By Jason Fontelieu
Returning from a meth bender while mourning his late ex-wife, we find resident antagonist Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy) at the start of the eighth season premiere of “Shameless.”
We find the rest of the street-smart Gallagher clan in similarly strange situations: stand-in matriarch Fiona (Emmy Rossum) is trying to renovate an apartment building she recently purchased; stoically sober Lip (Jeremy Allen White) struggles to maintain his sobriety and simultaneously attempts to win back his ex-girlfriend; similarly-motivated Ian (Cameron Monaghan) tries to win back his ex-boyfriend at the youth clinic he works at; young mother Debbie (Emma Kenney) tries to balance welding school while caring for her daughter; recent boot camp graduate Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) focuses on selling the family’s inherited meth stash left by their late mother; and neighbors Kev (Steve Howey) and V (Shanola Hampton) resort to desperate measures to get back their family bar.
If you’ve never seen the show, this probably sounds like an overwhelming wad of gibberish, yet the show’s premise expertly intertwines the complex stories of each member of the Gallagher family around the heart of the show, which is their deep bond to each other.
A seemingly odd aspect of the season premiere was the recasting of the youngest Gallagher sibling, Liam, the only African-American member of the family, from Brenden Sims to Christian Isaiah. The fact that Isaiah’s skin tone was very different than the previous actors’ drew some controversy on Twitter. Also seemingly sudden, Liam had more dialogue in this episode than he’s had in the previous seven seasons combined. It feels several seasons too late, but better late than never.
The time jump between the seventh season finale to this episode seemed rather unclear. The new actor playing Liam appears to look much older than the previous actor, yet the other child actor playing Debbie’s daughter Franny seems to not have aged. Several of our characters seemed to be in the same predicaments as in the past season, such as Kev and V still trying to outsmart the cunning, yet caring, Svetlana (Isidora Goreshter) who stole their bar.
The opening scene finds Fiona in a somewhat compromising position in the midst of a random Tinder hook up where she comes to revelation that she’s over “random sexual gratification.” This seems like a rapid amount of character development to occur in the first minute of an episode, and it would’ve been more satisfying to see more build-up to such a big moment for one of the show’s main characters.
The show does an excellent job of tackling time-sensitive politics. Race and gentrification are touched upon when Liam, one of the only African-American students in his school, is repeatedly pulled out of class in order to be displayed on the playground during tours for prospective students to give the illusion of diversity.
New immigration policy is displayed during an ICE raid that results in an arrest at the restaurant Fiona manages. However, when V tries to set the ICE on the path to go after Svetlana and her Russian workers, a man replies that Russians aren’t really their priority at the moment (because of their race). Subtle, poignant moments like these hint to greater development later on the season that would serve a great purpose to bring attention to such topics.
However, not all attempts at cultural relevance landed as smoothly. When one of Lip’s coworkers gives him a fidget spinner to distract from his alcoholism, I almost laughed out loud at how cringe-worthy it was.
The acting is superb, as always. Macy does a great job portraying Frank as a versatile character who can in one episode seem like vile scum and in the next be a seemingly caring family man. Frank’s return from his bender is almost a rebirth, similar to his liver transplant earlier in the series. In this episode, he’s on a mission to right all of his past wrongs. Though we already know how awful a person Frank is, Macy is still able to effortlessly play a character you can’t help but root for in the way that no matter what awful things he does, he can never completely dismiss his family.
Though the premiere could have been stronger, all of the original aspects of “Shameless” that drew me in, were still there. The excellent writing and the acting come together for one of the best dramas on cable television.
“Shameless” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Showtime, and the first seven seasons are available for streaming on Netflix.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Shameless’s Facebook page.
Jason Fontelieu is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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