April 6, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Shameless”


In its 5th season, SHAMELESS recognized that some of its younger Gallaghers were now old enough to be corrupted, which resulted in strong storylines for Carl (Ethan Cutkosky), whose drug dealing ended up putting him (and his half-nephew, if that’s a thing) in juvie, and especially Debbie (Emma Kenney), who discovered love and sex (not necessarily in that order), putting them closer to the center of the ensemble.  That, along with the departure of Joan Cusack’s Sheila, whose broad stories tended to suck a lot of oxygen out of the series, gave Shameless what may have been its most balanced season so far.

The season finale, written by showrunner John Wells and directed by Christopher Chulack (the two of them have been in partnership at least since ER, now two decades ago), had its hands full trying to wrap up its many narratives before breaking for hiatus, and with Shameless already renewed for next season, in some cases the episode merely hit the pause button until 2016.  The finale did end what may have been the most tender story ever given to Frank (William H. Macy), a genuine if tragic romance for the old schemer, who fell for a dying young doctor (the luminous Bojana Novakovic) who chose him as the +1 for her life’s final spree.  Another strand of plot that had more dimension than we’d seen before was the relationship between Ian (Cameron Monaghan, who was so effective as the Joker-to-be on Gotham this season that it was hard to see him as anything else afterward) and Mickey (Noel Fisher), whose lives were disrupted by the discovery that Ian had inherited his mother Monica’s (Chloe Webb) bipolar disorder, and Ian’s decision not to stay on his meds.  Turning recently discovered half-sister Sammi (Emily Bergl) into a family antagonist, who shot Frank and was responsible for Ian’s arrest by military authorities, felt like a good use of actress and character.

All this strong material for a multitude of characters made this season less of a vehicle for Emmy Rossum’s Fiona than last year had been, but Rossum remained a marvel of rueful, sexy self-destructiveness and drive, which this year had her bouncing between an impulsive marriage to musician Gus (Steve Kazee) and her diner boss, recovering addict Sean (Dermot Mulroney), wincing as she came to understand more about her own bad decisions.  Rossum even survived the season’s stupidest plot twist, the blessedly brief but pointless return from the seeming dead of Jimmy/Steve (Justin Chatwin).  Jeremy Allen White’s Lip continued to be the show’s other most substantial character as the Gallagher most likely to transcend his origins, whether he wants to or not, propelling him into being the other man in an open marriage situation hinged by one of his professors (Sasha Alexander, decisively breaking out of her Rizzoli & Isles procedural rut).  That was among the stories that didn’t have any particular punchline (despite Lip being punched by an ex) to end the season.

Although Shameless is, along with Homeland, one of Showtime’s biggest hits, it rarely gets the respect it deserves for balancing so many rich characters and a tone that flows between intense drama and wild comedy, with room for some social commentary as well.  (In Sheila’s absence, responsibility for the show’s flat-out comic sequences largely rested with Steve Howey’s Kev and Shanola Hampton’s Veronica.)  The network’s insistence that the show qualify as a “Comedy” for Emmy Award purposes, while strategically smart (there are just too many quality dramas out there competing in that category), to some extent minimizes the skill of the Shameless cast and writers by putting emphasis on only one aspect of what they do.  The series will always be uneven, but after 5 seasons it’s still vibrant and bursting with stories, an accomplishment in any genre.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."