I know, I know … Mad Men began its new season last night, and that’s what I’m supposed to write about. Mad Men is one of the best shows in TV history, while Shameless is, well, Shameless. But you don’t need me to tell you about Mad Men, not when you can look here and here and here and here and here and (welcome back, Heather Havrilesky!) here. Not many of them wrote about the Shameless season finale … props to Alan Sepinwall for doing so.
I’m not here to say Shameless is “better” than Mad Men. But Mad Men doesn’t need my help (not that a tiny blog like this one has any impact in the first place). Shameless, on the other hand, is typical of a certain kind of show I write about on occasion (maybe it needs its own version of the Karen Sisco Award). The problem is summed up in this sentence, which led off a post from earlier this season: “I’m still trying to understand what makes Shameless work, and why I’ve never convinced anyone to watch it.” I gave Season One a B+, and Season Two an A- … this has never been, and likely never will be, a show that gets an A … yet a casual look at previous times I’ve posted about Shameless tells me that only one person in the comments has ever even admitted to watching the show (thanks, Tomás).
The kitchen-sink approach to plot is the main reason Shameless is too erratic to be considered great. The title is perfect: they really are shameless when it comes to plot contrivances. But the show is about the characters, and in almost every case, those characters deliver, no matter what is tossed in their way. It’s hard to know what was the most “shameless” plot device of Season Three. The part where Veronica and Kev can’t have a baby because V isn’t fertile, so they get V’s mom to be the surrogate, resulting in some odd three-ways, is in the running, but as usual, it’s Frank who is at the center of the best/worst of it, from convincing his son the kid has cancer so he can finagle money from charities, to calling Social Services to narc on the Gallaghers for their lifestyle (there’s no adults, he notes ironically), to pretending to be gay so he can get paid by pro-gay groups (and later, by a group that “cures” homosexuality). Frank has always been the biggest problem with Shameless; William H. Macy is good, and he’s the biggest star on the show, but Frank is over-the-top unlikeable yet it often seems like we’re supposed to find him funny.
The season finale played like a series finale, although Shameless has already been renewed for another season. Some of the characters got their ticket out of poverty, others moved out of town, at least one might be dead. Frank actually showed some decency, which was nicely done … I mistrust attempts at heart-warming emotional pulls, but Frank is such a creep that it was good to see him recognize, at least for a moment, that his kids have love for him somewhere deep inside.
But, as anyone knows who has read my previous stuff about Shameless, the above is just me filling space until I get to what really matters, which is Emmy Rossum. She plays every emotion with the exact right touch, from the hard-ass woman forced by poverty and shitty parents into a protective stance to the still-almost-a-kid who tries so hard and can’t help breaking down once in awhile. It’s one of the best performances on television, and if I gave a shit about awards, I’d say it was outrageous that she has never won an Emmy for her work (no pun intended). And Shameless knows what to do with her … while she is often quite glamorous and beautiful when she’s on a talk show, Shameless lets her natural beauty shine through, which somehow makes her Fiona even more heartbreaking.
Season Three still only gets an A-, but Rossum gets her third straight A+. C’mon, folks, watch this show before I have to make up an award for it.