I know I run the risk of stoking the eternal debate about letter grading of art and its value or lack thereof, but I really had no idea what kind of grade to stick on this thing. And not just for logistical reasons, such as figuring out how to judge an episode against another after a mere three installments. The issue is that I don’t quite know how to feel about this show in general. It’s technically proficient. It looks good. The performances are solid, especially Emmy Rossum, who seems so amazing to me here because prior to this I’d always thought of her as a pretty cipher. I feel, to a certain degree, entertained when I watch the show. More often than not, at least.
But I also can’t help but feel like I don’t quite understand the show. If I was the ideal Shameless viewer, how would I feel about the Gallaghers? As amused as bemused by their antisocial antics? What am I supposed to think about Frank? That he could be rehabilitated or at least somewhat redeemed? Should I love him as he is? There are times when I enjoy Shameless, but they are far outweighed by the times I’m too busy trying to figure out how I’m supposed to feel about it.
Let’s start with the relationship between Fiona and Steve. Steve is a slimy, judgmental stalker. Fiona hasn’t lived the life of luxury that allows for the introspective moments in which you figure out what kind of person you want to be with. At this point, I don’t feel like I care either way if they get together, but I if had to lean one way or the other, I’d have to hope Fiona would realize what a douchebag he is and run far away. But I know I’m supposed to want them together for reasons I haven’t completely sussed out.
So one of tonight’s plot threads, Fiona’s rebound fling with Tony, the fatally earnest cop, felt inert and a little depressing. I knew from the opening scene of their cop-car romp that, at some point, Tony would reveal some totally reasonable quality that becomes a flaw for Fiona because of her crazy life. The issue seems to be that Tony was a virgin before he screwed Fiona (which yeah, is a little weird, and I’d probably give the side-eye to a virgin that age myself). But worse was Tony’s judgmental mother, by whom Fiona couldn’t stand to be evaluated over ambrosia salad. I get it, Fiona is COMPLICATED, so she can never accept a guy like Tony, because she doesn’t want to burden him and his perfect life. That doesn’t explain why she feels inclined to boomerang back to Steve, whose goobery pinheadedness is in no way ameliorated by the fact that Tony’s mom is a classist harpy. I’d hoped that Tony popping up would at least mean it would be a couple of episodes before Steve and Fiona reconciled but no such luck.
I understand that I’m not supposed to like Frank, but I don’t think I’m supposed to dislike him this much either. I think he’s intermittently funny, but I don’t pity him, and I frequently despise him. I hated the scene between Frank and Lip at Sheila’s house. After years of tripping over his father’s crumpled, unconscious body, now he has to see him as a relatively clean, upright, and suburban-normal guy… at someone else’s house. Playing the role of the concerned father… for someone else’s kid. That’s supposed to be funny? Am I supposed to think it is? Is Frank?
My affinity for the character didn’t benefit from his role in the main plot, Frank’s years-long social security racket wherein he collected benefits meant for dearly departed, insatiable cokehead Aunt Ginger. (Who happens to be the owner of the house the Gallaghers are squatting in.) An investigator shows up to ask why Ginger’s paychecks are being cashed in Chicago when she’s in Milwaukee. Frank comes up with a terrible plan to dress up erstwhile bus driver Mr. Perry as Ginger. Luckily, Fiona stepped in with a better plan. They’d pick a properly senile woman from Veronica’s nursing home and use her to sit in for Ginger for the day. Ewww. Just ewww. I don’t like any of this, and I kind of hate all of the characters who participated in it. And yet, I was very charmed by the montage of the kids (mostly Debbie, who I could use more of) using “Ginger” to act out all their kindly, eccentric grandmother fantasies. It was oddly sweet and funny, and I did sort of feel like if “Ginger” was someone visited so infrequently and ignored, maybe it was a nicer day than she would have had otherwise. Yeah, but still ewww. The day is saved yet again, but what cost is too great to maintain the lifestyle of a group of characters I’m not sure I care about? The Aunt Ginger scheme doesn’t strike me as so dark a gambit that I should already be asking that question.
I’m also having a little trouble with the Ian and Kash story. Again, I’ve not watched the original series, but from the comments, I’ve gotten the impression that the American Ian might be suffering from a casting misstep. Perhaps Gerard Kearns, who played the British Ian, was a little scrappier than Cameron Monaghan or seemed more precocious or whatever. But when I see the interactions and making out between Ian and Kash, it just feels weird and gross. If there are supposed to be some subtleties and intricacies to their relationship, I’m not seeing them. It just seems like an older guy is taking horrible advantage of a kid, whom he also happens to employ, which is of consequence when the kid needs his paycheck to chip in toward an overdue gas bill. The scene between them in the van while Mandy’s brothers continued to stalk him could have been interesting, but Kash was being such a unbelievable goon, I wanted it to be over as quickly as possible. Though I did like how the Ian and Mandy story unfolded.
The point is, this thing still isn’t quite gelling for me yet. Is there something I’m missing?
- Ambrosia salad is gross, so that’s another explanation for why Fiona decided not to join Tony and his mother.
- The shot of Frank walking obliviously past the “Ian Gallagher is a dead man” tag was kind of funny.
- Veronica on the nursing home: “This place is just like what you see on the news. A month ago, one of our night shift guys got caught fucking Mrs. Heber, who’s in a coma. He just got a raise.”
- Debbie crying when they had to return “Ginger” to the old lady rental store was cute. I half want the show to be about Debbie.