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Shameless S04E01: "Simple Pleasures"

It's winter again in Chicago, and the Gallaghers are movin' on up—or, well, they're going to try. Shameless's Season 4 premiere brought us back to a comfortable place, with only a few months having passed since last season's finale. That's plenty of time, however, to put some older characters behind us. Long gone are Fiona's car-jacking, Brazilian-gangster-fleeing boyfriend Jimmy/Steve and Lip's former flame Karen and their baby, and Karen's husband Jody is surely safe to wipe from your memory. After all, you'll need room for this season's new circumstances, with Gallaghers scattered far and wide, a clean slate for a family that always needs one. Let's dig in.

Fiona's first few months at Worldwide Cup have gone swimmingly, with more than enough money coming in to afford the fancy orange juice, with pulp. While the family's finances are looking up, Fiona's personal life post-Jimmy/Steve (yes, he really is dead) took only a few tentative steps forward in "Simple Pleasures." Boss Mike is surely the most respectable guy she's been with, but it's a scary new middle-class world that she's trying to adjust to, and she's baffled by the lack of sex. This is a new look for Fiona, and Emmy Rossum is certainly up the challenge. She's played hard-edged and street-tough so convincingly for the past three seasons that cleaning up her act to be more like, well, real-life Emmy Rossum, is unexpectedly impressive.

In other news, Lip finally made it to college! High-fives all around, we did it guys. It's not MIT, as last season presumed, but the University of Chicago is probably good enough for our boy (and easier to film). Lip has always been on the verge of following his father's drunken path, but last season brought him close enough to Frank to inspire him to try harder. As a result, it was refreshing to see him get a D on a term paper and work long hours in the cafeteria. He struggled to clean up trash and juggle vegan food orders from ungrateful, spoiled college kids, but that may be the type of character-building he really needs. Okay, okay, I realize that's not going to work. We all know that lonely, frustrated Lip isn't going to last long without a breakdown, and college life should provide plenty of fodder to put him over the edge. We've met his roommate's awful girlfriend, we know there's a horrible boss somewhere in that cafeteria kitchen, and those know-it-all TAs seem to be everywhere. One of them might be headed for the wrong side of a Lip outburst, and it's not going to be pretty.

Somehow still missing those blowups, Mandy Milkovich can't stop looking at pictures of Lip in between sex transactions, but her brother is in worse shape. While Ian left town in the Season 3 finale with Lip's ID, planning to join the Army, we got no word of whether that half-baked scheme actually worked. Instead we saw the sad aftermath—Mickey Milkovich, pimping out his new wife for cash and punching bathroom mirrors in frustration. After last season's finale, I guessed that Ian would be back after two episodes, but we'll see how much the Milkovich family will suffer in the interim. 

While Fiona's had less to worry about at home with Lip or Ian, Debbie and Carl have also continued living without much adult supervision, and it's going to be a gigantic problem. While the episode opened with Debbie fighting Fiona for bathroom space, we didn't quite realize just what that meant. Debbie's fellow 13-year-old friends have apparently already made a number of terrifying decisions, including posting their virginity for sale online and trolling the mall for older boys. And while you may have cheered a bit inside when Debbie managed to snag a lad of her own, here's wondering if your jaw dropped like mine did when you realized he was old enough to drive.

Shameless's new best buds, Frank and Carl, are going through some changes together. For Carl, it's puberty. For Frank, it's liver failure. While Frank offered some advice on masturbation, Carl offered assistance finding drugs and alcohol. If it weren't so screwed up, it would be the sweetest storyline we've got going. With the majority of his kin long past willing to care for him, Carl is very much Frank's last hope. While Frank showed his first moments of selflessness last season, his truly failing health is bringing him careening back to his old self. William H. Macy's appearance was legitimately shocking as a result of probably the best drugged out makeup work we've seen since Bubbles from The Wire.

Our secondary characters are mostly as we left them. Sheila hasn't started that home business yet, but she seems content cleaning the Gallagher house for fun—though my heart did break a bit as she sat down to dinner by herself. Kev and Veronica started the episode expecting a baby from Veronica's mother (yep, still gross) and ended the episode realizing Veronica was finally pregnant herself. At this point, they're probably my favorite characters, having long moved past quirky comic relief to be our only reliably sweet couple. At the very least, let's hope this season will bring them their own troublemaking child.

All told, we know the Gallaghers are still the same dysfunctional bunch. While Fiona's white collar job or Lip's collegiate status may make it seem like some of the family members have finally found their calling, Shameless is can be counted on to make sure they struggle. I'm not trying to be negative—few shows love their characters as much as Shameless loves the Gallaghers—but I hope you're ready for another bumpy ride. 


– Kev: "Maybe they don't f*ck right away in the middle class." Fiona: "It's definitely weird. He doesn't, like, force himself onto me where I've gotta decide if I'm gonna taser him or go along, like I do with the guys around here."

– Debbie's decision to price her virginity online with a minimum bid of $1 million was fantastic, made better by her citing the economics of scarcity to her clueless friends.

– Fiona made it quite clear to Carl that Frank was his responsibility—a puppy to clean up after. With a bucket for waste and alcohol ingestion happening… creatively, this season of Frank may be the most disgusting yet.

– Carl had some great lines in this episode, but I especially loved his questioning of Fiona's boss Mike, as he obviously misses having Jimmy/Steve around the house to hang out with: "Ever steal a car? Ever burn your blood-soaked clothes in the yard?"

– Carl's evil smile after he returned home from Costco with a giant tub of vaseline was priceless.

– Did you miss Jimmy/Steve for even a moment while watching this episode, or are you ready to embrace Mike?

– Debbie's boyfriend: a bad thing or a really bad thing?

– Which relationship do you miss more? Lip and Mandy or Ian and Mickey? Which couple do you think is more likely to reunited?

What did you think of "Simple Pleasures"? 

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