Myles McNutt has been recapping Shameless for The AV Club for the last four seasons ... he may have been doing it elsewhere before that, I've been reading Myles seemingly forever, I think he was still a grad student when I started, he's now a professor at Old Dominion. He has been the most reliable writer regarding the show for some time, and he's been frustrated with Shameless for a long time. Here is how he described the series after the Season Six premiere, which marked McNutt's debut for AV Club:
But unlike a family sitcom like The Middle, the stakes are high on Shameless. In this sense, it’s a distinct televisual artifact, unlike any of the premium—or even basic—cable shows around it. It is at its core a family “soapcom,” adopting the dense serialization and action/consequence plotting of soap operas but within a more tightly focused character structure seen in sitcoms. The “plot” as it were rarely extends beyond individual situations, and is almost always driven by characters and their relationships. It’s created one of my most dysfunctional television viewing experiences, as I find myself wanting to spend time with the Gallaghers like they’re a sitcom family, whilst simultaneously spending entire episodes watching through my fingers as they flirt with tragedy at every turn.
McNutt is referring in part to the claim (by Showtime and by show honcho John Wells) that Shameless is, at its core, a comedy. McNutt, rightly, says that is nonsense. This season he has stated more than once that Wells doesn't understand his show's strengths and weaknesses the way, well, Myles McNutt does. Since I agree with Myles, I've found his writing invaluable over the years as Shameless has fallen from its heights, much like virtually every Showtime series. Here are some of the things I've said.
First, a clip from Season One:
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.
Shameless is a character study, and one reason Season Four was the best yet is that we know these characters, but they are still evolving, so we see them in more depth. And their circumstances change. From the beginning, Shameless promised to be a show about the lower classes that felt real even as the plot got silly. As Paul Abbott, who created the U.K. original, said, “It’s not blue collar; it’s no collar.” The essential core of Shameless is the extended Gallagher family, and again, it’s the combination of deep characters and their interesting evolution that carries the core.
Showtime always lets their shows run for too long. That would seem to be a problem here, but somehow, Shameless is still very good. The changes in the characters over the years are believable (at least within the cockeyed world of the show), Emmy Rossum deserved more than one of those awards named after her, and I’m glad it’s still on. Oddly, the least-interesting character is the one played by William H. Macy, the de facto star. Macy is excellent, his character is not.
Shameless has never been a comedy, despite the many funny scenes over the years. And William H. Macy gets Emmy nominations every year, while Emmy Rossum has never gotten even one for playing Fiona. Yet Macy plays Frank, the least-interesting character on the show, a character that should have been dumped many seasons ago.
Season 9 has too much Frank, as have too many recent seasons. Meanwhile, it seems like the writers no longer know what to do with Fiona. I don't blame Rossum for announcing she is leaving the show.
Shameless has been on a downward spiral for a long time, now. It took longer than usual for a Showtime series, but it's barely worth watching now. I'm sticking with it until the end of the season ... I feel I owe it to Rossum. But it's a shadow of its former excellence.
As can be seen, I loved the show for a long time, and was still optimistic as recently as Season 7. But it's been a downhill slide ever since, and the only reason I've kept watching is to see Emmy Rossum's final episodes. Rossum is moving on, and her character has been written out of the show ... the last we see her, she is on her first plane ride, going who knows where. The idea that the show can continue without Rossum is delusional, although it still has a following, and Showtime isn't going to let a popular show exit until it has drained everything. But then, Rossum has always taken a back seat to William H. Macy. It's not his fault that he's the most famous actor on the show, and he does wonders with his character. But neither he nor his character belong at the center of Shameless ... that's Emmy Rossum and Fiona.
The plotting has become positively careless the last couple of seasons. In that respect, it reminds me of The L Word, which ignored character continuity whenever they decided to try something new. I have to return to Myles McNutt again, because he has obsessed about this ever since it happened, and since I share his obsession, it deserves mention. In one of the many goofy plots on Shameless, Carl gets married to Kassidi. Once the character has served her purpose, the powers that be decided something needed to be done. And so, in the first episode of Season 9, someone who wants to impress Carl offers to take care of Kassidi, telling Carl not to worry, no one will ever find the body. Kassidi never returns, and we can only assume she has been murdered. After which, she is never mentioned again. It's as if she was never on the show, that she had never married Carl, that she had never been murdered. This is the worst example of how Shameless ran off the rails. Sadly, it's not the only example.
Myles is a better man than I. He finished his final Season 9 recap by writing, "As much as I don’t blame anyone for bailing on the show along with Fiona, I’m sticking it out to see just what exactly John Wells thinks Shameless without Fiona looks like. It’s certainly going to be an adventure." As I said on Twitter, I might keep reading Myles' recaps, but I doubt I'll still be watching the series ... at this point, his recaps are better than the show.