and hopes for more, and her heartbreak over a world full of people that all let her down eventually.

All at once hilarious and heartbreaking, each season has grown progressively more serious with regard to the realities faced by the Gallaghers and as humorous as many of their foibles are, there are too many serious issues currently in play or peripherally introduced that have not been satisfactorily addressed for the writers to run out of steam in the near-term. I do not think Frank's betrayal and Fiona's resultant suit for custodial rights is anywhere close to the heights of their story because there is more to the issues they face than merely keeping the children together. Without being heavy-handed in respect of the matter, Shameless has taken on the issues of poverty and social mobility in the US, and in the current environment many of us deeply want to see how the Gallaghers deal with their restrictive economic reality, if only for the brief escape from dealing with our own. Deep down we very much want to see Fiona succeed, because these are the echos of what each of us needs and wants.

If I have one criticism of the writing, it is that the vast majority of material addressing sex in any regard is handled with the maturity of a men's room full of high school freshman, which is disappointing because they handle alcohol, drugs and drug use with far more aplomb and dexterity, an arguably more taboo issue.
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This is an awesome writeup - and I agree on the handling of sexual situations on the show. It's worth a deeper analysis for sure.
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If you enjoyed that, you should dry chomping through this little guy...

AMODERN FAMILY:THE PERFORMANCE OF “FAMILY” AND FAMILIALISM IN CONTEMPORARY TELEVISION SERIES
by Jennifer M. Fogel
http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/91389/fogelj_1.pdf
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I will certainly give it a look. I'm honored that something I jotted off on my mobile in a coffee shop is a springboard to a reference of academic publishing and criticism. And people say I think too much...
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Wow, nice. Well, what you wrote was very interesting and thoughtful.
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This show always manages to come up with new crazy plot lines. Every time I think they have pushed the limits far enough, they come up with something more insane, yet hilarious. Molly, the little girl with a penis, and Kevin having sex with his mother-in-law while Veronica is watching have been a few of the jaw dropping moments this season.
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The Molly plot is one that I've hoped would go away soon since it doesn't have much of a direct effect on the main characters. But it is always fun to see how the Gallagher family reacts to situations odder than their own.
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but it did go away, didn't it? her/his dead mother dug herself up, came back to life and took molly back, didn't she?
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The Ian-Mickey story also added to the dramatic feeling of the episode... their final scene was a punch in the stomach.
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Oh man, absolutely. Romantic relationships are not allowed to be happy-go-lucky for long on this show.
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I found especially good to see how the two of them behave like a "normal" couple for the first time ever, and then the disaster!

It must be said that the actor that plays Mickey made a great job this time, the look that gives to Ian just before going at it with the Russian is priceless.
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I have not watched it yet but damn I hope Ian breaks things off with Mickey. He skeeves me out!
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So are you Team Jimmy's Dad?
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Finally saw the episode and I started rooting for them two a bit since Mickey stopped being less of a dick lol
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Lol anyone but Mickey. Not so much Jimmy's dad neither lol
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I don't think we have to worry about Shameless because it has always been able to switch between Drama and Comedy back and forth with ease and we went along with it without noticing the change.
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I've enjoyed this show a lot since it's inception. I do think it does a good job balancing the outrageous and funny, with some serious drama. In reality there is nothing funny about the Gallagher kids situation. Bit heavy on the sex scenes this season, allow the Lip and Mandy PB scene was hilarious. I hope the writes figure out how to balance this show out and finish on top. So far it looks like 3 for 3 with good seasons, I recall though Dexter was 4 for 4 and the last 3 since haven't been nearly as good.

Don't even get me started with LOST and its first 3 vs. last 3 seasons...so the odds of any show lasting a real long time and being good for start to finish is a challenge. Writers doing an excellent job thus far.
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I thought that February 24th's episode was the best of the season. I am glad that they are getting a fourth season. This show could be on for 10 seasons and it wouldn't be enough.
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Last night's episode was even better than last weeks. No other show can improve week to week.
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Also, I think the Lip story is heading to a return of Laura Slade Wiggins "Karen".
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They've even hinted at her return - when Sheila answered Frank's phone call in the first episode of the season, hoping it was Karen.

If she wasn't ever coming back, they probably wouldn't have bothered.
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Me too because i think Mandy is awesome while karen was awful
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Do you think Jane Levy misses "Mandy"? This season Mandy Milkovic has been must more interesting than Tessa Altman.
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I sure hope not. I hate Karen
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But she brings out the very best of angsty Lip!
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No no no. Karen needs to stay away. And Mandy and her family need to pack up too
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Thank you for saying that! Every time I see Mandy strutting about the Gallagher house sans trousers I find myself waiting for her to blurt out something horrid, "I'm preggers, let's get hitched!" or some equally wretched death sentence for Lip's future. Lip may have made things difficult for himself but he hasn't done anything irreversible yet, he could yet go to university and make something of himself, which he will feel motivated to do when Ian leaves for boot camp. Mandy has baby-mama written all over her, desperately needs to escape her own circumstances and while no genius, she is smart enough to know she will never, ever do better than Lip. (And how crushingly sad is it to know the best partner you'll ever have in your life came and went before you had a chance to drop out of high school?)

I have compassion for the Milkovich children, I do, but they are a lost cause, and while their vile patriarch deserves a visit from the Boltons of GoT, if Shameless follows reality he will likely never feel the karma of his sins though they have and will continue to manifest in and effect his children, perhaps even his grandchildren. Mandy and Mickey will only ever be at best entertaining diversions for the Gallaghers, at worst they will become the albatrosses anchoring Lip and Ian to their current circumstances.
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This show is fantastic and deserves all of the awards. In particular Emmy Rossum, she is wonderful.
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I'm on board #alloftheawards.
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This season was hillarious so far and I love sudden pure drama switch, coz they still manage to crack dark jokes.
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I agree 100% about that look on Fiona's face while listening to Frank (with help from Stars Hollow! Hi Lane, where ya been?) just broke your heart. Emmy Rossum has never been nominated for anything for playing this extremely complex role and hopefully this year she can break through. They don't really nominate people for playing characters that actually resemble real people like "Fiona Gallagher", which sucks.
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This season has been really potent so far, and all I know is this cast is amazing. Emmy Rossum is the lead here though, kicks ass behind the camera.

im thinking Fiona is now going to try to get be the kids' legal guardian and maybe send frank to prison. You know shes pissed. carl waa funny as hell pissing on their coach.
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couch*
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I always saw Shameless as an accurate look at life. Sometimes it's hilarious, sometimes it's sad and sometimes it's hilariously sad.
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If Emmy Rossum doesn't get an Emmy nod for her performance this season I'm going to protest. In my book, she's already locked down the win.
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Unfortunately the longer a show runs, the harder it is for the academy to take notice. They like shiny new shows which can be really unfair.
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Also, Joan Cusack picked up nods in 2011 & 2012, so the show is on their radar...
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Michael C. Hall seems to be doing okay with Dexter... Edie Falco & James Gandolfini did okay with the Sopranos... Or are you saying if it doesn't get any Emmy nods in its first couple of seasons the ATAS will never take notice.
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Tons of shows have won their only awards during the first season - especially actors.

But hopefully Emmy can win something later in the show's run like Kyle Chandler did for Friday Night Lights.
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I loved Shameless. Its a show that can make you laugh, cry, pull out your hair all in 1 hour. I never really see it as a traditional comedy. Its more like Drama with some comedy a bit like Desperate Housewives. I also do not view Louie as traditional comedy sitcom. I think the move now is more away from traditional sitcom at least for me. I never watched modern family after first few episode of season 1.
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I like the dramatic shift the show has taken so far, it makes every decision the characters make matter even more. And the stakes that much higher, Iam really enjoying this season so far.
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