Eight seasons in, Shameless is still an underrated gem.
On Sunday night's episode of the Showtime staple, called "Occupy Fiona," the series reminded viewers once again why it was so great. The main ingredient in this show's greatness is the ability to transition from rugged comedy to hardcore drama in less than ten seconds. Few shows can accomplish the feat without trying too hard or coming across as misguided. Only the now retired FXX drama Rescue Me comes to mind.
The scene was rather simple. Lip (Jeremy Allen White), a recovering alcoholic, is trying to face-to-face with Professor Louens(Alan Rosenberg), a man he has looked up to as a father figure for years. The two are sitting in a jail cell, a place the older man may call home for a good while. This isn't just a former mentor in Lip's brief run at scholastic achievement, but a man who has pulled the young man out of the gutter. A season ago, Lip was stretched thin by addiction, like a power cord exposing its wiring. Louens got him help.
This season, the professor is the one in need. He crashed a car into someone's house, drunker than an Irishman on holiday. It was his fifth DWI charge, and he took the stand in court almost as drunk, rendering Lip's impassioned speech useless in the judge's verdict.
Lip pleads with the man to find a sense of urgency and get his life straight, even as it is slipping away. There's little chance the man won't spend years in jail, but Lip still isn't giving up. Now, this could be for two different reasons.
- Lip sees a father figure type who is descending backward towards the halls of his real father, Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy). If this happens, all hope is lost for Lip, especially with his sponsor (and sorta father figure) Brad falling back into the sauce.
- Lip needs this to be right so he can assure himself that alcoholism won't defeat him once and for all. A bit selfish, but still real.
Lip asks Louens why he got so drunk, and the man tells him he wanted to. Lip bursts out, screaming about his own urge to drink, and how hard it is. The nearby guard tells him to quiet down.
And this is when the show hits another level, and the use of a song triggers it all.
With Civil Twilight's "Quiet Town" starting to creep into the scene, the professor tells Lip that he appreciates the support, but it wasn't requested. After all, a person can only help another if the latter is up for receiving. Lip asks him if he ever cared at all.
The professor then tells Lip that he chose booze, and is at peace with it. "If you don't like what you see, look away." The scene ends as Lip looks at the human equivalent of a brick wall. Professor Louens is lost for good, but all hope is not lost for Lip. He can still get Brad sober and home to his wife and newborn.
Allen White and Rosenberg are so good in this scene, handling the dialogue like nimble basketball players dribbling down the court with an intent to shoot a three-pointer instead of dunking. White has always been a ferocious talent, wielding his anger whenever it fits. Rosenberg is a man we have slowly come to learn is adept at defeating himself, family and loved ones long past the outpost of intervention.
It's an extremely well-played scene, and shows you how strong the show is running in its eighth season. This is a time where shows are usually comfortably numb to creativity, leaning into the fact that repetition and regurgitation can still provide entertainment.
Shameless is different and resists the temptation to settle or recede into familiarity. A long-running television show is like a Honda car engine, able to take on hundreds of thousands of miles while still putting out great performance. Since the engine was made meticulously, all the users have to do is treat it right, change its tires, and feed it oil.
Most cars/television shows run themselves ragged way before then simply for a desire to be loved and accepted. Shameless doesn't ask for your love; it earns the praise.
It's not just the Lip/Professor struggle happening that carried this episode. The Fiona/Ian (also beautifully handled by Emmy Rossum and Cameron Monaghan) battle is a potent one. On one hand, you have the reluctant matriarch finally getting a chance to go on her own. On the other hand, you have the bipolar do-good soul who desperately has to help other unfortunate souls, so he doesn't fall into a mental imbalance. Fiona can't help him sort it out, and won't give him her dream, but a final scene between the two explains the distance between their end games.
At once hilariously dysfunctional and suddenly fiercely dramatic, Shameless isn't still so underrated. It doesn't get enough Emmy recognition (outside of Macy, who is well-deserved) and people don't talk enough about it. What could be better than a show with sexy, interesting people that can make you laugh and cry inside the same hour?
At the moment, nothing. Show some self-respect and watch this series. Don't wait for the Netflix binge. Dive in right now. The Showtime app is cheaper than any cable provider, and you can also digest Liev Schreiber's Ray Donovan when you are done with Rossum and company in Chi-town.
Any TV show can produce a great season. Few can provide eight of them. Be better, creative people in Hollywood.