I didn't expect to love Shameless as much as I do. When I first watched the pilot, I was pretty appalled. I probably shouldn't have been, given the title, but really, how often do shows live up to their titles these days? Perfect Couples? Hardly! How I Met Your Mother? Um, we're more than one hundred episodes in and not really any closer, nor does the focus seem to still be there. Mr. Sunshine? Well, that one's supposed to be ironic so it's just hard to base expectations off two or three words... But the point is, the first episode kind of slapped me in the face with the shock of how these kids were living, as well as just how well-adjusted they seemed to be.
Kids will be kids, I guess. They don't realize something is wrong-- something is different-- until someone points it out to them. They just know what they see and experience, and when these particular Gallagher kids look around, they don't really have any examples of a traditional, nuclear family. So there's doesn't seem so weird. Or so bad, really.
As the first season has gone on, though, and we've gotten a closer look at each individual kid, their triumphs and their shortcomings alike, it has become apparent that individually they are all stuck in various stages of the "grief" one might have when they lose stability, security, or unconditional love-- even if they never really knew it was missing in the first place. Their father may not be dead in any traditional sense of the word, but he is most certainly absentee at best, a gaping hole that comes back once in awhile just to take some more from them, stir up some (stressful) sh*t, and leave a mess they end up cleaning in his wake. Frank Gallagher doesn't seem to notice, let alone care, how his behavior affects his kids on the psychological level, but each and every single one of them is affected in ways they can't even quite fathom. And since they're all at various stages based on their ages and therefore amount of exposure and experience in dealing with such hardships, they can't even quite lean on each other for full support. But they are doing the best they can.
Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) seems to be stuck in the earliest stage: Shock and Denial. It makes sense, really, with the exception of little baby Liam who isn't biologically connected to Frank anyway, he is the youngest of the brood, and as odd as it sounds to say this considering he runs around torturing animals and takes bats to people's kneecaps, is the most innocent. In the simplest of terms, he has had the fewest years on this Earth, let alone in this family, to understand the ways of the world and why his world is so different. He doesn't believe anything is weird or wrong about his father flitting in and out of his life just as easily as he flits in and out of his house.
Little Debbie (Emma Kenney), although she hides it well at times, represents the Pain and Guilt phase. We have seen her inability to cope with (albeit a lesser) loss by stealing a child; we have seen the look on her face when Frank showed up at school for Sheila's daughter's parent-teacher conference and encountered his actual kids in the hall; and now we saw how she soaked up any and all time she could with him, in a subconscious way of showing her father how awesome she is and making him think twice about abandoning her (or the rest of the family) again.
But she had her first breakthrough when she saw the very real damage Frank was doing, not only to the psyches of his household, but to the actual structure of the building itself, and it was in her actions in helping her older brother and sister get "the old Frank" back that she started to turn into Reconstruction and Working Through. It's a hard pill to swallow: that maybe they're all better off with this man a distant presence in their lives-- but coming to terms with that unsettling fact is all a part of these kids' growth, development, and maturation.
Fiona (Emmy Rossum) perfectly embodies Depression, Reflection & Loneliness. Physically, she gives off the energy of someone who has been beaten down by life, is overly stressed and tasked with responsibilities she never asked for, let alone deserved, and is just plain tired. She has moments where she stumbles under the weight of it all: she has to not only provide for these kids while still pretty much a kid herself but she also has to effectively "raise" them, too. Sure she has neighbors to lean on for a casserole or a load of laundry, but they have their own lives, and that's barely scratching the surface of the kind of help she needs. It's enough to send any person into a tailspin, and the one moment she tries to better herself by taking computer classes, she realizes just how far behind she actually is and gives up without even trying. She is lost within her own despair and can barely snap out of it for a night of distraction at a nice hotel with her boyfriend, let alone have the ability to pick herself up by the proverbial bootstraps and truly take charge of the situation. She is going through the motions for everyone else; she sees no saving grace for herself.
Early on I felt like Ian (Cameron Monaghan) was the most well-adjusted and had the greatest chance of not only surviving but thriving in life. He is the Acceptance and Hope in the clan. He knows who he is; he is comfortable in his own skin; but he knows enough to protect his secrets, too. He hones skills; he is a hard-worker; he has a goal. I may not like the message being sent that the only "out" he sees is through the ROTC but for many kids in his position, that is realistic, and so I put aside my own bias to be able to say "good for him", too.
But lately Lip (Jeremy Allen White), too, is proving to have the most innate potential. He started out as Anger, without the Bargaining portion, chasing his so-called father down to taunt him on his bike; refusing to take part in any so-called parlor games during the brief instance Frank is making an effort; acting out in his own ways by damning the man and not taking any authority figure too seriously because he figures they'll all just leave eventually. But slowly, surely, he is coming around. His eyes were opened to the fact that not all dads are drunks early on, but it is just now, as he prepares to enter adulthood, that he sees an actual alternative. He never knew he was smart before. Sure, he knew he could finish a test fast or write papers from a variety of voices, but no one ever pointed out to him that not everyone could do that, even if they wanted to. He never had someone believe in him or tell him he was special. He never had someone offer him a shot at a better life. Now someone has-- or at least offered him some advice on how not to screw things up worse for himself-- he's beginning to think twice about the ways he wastes his gifts.
And isn't that the true embodiment of Acceptance and Hope? You can finally fully recognize your situation, gravity, crappity, and all, but you don't just lay down and let it steamroll you. You find a way to rise up, to believe, to move on. I admit I have gotten overly invested in these kids, in part because I see little bits and pieces of myself in each one (like Carl, I have deep-seated anger issues; like Debbie, I often just want to live in the moment and have fun while it lasts; like Fiona, I have felt the burden of responsibility at a time I thought someone else should still be taking care of me; like Lip, I have definitely spent a good deal of time wasting my potential), so by the end of Shameless, it is my sincere wish that each one of the Gallagher kids can find a way to move on from their current stage, pass through the rest with flying colors, and come out the other end not only hopeful about their own futures and family but as symbols of hope for the rest of us. Statistics say that can't happen: they can't all be successful. But this is television, where a little bit of disbelief has to be suspended each time you flip it on, so even if they can't yet see it, I can hold onto enough hope for all of them!