Review: ‘Shameless’ – ‘The Two Lisas’

Senior Television Writer
01.25.15 12 Comments

Showtime

A review of tonight's “Shameless” coming up just as soon as I play you something worth dying over…

A whole lot happens in “The Two Lisas.” Sheila, already fed up with Frank, watches her house explode and drives out of town in a stolen RV, which I doubt is the last we'll see of her but maybe a good move for a character the show doesn't always know what to do with. Mandy also moves away with her abusive boyfriend, because Lip can't bring himself to come out and say that he loves her. JimmySteveJackJingleheimerSchmidt's friend keeps making passes at Fiona (who, interestingly, doesn't just tell her that she's straight), and after discovering that the singer who's been hitting on her has a girlfriend, Fiona goes home with another guy in the band. (The scene where she listens to music does a good job of illustrating how focused Fiona has been on basic survival for so long; it's not that she's completely ignorant of pop culture, but it's also not something that's ever been especially relevant to her as anything but background noise.)

But the part I want to talk about – and that I suspect many of you will as well – involves the scene that then inspires perhaps the most “Shameless” line of all time(*), as Lip tells his little sister, “Listen, Debs: a million guys would kill to be raped by you.”

(*) American edition, anyway; I can't speak to just how messed-up things got in the original.

Debbie taking advantage of an unconscious Matty probably isn't the most messed-up thing the show has ever done. (It will take a lot to top Frank letting Butterface die.) But when you factor in her age and naivete – she believed that because Matty was physically aroused, everything was okay – it's particularly dark and twisted and disturbing. And yet the thing that the episode does so remarkably – that “Shameless” has so often done remarkably – is in finding a way to pivot from the sick joke into something more heartfelt and painful. Yes, Debbie unwittingly rapes Matty, and it leads to a dumbstruck Lip telling her the line above, but then it leads to a sincere and honest discussion between Debbie and Fiona about sex, and how little Debbie really knows about it (and how slowly Fiona wants her to find out), and it doesn't feel like a cheat or an attempt to back away from the implications of what happened earlier. That's a hard tonal shift to pull off without seeming jarring, yet the show does it often – albeit usually not starting with something quite as extreme as this.

At press tour, Showtime did a panel called “Sexuality and Television – A Female Perspective,” featuring female producers and stars from three of its current series, including Emmy Rossum, Shanola Hampton, and writer/producer Nancy Pimental from “Shameless.” It was a good conversation – Rossum's always been very frank and articulate on gender and sexuality issues (and on most other issues related to this show) – and towards the end, I asked Pimental how the writers have dealt with giving Emmy Kenney such sexually frank material the past couple of seasons.

“It”s crazy what kids are doing now,” she said. “It”s insane. And so we want it to be real, and we want to be authentic, but it is. It”s a scary topic to broach. I had to sit down with Emma Kenney”s parents and tell them, 'Here”s what we”re about to do this season. I am going to give you the scripts. Take it home for the weekend. Let me tell you what”s about to happen.' And we just keep the lines of communication open with their parents. So then after they got the script, then they want to have conversation on Monday about it, and they”ve been great. The parents, they know what they”re signing up for, and again, because we”re not being gratuitous and we are trying to be authentic and we are trying to be sensitive, it”s a hard thing to balance.”

So how, I asked, did her parents respond when they found out Debbie would be raping the pizza boy?

“I was a lot more gentle than that,” she insisted. “I wasn”t as straightforward as you just were. And, you know, the conversation was that this is a girl who”s trying to find her own sexuality and wants to fit in and watches everybody around her, all of these other girls around her who are acting fast and who are doing things, and she”s slow to progress, and she just wants to get this done. And she”s fumbling through it. She doesn”t think she”s done anything wrong. She fumbles through, and she thinks it”s a consensual act. And her parents were great. They listened. They had a couple of notes. We made some tweaks. We stayed in communication with them the whole time.

“And I think we did a great job,” she concluded. “I think we did a great job with Debbie raping the pizza boy.”

“Shameless,” boys and girls!

What did everybody else think?

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