Is Shameless a comedy? Is it a drama? A black comedy? A comedic drama? I lean toward the latter two subgenres, even though the official award-giving bodies have christened it straight comedy.
The fact this this show can consistently bend categories is part of the reason it’s so enjoyable, but also why it can be so difficult to find an entry point. The sardonic ways it treats its difficult themes can too often feel like attempts to skirt pain, covering it up with silliness and diversion. And the comedic aspects are always accompanied with serious strife, deflecting or buoying the Gallagher grit just enough to prevent anyone from falling too far to the dark side.
“Pimp’s Paradise” is not necessarily dark, but it is heavy with melancholy for many reasons: It’s mid-winter in Chicago; Fiona, Debbie, and Lip have been disinvited from their places of residence; Carl is attempting to crush his grief with peach vodka and weed; and Ian is headed toward a confrontation with Caleb’s Bible-thumping father. It’s also an enigma of an episode with seemingly few forces in place to drive the second half of the season. But, knowing the Gallagher clan, this gray calm is probably a warning bell. With tension brewing just below so many pot lids, it’s certain to bubble over soon.
After some time on the back burner, Frank is front and center upon rekindling his relationship with Queenie, Sammie’s mother. This is a tricky story line for several reasons. One, Sammie was an undeniably annoying character with little complexity aside from her need to elevate Frank as her patriarch. Could her mother be much better? Two, Queenie is pro-Frank, and almost everything Frank does is despicable.
Yet despite her loyalties, this character is 75 percent likable. One, she’s played by Sherilyn Fenn (Audrey from Twin Peaks, people!). Two, she’s an Earth-mother-type, which may be aggravating in real life, but so fun when integrated into a pasta-and-potato-chips-bred family from the South Side. The 25 percent unlikable side is driven mostly by her complicity in Frank’s slimy penchant for PDA in front of small children.
The two are at their best when confronting Chuckie’s teachers about the censorship of his paper on Hitler and white supremacy. She’s wide-eyed at Frank’s masterful manipulation with a First Amendment monologue, and he’s fueled by her spectatorship. They’re pretty delighted to be together. If this is Frank at his moral best, egged on by Queenie’s wholesomeness, I suppose I can accept that. I just can’t understand how anyone would want to get into bed with that nasty, stinky man.
Wracked with grief over Nick’s PTSD-fueled terrorism, Carl has become a misanthropic lone thug wolf. He attempts to drown it out with a spree of home improvements — a tube slide, bear rug, Kehinde-Carl portrait, Egyptian sarcophagus bust — and a midday party, which Fiona breaks up when she brings Liam home from school with lice. Like the rest of his family, Carl has never been taught how to stay and deal. Instead, he pushes Fiona further away and tries to rectify Nick’s damage with a gift of cash and drugs to the slain boy’s parents. Unwise and inexperienced in the complexity of grief and ethnic stereotypes, he misjudges and finds himself rejected by devastated parents who want no part in some white hoodlum’s dirty money or drugs.
I’ve been thinking back to Carl as a (younger) kid. Raised by girls and preteen boys, he never had a man to teach him, well, how to be a man. Now, he’s attempting to enact masculinity through force, cash, and status symbols — all of which were missing during his own upbringing. For him, money and shiny objects equal a foundation. Eventually, Sean brings an important lesson to Carl’s attention: Life is hard, whether or not it’s the thug life, but redemption is available to him if he wants it.
Fiona and Sean
As Fiona has bounced from boyfriend to boyfriend, each one attempts to reconcile his life with hers, attaching himself to the fringes of drama with pleading desperation. Finally, we have Sean. He’s a full-grown man with his own baggage, but he doesn’t beg and doesn’t get involved. Instead, he simply offers Fiona the choice to be with him. And, after realizing that she doesn’t necessarily need to be in the trenches all the time, she takes him up on it.
It’s taken me awhile to warm to this relationship, but Sean’s quiet consistence has grown on me, and he seems to keep Fiona grounded in a way that doesn’t requite constant monitoring. The settling in of their relationship seems like the next logical step, but this also has me worried about Sean’s sobriety. As soon as things get good for Fiona, a shit storm always seems to be on the horizon.
To maintain a roof over her head, Debbie is still considering whether or not to seclude her host mother, Erica, who no longer requires child care. And just as Debbie is about to initiate oral — with Carl’s suggestion of “the shocker” no less — Frank breaks the news that they’ve got the house back. Debbie hightails it out of there with the admission that she’s 15 and straight, then finds herself in the care of a new kind of mother (Queenie) who enlightens her about kale, the sex appeal of stretch marks, and placenta consumption.
I can totally see Debbie adopting some hippie-dippy ways (future doula, anyone?), and I hope we get a glimpse into her adventures with natural birthing.
Poor Lip is still mired in the aftershocks of Helene’s destruction. He’s taken up heavy whiskey-swilling with Professor Youens, and is still dog-earring pages of that sad brick of a Klimt tome. (Is this Klimt fixation attempting to foreshadow a career as an artist? Because that seems like overkill.) Through the haze of a hangover, he’s kicked out of his dorm for vandalism (Amanda’s mural) and takes a position as a sorority houseboy. What could go wrong here? A cute, goth-lite sister offers him company, but rather than shack up with someone his own age, Lip decides to drunkenly scream and stagger across Helene’s front lawn.
Jeremy Allen White does some truly great acting, and this episode’s slurry monologue is a stellar moment for him. Even though I’m aggravated by Lip’s Helene obsession, White’s convincing portrayal allows us to sympathize and believe his pain his valid. Lip has always been too smart for his own good, and he’ll carry that burden until he figures out how to channel his intelligence for his own benefit, rather than for profit or to impress succubae-cougars.
Pale, brooding Ian is falling even harder for the sensual, artsy Caleb, who welds Lee Bontecou–like sculptures when he’s not fighting fires. In the most awkward of ways, Ian becomes Caleb’s gay boyfriend buffer at a family wedding, where it’s revealed that Caleb’s father is a minister. Against better judgment, they dance provocatively the whole night, which seems like a device only meant to wag tongues. Though Ian is quite immature and seriously lacking subtlety in the romance department, this plotline feels a bit thin. I wish Ian would move on to discovering his path as a heroic life saver, rather than continue to be defined by his boyfriends and bipolar disorder. (P.S. Does Mickey still exist? Is he taking his medicine?)
- Is there a reason we needed subtitles in the exchange between Carl and the black kids at school? We’ve been listening to Carl talk like this since the beginning of season six, and suddenly we need a translator for a relatively simple conversation? This was weird and unnecessary. Especially the “poppycock” and “only white friend” bit.
- Emmy Rossum has a great Midwestern accent. Is it getting even better?
- Lice are gross. But Dermot Mulroney combing lice from Emmy Rossum’s hair is pretty cute.
- I can’t help but be impressed by Svetlana’s ability to profit on anything and everything. Pulling teeth in the bar’s bathroom. Lending her cell phone. Babysitting twins while pulling teeth and lending cell phones.
- Kev and Veronica always provide levity to the story, but I feel like they’re continually sloughed off as the fifth (or ninth?) wheel to the Gallagher family drama.
- Carl’s long fingernails and unruly sideburns need to go, stat.