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‘Shameless’ Tries To Keep It Real In A Pandemic Amid The Show’s Customary Brand Of Chaos

As TV shows tiptoed back into production this summer and fall, all of these series faced the question of whether to ignore Covid-19 or write that damn virus into the script. We don’t yet know how all of those efforts will shake out, but in the case of Grey’s Anatomy and Station 19, for example, there wasn’t much of a choice. It simply wouldn’t seem believable for shows about frontline workers to pretend like a raging pandemic isn’t happening. In the case of Showtime’s Shameless, however, the issue didn’t seem so cut-and-dried for the dramedy’s eleventh and final season.

Those of us who adore the Shameless brand of chaos know that the show’s always prioritized keeping it real — sometimes brutally and bleakly so — amid any other absurd happenings. Think Fiona’s prison strip-search, Lip’s battles with alcoholism, Ian’s spiral into manic-depression, and many other heartbreaking developments that went down while humor hovered in the wings. Generally speaking, the writers balanced those heavier moments with more lighthearted antics elsewhere, but none of those character-based struggles could possibly approach the scope of our current global situation. Still, it’d be impossible (not to mention irresponsible) for a show that’s remained relatable for a decade to suddenly ignore reality. So, how is Shameless handling the pandemic?

Showtime

Well, it’s definitely weird (and not only because Carl’s now a cop), but man, this can’t be an easy transition. The writers obviously don’t want the pandemic to take over the whole show because it’s still an escapist series, and I gotta wonder whether they’ll let the Covid-19 mentions slowly fade away as the season continues. With that said, I also can’t begin to predict whether we’ll see any characters grow gravely ill, but it’s great to see most of the family (other than Frank, who predictably is waving “hoax” around like the cockroach that he is) masking up and taking things more seriously than expected within their Chicago’s South Side setting. Is social distancing happening? No freaking way, but I don’t think Shameless would work if all of the characters hung out at home. Nor would it seem believable that they could afford to do so.

However, nothing too dramatic happens in this season premiere (if Ian was still doing the EMT thing, it’d probably be different), which is mostly Catching Up With The Gallaghers several months after the world turned upside down. At least one character, Tami, has already caught and recovered from the virus, and she’s worried about catching it again, but that’s the extent of the health-related news that we see. The ghost of Fiona isn’t hanging around (even though Emmy Rossum apparently might pop into this season), Frank’s grifting continues, and (no) surprise, the newly-wed Ian and Mickey are already at each other’s throats. This does provide an opportunity for Lip and Ian to have a heart-to-heart about how their parents never taught them how to make a relationship work, and that leads to the beef that I have with this episode.

Why did Shameless provide scant follow-up to Lip falling off the wagon during the last season finale? He downed hard liquor at Ian and Mickey’s wedding reception after a vicious fight with Tami, and we’re supposed to believe that they’re doing alright now, and Lip is back on the wagon, no problem? I’m not buying that their biggest issue is how Lip can manage to fool Tami into thinking he bought fancy-ass paint and coffee, but again, at least he’s wearing a damn mask, and kudos to Shameless for reinforcing to me how low the bar is for judging Americans’ pandemic behavior. And maybe we’re supposed to believe that quarantine brought Lip and Tami back together, but it still feels odd that Lip’s tragic slide back into booze-soaked behavior was a short-lived detour.

Other than that, this was mostly a placeholder episode. Some loose ends:

– Debbie’s still somehow the worst sibling, so of course she walks around with her nose hanging out of her mask. She’s truly aghast at being labeled as a sex offender, and the show makes things uncomfortable by having someone fudge up Debbie’s record to make it look like she committed statutory rape of a 7-year-old girl instead of a 17-year-old one. I kind-of feel like this is post-dated comeuppance for Debbie losing her virginity by raping the guy she was kind-of dating at the time. Then again, she’s allowing Frannie to bedazzle mom’s ankle bracelet, so no lessons have been learned there.

– Kevin and Veronica are as enterprising as ever, so they’re running a speakeasy-gym in The Alibi. That’s not great, but they are requiring masks be worn by patrons at all times. Realistic or not, I’m always happy to see them get more airtime while possibly tiptoeing their way toward a future spinoff. That’s probably a wish in vain, or maybe things will happen Dexter-style with the Gallagher neighbors revisiting TV screens in several years. Hey, a lady can dream.

Showtime’s ‘Shameless’ airs on Sundays at 9:00pm EST.

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