Things seemed almost normal in the Gallagher household for a good 15 minutes of Shameless's Season 3 premiere—an eternity in Shameless screen time. When we left off, the summer of Season 2 had ended and the harsh reality of a Chicago winter was imminent. To kick off Season 3, the writers smartly skipped back to springtime, which should provide more opportunity for mischief to accompany the warming weather. Frank woke up in Juarez, Mexico after an extended bender. His family, naturally, hadn't missed him. Checking back in on the Gallaghers revealed that Jimmy has settled into his role as caretaker—cooking, mopping floors, and paying for Carl's braces. Fiona has been working hard to earn what she can; her latest degrading job involves cleaning up toxic waste at $14.50 an hour. Despite all the help from Jimmy, there's a bit of tension between them, but the love is still there.
Next door, Kev was on crutches due to an achillies injury, but he seems to have lost all the weight he put on without explanation prior to Season 2. This season, the writers have provided a reason for his return to fighting shape—he and Veronica have resorted to posting pay-per-view webcam acts online with a "Scenes from the Ol' Plantation" theme. Surely you haven't forgotten just how far over the line Shameless is willing to go. But now that you remember, prepare yourself for a season's worth of Sheila and Jody raising a special needs child. We checked in only briefly on their struggle, but it was enough to make me cringe throughout.
The rest of the Gallagher family is right where we left them. Debbie, still the heart of the family, has struggled with her father's departure, even creating a sad memorial in front of the Gallagher home. With Mickey still in juvie, Ian has continued sleeping with his older sugar daddy, who was revealed in the Season 2 finale to be Jimmy's father. We can expect plenty of fireworks if and when Mickey finds out. Carl seems unchanged, tagging along with his older brothers and surely picking up only the worst of their instincts. Meanwhile, the popular fan theory that he's destined to become a serial killer is alive and well. Little Liam maintained his title as the most stable Gallagher and possible best baby ever.
Lip managed to stay in school through the winter, but has maintained his bad habits, which led to his arrest for stealing a laser from a community college. Ian escaped with it, but Lip's attempt to beat up the rent-a-cops in hot pursuit resulted in another hearing in front of a familiar judge, who promised Lip hell once he turns 18. Upon returning to classes, he was greeted by a counselor pushing him to pad his resume to earn a full ride to college instead of a summer full of beer and weed. We know full well that if Lip is going to succeed, he's going to take the worst path possible. So far, though, that path has been mostly harmless, with the stolen laser contributing to an explosive victory in a battle bots competition. Defeating snobby, rich kids will never get old for Lip (or us).
Speaking of questionable paths, Fiona quickly made a disastrous decision of her own to start the season, spending her last $1,000 on a down payment for the right to promote a night at the club instead of paying a looming property tax bill. One of last season's most successful arcs saw Fiona and Lip butting heads over their individual responsibilities to the family; their regular showdowns elevated Emmy Rossum's already strong performance to award-worthy and marked the emergence of Jeremy Allen White's brooding and unpredictable Lip as the show's co-lead. With Lip possibly just a bit more mature now, Fiona's expensive club promotion could be a trigger to another blowout. In the past she's been one of the few characters we could trust to do the right thing, but with the belief that Jimmy is likely available to bail her out, Fiona has finally built up her ego to take a big risk. Little did she know, Jimmy had spent the day with his future in jeopardy.
Last season's Brazilian gangsters are back, led by Estefania's enraged father. With the Gallaghers out at school and work, the gangsters scooped up Jimmy, led him to Estefania's, murdered her lover Marco, cut up the body while Jimmy held it still, and took a leisurely boat trip on Lake Michigan for mimosas and a casual dumping of Marco's remains. Got all that? Jimmy sure did. The threat was clear—his marriage to Estefania must appear legitimate for her to stay in the country and get an education. And that will require Jimmy (Steve to the gangsters) to quit his car theft habit and keep a lot of secrets. Again.
Frank had quite the ordeal of an episode, but it was nice to see him suffer a bit as he struggled to get back to the U.S. First he promised payment to some enterprising border crossers, then he became a legendary drug mule by sneaking in eighteen sizable drug balloons for the cartel and one for himself. The cartel hilariously dubbed him "El Grand Canon," in honor of his time sharing a bed with Sheila and her unique sexual preferences. The biggest reason for Frank's vacation, though, was to provide some breathing room to reestablish the family without the threat of their father robbing them of their earnings. I'd argue this is a clear sign that Frank's character has run its course, but it would be difficult for Showtime to send an Oscar nominee packing in order to highlight the younger players.
With its huge cast and manic pace, Shameless's writing staff has seemingly endless options for contorting the Gallaghers' hopes and dreams while occasionally bringing everyone together just enough to warm our hearts. The series hinges on this unique balance of comedy and drama, and the season premiere nailed it perfectly by bringing Frank, the show's true antagonist (you could even say villain) back into the fold during a happy family dinner. Only Debbie hopped up for a hug, while the rest of the family, wary of the endless threat that Frank poses to their survival, tried to enjoy the moment as if he were still sleeping in an alley in Mexico.
With the premiere on the books, how do you feel about the Gallaghers' future? Where would you like to see Season 3 go?
– There was a brief mention of Karen when Sheila answered Frank's collect call from Mexico, but I could use a nice long break from the character. What more would you like to see from her?
– Loved Carl's ritual kissing of his Jessica Alba poster before going to bed.
– Mandy is basically living with Lip these days. "Her dad is mixing vodka and speedballs again, so…" Despite her issues, they're sort of a cute couple, don't you think?
– Was anyone else tripped up by the changing accent from Estefania's father? He almost sounded Irish at one point.
– Was that CGI fruit in the Lake Michigan scene?
– You do have to love William H. Macy's brief pause to react to Debbie's shrine out front. A confused head nod. Frank would never offer anything more.
– With Fiona and Lip on a crash course again, whose side are you on?