Chicagoan Frank Gallagher is the proud single dad of six smart, industrious, independent kids, who without him would be… perhaps better off. When Frank’s not at the bar spending what little money they have, he’s passed out on the floor. But the kids have found ways to grow up in spite of him. They may not be like any family you know, but they make no apologies for being exactly who they are.
Let’s cut straight to the chase: Shameless is aptly named. This Showtime drama (based on the British series of the same name) has been airing since 2011, and its first 10 seasons can now be found on Netflix. It chronicles the life of one Frank Gallagher and his mess of children: Fiona, Lip, Ian, Debbie, Carl and Liam.
She made an appearance from time to time (sometimes to reconnect with Frank, sometimes with her lesbian lover in tow), but much like Frank, she never did much good for her kids. (At one point she discovered the kids’ secret stash of cash and blew it all on drugs, forcing the kids to scramble to earn enough money to pay the property tax on the house.)
Frank is a neglectful alcoholic. Pretty much the only good he does for his kids is provide them with a disability check each month (when they can sober him up enough to collect it, that is). Monica, the Gallagher children’s bipolar mother (now deceased), ran off years ago.
Eldest child Fiona was forced to care for and raise her five younger siblings. For the most part, she did a good job—or at least a better job than her so-called “parents.” She worked wherever she could; she made sure the kids went to school; she even protected them from Frank and Monica’s emotional abuse by becoming her siblings’ legal guardian.
And to be quite frank, that love, which is echoed by the other Gallagher children, is just about the only redeeming quality this show has. They rally together to pay the bills each month (whether that means watering down the milk to make it last longer or taking on some not-quite-legal jobs to make the extra cash). They support each other through personal circumstances—such as when Ian comes out as gay or when Debbie realizes she’s pregnant. And even when they screw up or decide to leave (as Fiona eventually does), they still love each other unconditionally.
Honestly, you almost can’t blame them. They’re definitely a product of their dysfunctional parents and the systemic poverty that they’ve been raised in. But that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking to watch them struggle.
Perhaps if Shameless was only talking about its wide range of subject matter, it could be taken as a cautionary lesson as to the difficulties that families face when dealing with drug addiction, alcoholism, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and even sex addiction. But sadly, we see each one of these topics play out on screen, making it a show that many would probably be ashamed to watch.
Nudity, sex (including same-sex pairings), physical abuse, drug use, binge-drinking and harsh language (up to and including the f-word) are a part of just about every episode of Shameless. There are also some subplots involving abortion, prostitution and “Gay Jesus.”