Photo: Chuck Hodes (Showtime)
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In the two weeks since the last new episode of Shameless, we learned two bits of news about the show’s future. The first wasn’t surprising: Shameless will be returning for a tenth season. The second, though, came as a shock: just a few months removed from his emotional exit, Cameron Monaghan will be returning as a series regular in that tenth season, which means that everything written about what Shameless would look like without Ian Gallagher was relevant for a grand total of seven episodes or so.

These decisions are, in a word, questionable. But I suppose that’s fitting for a show about questionable decisions, where characters live on the edge of destruction in the interest of making as much money as possible. The series’ creative decline has been unavoidable, unless you’re the channel that continues to see strong ratings and probably has data to show how many of its subscribers watch to keep up with the show after catching up on Netflix. And Ian’s story seemed like it had reached a meaningful conclusion, unless you’re Cameron Monaghan and in a much better bargaining position after Emmy Rossum’s exit and weren’t happy with the other opportunities available by comparison.

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For better or for worse—just kidding, it’s obviously for worse—the rest of the ninth season has been transformed into a litmus test for whether Shameless has earned this future. And “Los Diablos!” is crippled by those expectations, another inert outing that fails to offer any meaningful story engine to drive interest in these characters. The episode ends with what’s supposed to feel like another iconic Gallagher moment, with Fiona leading the neighborhood in a defiant block party after a gentrifying neighbor, but nothing about the show feels unifying or cohesive or in any way meaningful right now. I realize I’ve been saying more or less the same thing for weeks now, but that’s because the show just keeps repeating the same mistakes.

Fiona’s journey to the block party is at least holding her accountable: after weeks (months?) of destructive behavior, Margo fires her from Patsy’s, but the show tries to put us on Fiona’s side by having her start cleaning up her act following a potentially violent break-in the night before. I understand the writers’ interest in exploring themes of violence against women—we see a similar thread in Xan’s return, more on that in a second—but I wish the show could have just held Fiona accountable without the asterisk. Why didn’t Margo fire her weeks ago, if this has been going on for so long? Having her parachute in to add one more indignity to Fiona’s fall from grace is a way to accelerate the storytelling, but it doesn’t register as a story. Why not have Margo be a recurring presence in the past few episodes, working to give Fiona another chance and finally reaching her breaking point? Why not try to connect this to their longer relationship, and to the themes of mentorship that seemed so important when Margo’s story started? There was a chance to use Margo to enrich Fiona’s story, and make it feel more purposeful, but instead Sharon Lawrence just stops by to take away Fiona’s last lifeline, and more or less make her arrest for assaulting the racist homeowner the only logical path for her character.

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Really, the only character whose path is even remotely clear right now is Carl, whose goal of West Point is at least giving the writers a reason for him to enter into new situations: his job as a sign-spinner isn’t really much of a story, consisting mostly of a horny boss and a reminder about his drug dealing past, but his need to build a resume gives him a reason to be doing it. By comparison, Lip’s domestication with Tami has never really been contextualized into his larger character arc, but the writers’ goal became a bit clearer when Xan showed up on the front steps of the Gallagher house. Does the show bring up that Lip gave her mother $10,000? Of course not—the show skips directly into a discussion of child predators, and repositions Tami and Lip as surrogate parents. It’s not a terrible story, but I’ll be disappointed if Lip’s future never tries to circle back to his intelligence and the idea that settling into a life as a motorcycle mechanic is not what he dreamed of. There’s still time for that story, but this would be a richer narrative if it felt like Lip’s past was a bigger part of the conversation.

Photo: Paul Sarkis (Showtime)

The rest of “Los Diablos!” is a bunch of bad stories that fail to justify their existence. The idea that we’re spending time with Ingrid’s storyline entirely separate from Frank is, frankly, one of the show’s dumbest decisions. I have nothing but respect for Katey Sagal, but who cares about Ingrid, her ex-husband, and her six babies? Other than Fiona drunkenly sitting back and watching the chaos unfold, what is the point of any of this? The show has shuttled Frank off to an absurd Hobo Loco Man contest with Luis Guzman, so why are we still spending time on Ingrid in this situation? The best (read: worst) thing is that the episode never actually resolves the situation: she just ends up in the basement, which the episode forgets about once Debbie gets stuck and she suddenly develops a crush on Kelly because the show remembered it randomly decided Debbie is into women a while back. I just struggle to imagine how someone felt that a show with so much history needed a bipolar therapist pregnant with six babies, and that we would care enough about her—or find her funny enough, as though anything about her situation is funny—for her to sustain a story on her own.

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That being said, that story makes perfect sense coming from an episode where it’s decided that Kev and Veronica’s twins are racists trying to murder Santiago. I continue to appreciate the show’s interest in telling a story about child separation, but this story did nothing for Kev and Veronica as characters, and required turning their children into legit psychopaths as opposed to just rambunctious toddlers. We never got to know Santiago enough for this story to track as anything but the show stretching itself too far to be topical, and there was nothing emotional about his and his sister’s departure. Something about the show’s tone right now has kept any of its short-term character arcs from resonating—Frank brought up the cancer patient Bianca in the midst of trying to prove his Hobo credentials, and that feels like the last time the show introduced a character, built an arc around them, and said something meaningful by its end. That was a full four seasons ago, and nothing about this season suggests they’re going to find anything close to it by the time this season ends.

And yes, as these reviews suggest, that’s frustrating, and it’s hard to see how a show in such rough shape can do justice to its best character: there are only four episodes left in Emmy Rossum’s time as a series regular, and I sure wish the show could find a way to do that justice between now and the season finale.

Stray observations

  • I realize that Shameless is a satire, but Hobo Loco Man literally killing someone with alcohol poisoning while livestreaming their deeply unethical and dangerous event isn’t getting shut down in some way? It went viral and someone died and it’s going to continue? There’s a point where “pointing out the ethical corruption of society” can get to the point of being completely absurd.
  • Of the show’s inelegant attempts to shoehorn contemporary events into their storytelling, White People Calling The Cops on People of Color In Innocuous Situations fits the show better than most. I do wish we had a bit more of Liam’s perspective: his hustle for money has stripped away any of the character development he got while working through the class issues at his school, and thus this really doesn’t do anything for his story, which is a bit disappointing.
  • Debbie had to be told to take off her pants in order to get out of the crawl space? I get that part of the story is that she isn’t fully comfortable with the home improvement side of things, but she’s a welder, and you’d think her problem solving skills would be a bit stronger.
  • “Bullshit this, bullshit that, blah blah blah”: Fiona on losing her job, or my first draft of this review?
  • We can discuss Cameron Monaghan’s return more in the comments, but I was interested by how willing he was to admit that it was a business decision: clearly the producers were more willing to pay up with Rossum gone, and that meant he was willing to come back. That’s honest, sure, but makes me wonder if there’s really an easy way to pivot back into his story. Time shall tell.

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