Tonight’s Shameless was a pivotal episode for me. Four episodes is a reasonable number of viewings to give a show that managed to pique your curiosity and squeeze a few laughs out of you. But I still wasn’t quite sure what to make of Shameless following “Aunt Ginger,” and if I hadn’t connected with this episode, I’d obviously still watch, but my heart probably wouldn’t have been in it. But “Casey Casden” is an episode of Shameless that makes sense to me. I disagree with the commenters who have said that the show is intended to put its viewers into an endless feeling of conflict and emotional ambiguity. I don’t think it’s the point of the show to make anyone feel confused about their impressions of the Gallaghers. I do think it’s a show that, for a host of reasons, you either get or you don’t, and the latter group really doesn’t get it. “Casey Casden” made me think that, just maybe, I’m in the former group after all.
Most of the fundamental issues I had with the show (Steve’s odiousness, Frank’s repulsiveness) were missing entirely. After their donnybrook over Steve’s Canada prank, Steve and Fiona are in a new couple-ish rhythm unlike anything we’ve seen between them yet. I thought that after Fiona fled dinner with Tony and his mother and tracked down Steve, there would be a reconciliation, but only after an acknowledgement from Steve that he’d been out of line. Either the writers have zipped us past it, or Steve and Fiona glossed over the issue to hasten a return to feelings of infatuation, and they can expect the same issues to pop back up. In any event, Steve was damn near likable in this episode. It feels like he’s really integrated himself into the family now and is more willing to meet Fiona where she is rather than trying to drag her someplace else. His speech to Debbie about why it was okay to lie as “Nurse Debbie” was redeeming.
Frank, meanwhile, is still Frank but now has something he hasn’t had before: boundaries. I don’t want Frank to be an upstanding individual. I do want him to have some kind of criminal’s code about himself, and apparently diddling Karen is a step over Frank’s heretofore unseen line in the sand. It can be argued over what Frank’s motives for resisting Karen’s seduction actually were—self-preservation by keeping himself out of jail, in Sheila’s good graces, or whatever. But whatever the primary motivation was, I felt like Frank felt like what he was doing was wrong. That makes Frank less like a cartoon and more like a person. Macy was terrific this week, and the script gave him some hilariously inappropriate monologues to play with.
But I’m sure the biggest reason I was so much more fond of this week’s episode is that it pushed Debbie to the foreground. Even as I realize the reasons it couldn’t work, there’s part of me that wishes Shameless was a show about Debbie. Much like Shane Botwin on Weeds, she’s the kid character who shouldn’t be my favorite and yet is. The scenes of her interacting with, then saying goodbye to Aunt Ginger are probably my favorite we’ve seen so far. And I’m drawn to the idea of Debbie as the black sheep of the family for not being anti-social enough. She’s sweeter than the other Gallaghers, sure, but she’s definitely selfish in a way that befits her age. She wants some kind of normal family life or at least someone to pay attention to her for five full minutes, and she’ll do anything to get it. But it broke my heart a little when she told Fiona and Steve her rationale for ‘napping Casey: “Her dad was laughing and playing with them, and it just wasn’t fair.” Having “Ginger” around was a taste of normalcy, and she wanted more—plus the kids were having too nice a party with their awesome happy-go-lucky dad, so fuck them. Is it appropriate behavior? Not at all, but I understand why she did it, and I didn’t feel manipulated by any of it.
Plus, I love a good caper, and I like when the characters on this show hustle together to fix whatever’s broken. First, it was tracking down Frank, then the Aunt Ginger scheme, and now it’s the return of Casey Casden that gets the whole gang together for a well-intentioned scheme. It was an A-story that had more momentum than what we’ve seen before. Much like “Aunt Ginger,” there was a house crisis (this week’s crisis was a dead water heater) and a family crisis (Casey) and the two dovetail nicely at the end. I especially loved seeing Debbie and Fiona showered with money after they returned Casey, and Lip and Ian preventing Frank from stealing it all. I’m not sure it’s possible for the show to sustain the balance of awww and ewww that this episode had, but if it does, I’m going to grow to really dig this thing.
- The Kev stuff worked for me too, because I loved Vanessa Bell Calloway as Veronica’s mom and because the reveal that he’s already married was a deft cliffhanger.
- “Gallaghers do not do therapy!”
- “Who the fuck are you?” is a funny line when spoken to a baby. Or by a baby, I suppose.
- It was a small thing, but I cracked up at the black woman who, during Frank’s birther monologue, took a muffin, then left with a disgusted shake of her head. I can understand the logic: Wow, this guy’s disgusting. But I mean… shit… free muffins.
- I was also tickled by the idea of having the owner of the bike Carl stole be a fat lady who stopped to get a pastry. Like we’re supposed to think, Take the bike Carl, that big pastry-eatin’ heifer don’t need it!
- “My car’s paid off!” is an amazing all-purpose retort.
- “Fiona… what a pleasant… surprise…” says Sheila, with the type of creeptastic delivery that only Joan Cusack could deliver.