Shameless: Well, *That* Was Screwed Up

Shameless S02E11: "Just as the Pilgrims Intended"

In its two U.S. seasons to date, Shameless has achieved a fairly balanced mix of comedy and drama, though I've always thought of it more as comedy. Last year, Showtime submitted the series' first season for Emmy consideration as a drama, which turned some heads. Horrible things have routinely happened to Shameless's main characters, but the spirit has remained light. At the head of the family, Frank Gallagher is certainly a terrible human being, but he has always escaped death, injury, or imprisonment—often coming out of his various scrapes with more money, booze, or drugs to his name. And while Fiona and her siblings have suffered greatly as a result of their financial struggles, they have soldiered on as a family, upping their street smarts in the process.

Season 2 has tested the comedy/drama balance with moments much darker than those of Season 1—especially the two assisted-suicide plotlines. The deaths were to minor characters in Butterface and Grammy, and were played largely as black comedy, helping to better humanize Frank in the process. After Butterface's death, I wrote about Frank's role in the matter, believing it was the darkest plot Shameless could manage without losing its comedic edge, and many of you have agreed that Frank's actions this season have really pushed the boundary. The more recent return of Monica Gallagher, a character even more unstable than Frank, also walked the line, and her bankrupting of the Gallaghers in the process of her collapse seemingly marked the season's final low point.

Carrieglitter summed things up nicely in last week's comments:

That was seriously the most brutal episode of this show so far. It was completely heartbreaking to watch and I found myself more infuriated than ever at Frank and Monica. I literally cried at the end watching Fiona. This show never gets the respect it easily deserves.


What else could possibly go wrong for the Gallaghers? Perhaps I should know by now that the answer to that question is, "Things can always get worse," but I was still completely blindsided by this week's episode, "Just as the Pilgrims Intended," which featured two shocking events—one of which was intensely violent, and both of which will undoubtedly influence the show throughout the rest of its run:


1. Monica's suicide attempt during Thanksgiving dinner.

– The scene was timed following an upbeat song as the Gallaghers passed their improvised feast around the table, completely upsetting the expectations of a Thanksgiving-themed episode. Steve and Kev jumped swiftly into action to save Monica, while Frank, who had given her lithium only moments before, predictably fled the house.

– My first thoughts were for Debbie and Carl. They've witnessed so much beyond their years, but they had a clear vantage point of their mother bleeding to death on their kitchen floor. Debbie spent much of the episode worried that she'd someday turn out to be bipolar like her mother, and this week's events certainly will not help her psyche. As for Carl, it wasn't clear that he understood the seriousness of the situation, a bad sign going forward as he has very little adult supervision to guide him in the right direction.

– It seems as if Monica survived, but I would not be surprised if this season marks the end of her run on the show. If Shameless is to maintain any comedy going forward, it will need to minimize the revisiting of her suicide attempt.



2. The birth of Karen's baby.

– Many viewers have predicted that the father of Karen's baby would be a surprise, and it turned out to be a character we'd never met in Timmy Wong. The additional shock of the baby having Down's syndrome combined with Karen's rejection of the child made the moment even more heartbreaking.

– Lip's video for his son should have been my first clue that disaster was ahead. The birth was then bookended by two poignant moments: Lip asking the potential parents to someday share his video with the boy at the beginning, and the tape being hastily handed back to him after the news of the child's condition had been delivered.

– What's next for Lip? He's been a frustrating character this season, unwilling to return to school and go to college. While this event could easily put him over the edge, it might be exactly the wake-up call he needs to return to his senses. This was foreshadowed nicely by his moment earlier in the episode as he walked away from Mandy and her brothers, unwilling to aid in the robbery of a liquor store—a good sign that a serious criminal lifestyle is not in Lip's future.

– Sheila's theft of the baby was a late attempt to bring some humor to the final montage, but it definitely fit the caretaker arc the writers have developed for her this season. Still, it's difficult to imagine an extended amount of comedy to be drawn from Sheila raising the child.


There are very few shows I can compare Shameless to, but one that comes to mind is Rescue Me, whose second season followed a remarkably similar path. The series expanded its comedy chops throughout the season, but finished with a pitch-black dramatic arc of a hit-and-run death—a far cry from the firehouse banter and dysfunctional-relationship humor that defined the plot before it. While I consider Rescue Me's second season to be one of my favorite television seasons, the show never recovered; the dramatic finish required that character relationships be dramatically redefined, with harder edges that led to darker writing and put pressure on the writers to create equally heartbreaking finishes to future seasons. It was a feat they never quite accomplished.


Next week's Shameless finale should help to soften the blow we've been delivered, but I do hope that the show's third season will reset itself a bit in order to rediscover its comedic genes. Do you think it's possible?


More questions:

– Do you view Shameless as a comedy or a drama?

– What other shows besides Rescue Me have attempted to balance such humorous and tragic extremes? Which have done it best?

– Will Carl and Debbie grow up to be even half as well-adjusted as Lip or Fiona?

Comments (37)
Submit
Sort: Latest | Popular
when in doubt , check out the UK shameless , chances are most questions will be answered due to its strong run of 9 seasons and counting
Reply
Flag
1. Drama

2. Veronica Mars, Misfits. Breaking Bad & Dexter come to mind, too. (Black) comedy & drama.

3. Carl, yes. Debbie, maybe not.
Reply
Flag
See. I was right. Karen is a skank whore. If she had a kid for every time she got penetrated, she could overpopulate the city of New York.
Reply
Flag
Being an avid fan of the original British version (which has, unfortunately lost its way in the last couple seasons) I was always intrigued by the US version and enjoyed it on many levels, but I'd never fallen in love with it the same way as I did the UK version. You ported over the same characters and even the script (see the first few episodes of season 1). I just couldn't quite put my finger on what was missing. Until this episode.



Amazing.



The irony is that the US version knew it was lacking. I think to try and mirror the same character arcs and subplots as the UK version just never seemed genuine and kudos for completely snapping out of the less-than-parrallel universe at the end of Season 1. I accept it was a nod to its older brother across the pond and a less that subtle attempt to prove a soft landing for those familiar and in love with the British show, but it was never really necessary.



The UK version, back in the glory days, offered up some of the single funniest comedy moments on TV in perfect timing with sound of the most powerful, moving drama on TV. The mix continually refreshed the enjoyment and dynamism of the show before you had time to think about it, let alone ask for it.



This was the one thing the US show didn't port over was the one and only thing they should have. The ingenious writing and acting made the UK show was it was - not the quirky Gallaghers or shady Steve. In my opinion, the torch has been truly passed and not before time.



Well done Showtime. You've finally started to make up for destroying Dexter.
More+
Reply
Flag
Just because a show has dramatic, and (occasionally horrible) things happen to it's characters does not mean it cannot continue to be funny. Rescue me was always funny. Yes the writers tried to hard to make it darker and darker, but as dark as that show got, it was always funny. Life has funny moments in it, and it has dark moments. If a show never makes me laugh than it is unrealistic. Even Six Feet Under had humor, and that is the most depressing series I have ever seen. Humor is part of life and so should be part of a dramatic television show. I am loving Shameless!
Reply
Flag
Agreed that every good show should have some comedy... there wasn't enough of it in Six Feet Under for my liking.
Reply
Flag
Guy is tempted to cheat on his wife, finally does, and then DIES? lol. I was dying from laughter at that point lol.
Reply
Flag
I liked this episode, in fact I liked the whole season. I think the darker tone fits the show quite well.

For me, the show which has managed to walk the line between drama and comedy best so far is Californication. The first two seasons at least. We do not mention anything that came after that.
Reply
Flag
I remember James Spader talking about Boston Legal when he won one of the Emmy's.



He said something along the lines of; "Either this is the most fun drama on tv, or the most serious comedy"

I guess Shameless falls somewhat into that same undefinable category.



However, one thing I really don't understand about the way you handle censorship in the US. It's generally wrong to show close-ups of stuff like genitals during sex scenes. However it's okay to show that very graphic and vile birth scene. I would argue that sex is just as natural an act as that, so why is that a no-no but the vaginal destruction, that was the birth scene is okay?

Im not trying to be a dick, I'm just curious and want to be enlightened.
Reply
Flag
Sadly, I don't think many Americans could give you a great reason why it is the way it is either.



But agreed on that birth scene... they basically re-created the shot from "Knocked Up," but made it twice as shocking.
Reply
Flag
Oohhh, how about "poignant comedy"?
Reply
Flag
I considered this a drama, with some comedic relief. However I do like gurl132's comment that "it's just life", with all the crap and funny things that come with it.



That balance is why I like it so much, it's so unique. I've never seen Rescue Me, nor have I seen any other show that has such extremes.



Carl was already on his way to being a serial killer, so I do think this will push him over the edge. He clearly has had trouble empathizing with anyone's pain besides his own, and this certainly won't help him.

Debbie could still go either way, I could see her becoming more like Monica, or striving to compensate for Monica's shortcomings like Fiona does. I had seen her "I'm depressed" bit as a way of trying to get attention and not a serious concern. If that's the case then she will either push the boundaries of hypochondria or grow up significantly and begin to pull more weight around the house (she already pulls more than a girl her age should).
Reply
Flag
I'd call it a tragedy.
Reply
Flag
It's not a comedy or a drama... it's just life. And life has it's highs and its lows, especially living in the difficult circumstances the characters find themselves in. The show is absolutely brilliant in showing the realities of a different lifestyle than the simple life of rich or even middle class teens changing boyfriends as often as clothing or whatever other drivel tv portrays life to be. The show's on a good track in my opinion, it keeps things unpredictable and makes us feel something because each character is awesome and has human flaws. Next week's finale is going to bring a long brutal wait for season 3!
Reply
Flag
You are so right
Reply
Flag
Just a great show and i like many people am a true fan..
Reply
Flag
This US version has taken us down a more serious route raising real issues and tackling common problems without trying to dampen the importance of these issues with too much comedy. This is the main distinction between this and the UK version. The original UK version has stayed firmly on the comedy path and has even amped-up on the comedy with each season.



But it makes me think, why do we have to pigeon-hole shows into neat little categories such as a comedy or a drama and then rate the show based on it being a good comedy or a good drama? The measure of a show should be how much you enjoyed it, regardless of it's genre. Shameless is attempting to break the mold of creativity and I personally think they're doing well.



I very much doubt Carl or Debbie will grow up to be well-adjusted adults because you only have to look at them now to see how messed up they are. While it may seem that the Gallagher's manage to survive each week, in reality that are an extremely dysfunctional family and none of the characters are, as you put, 'well-adjusted' Even Lip and Fiona, the two mature Gallagher's have just learnt to survive in their own little world but if you placed them in any other environment it would stand out like a sore thumb just how UN-adjusted and ill-equipped they actually are.
More+
Reply
Flag
My favorite shows are definitely the hardest to define with a genre. Even Mad Men and Breaking Bad have a nice mix of humor to go along with the drama.



We did get to see a little bit of Fiona in a new environment this year when she attended the well-to-do wedding with Richard (kind of sad he hasn't shown up again). She definitely ended up sticking out like a sore thumb in the end, though she put up an impressive front for a time.
Reply
Flag
Always thought of this as a drama with comedic moments, like life, just exaggerated... while this episode was emotionally draining, you missed the best part -- Steve's back!!! Even if he's Jimmy now, he clicked into place like the missing piece of the puzzle that he is. He'll be a bridge to get Lip back into the fold and to help Debs and Carl manage their reactions to the trauma that is Monica as well as to the birth scene.
1
Reply
Flag
I think this season has had some amazing drama moments, but overall works better as a comedy. This season has lacked the family banding together to achieve a common goal, which was comedy gold.
Reply
Flag
I loved this show last season, but this season hasn't been that good. everybody seems to be spread out when they're so much better as a unit, and after the pretty overall lame season, this episode reminded me of how good season 1 was. I don't see it as a comedy, I see it as being as close to normal life as you can get, just more dramatic since it's a show, since real life has both comedy and dramatic situations.



I kind of hope Karen will be gone now, about halfway through season 1 she started getting on my nerves.. and has pretty much helped Lip screw up his life.
Reply
Flag
I only caught up to this show last episode and had watched the entire series in about 2 days, there was definitely a noticeable shift in the tone somewhere early in season 2. It was more of a comedy before but it has obviously really kicked into drama lately with bits of comedy timed in the right places to lighten the mood. I enjoyed the show before but I think what it's doing now works best.



It always had this really great, serious show just waiting to pop up. This great drama with a peppering of comedy definitely works best. Sometimes this show decides to put in some over-the-top comedy bit (like anything to do with Karen's mother) and it may be funny but it just feels way too out of place.



Monica's suicide attempt was so sad, and it made me especially pissed at Frank. I mean the woman was very much the 'black hole' they described her as earlier on but she was also very sick. Fiona's half-hearted attempts at making sure she got her medicine were reproachable (sometimes you have to be forceful! I know you're busy but it's important), but Frank was just selfish and stupid and awful. He outright opposed and stopped her from getting her meds and then made things worse by aggravating her downward spiral. If I were Fiona would certainly be looking at him for this one.



And what can be said about Karen? She has gone through a lot sure, but she is a downright awful person to the core. She was just plain cruel to Lip about playing him off as if he was the father for sure. She also expressed no remorse whatsoever that it was basically her fault that the baby had down's from all of the alcohol, smoking and drug-use during the pregnancy. Not to mention the adoptive parents who ditched when they heard the baby had down's. Uggh humanity, amiright?
More+
Reply
Flag
Sheila is definitely one of the big arguments for the show as a comedy. Joan Cusack manages to be funny even during quite tragic moments. I actually laughed as she smothered someone to death with a pillow!



Agreed on Karen... I'm wondering if she's run her course on the show now.
Reply
Flag
Omg I laughed too! Does that make me a horrible person?
Reply
Flag
this show is so ridiculous... in both a good and bad way.
Reply
Flag
I completely enjoy this show as a drama. I only liked it a little bit when it was a comedy and I kinda grew apart from it and the characters because the comedy actually seemed forced in some parts. Now I feel like I connect with the characters better and I really cry for them. I am hanging on a thread for next season already, whereas I was hardly thinking about it after last season even though I ultimately tuned in.
Reply
Flag
I think part of what made this episode so intense in its darkest moments was that they were often preceded by legitimately very funny moments (the sight of Kev holding up the dead bald eagle next to the SPAM turkey was an image for the ages).

And bravo to whoever picks the background music for this show, because it was pitch-perfect this week.
Reply
Flag
This show, in my opinion, works much better as a drama than a comedy. I've personally seen so many of these difficult moments, in my life, that when i watch shameless, i relate to them more, so they stand out more to me.

For instance the main storyline: The parents are POSs and Fiona is required to care for the younger siblings or make sure they have a future. My girlfriend's parents were junkies and so she had to take care of her brother, put him through school, help with homework, work two jobs to feed him, ect. So when i see Fiona playing her motherly role to her siblings, i see my gf doing the same things to care for her brother. I'm kinda like Steve, I came into her life and started helping her get out of that situation. Her parents died and now her and her bro live with me. Also, when Debbie and Ian go to try and wake monica up cuz she's been in bed for days passed out, I see my girlfriend's parents. It's the same exact story. And I watched as both of her parents killed themselves in different ways. So i can relate to this drama.



More+
Reply
Flag
In my opinion, Shameless works much better as a drama. I did not enjoy last season as much because the writers were trying too hard to make the show funny and I wasn't able to take the characters seriously as a result. This season, the show's serious tone has made it much easier to relate to the characters and the actors have really been able to show off their chops as a result. In particular, both Emmy Rossum and Jeremy Allen White have turned in amazing performances this season and these actors were not able to do that last season because the writers were trying too hard to make the show funny. So, to answer the question, I think this series needs to continue it's dramatic tone next season because both the writers and the actors of the show appear to shine a lot brighter in that kind of light.
Reply
Flag
This is a pretty great point. Even though the show has gotten more dramatic, the performances have definitely risen to the occasion. Hoping it pays off in Emmy nominations...
Reply
Flag
Glad you agree with me about the acting performances this season, patsully. In particular, I have really been blown away by Jeremy Allen White, the kid who plays Lip. I have worked with troubled teens for five years, and I can honestly say that Jeremy Allen White's performance is a dead-on interpretation of a troubled teen. I definitely think that, after the series is over, this guy will go on to become a Hollywood superstar. The actress who plays Monica has done a great job, also.

Reply
Flag
I could not agree with you more. Those two make the show and I just find it impossible not to feel for them. The raw emotion of their characters is conveyed so perfectly that sometimes I get so involved and emotionally attached that I forget they're acting and not real people. Tonight was one of those nights. I honestly can't remember the last show that made me feel that. Unreal.
Reply
Flag
Funny ting is, I think the actress isn't playing Monica. I really think she's been playing herself this whole time.
Flag
Wow! I am shocked at Karen's reaction to her own child! I felt so sorry for Lip and for the adoptive parents, but mostly just for that baby on the back of that motorcycle. The whole Monica suicide attempt had me shaking with disbelief I was not expecting that! I am hoping the next season does not get so serious... cuz this one has put me thru the wringer!
Reply
Flag
really? she has been trying to sell her baby for the past few episodes, and told a man she was going to abort it in order to receive money... she obviously doesn't care about it at all.
Reply
Flag
I knew that part, but I thought that maybe when she saw it she would care just a little bit. I was expecting more from her, but I guess that's why the show is called Shameless.
Reply
Flag
shameless US definitely more of drama
Reply
Flag

Like TV.com on Facebook