I’m not sure where to start with “Frank The Plumber,” but that also goes for the rest of season three of Shameless, which has been even more of a mixed bag than is usual for the show. In fact, the term “mixed bag” doesn’t seem to go far enough in describing how unfocused the season has been; it has delivered some terrific scenes, some smart character progressions and some killer one-liners, but the pleasures it delivers are terribly scattershot. There’s been nothing to suggest any kind of momentum here, not just from a plot standpoint (Shameless tends to meander, even at its best) but also from a quality standpoint. There’s never any reason to believe the next episode will be any good just because the one before it was good, and vice versa.
For that reason, “Frank The Plumber” is the perfect encapsulation of the season. It’s packed to the brim with everything that makes the show great and everything that makes it so frustrating. There’s triumph for Fiona, heartbreak for Ian, and about a thousand more reasons to cheer for Debbie. Even Lip is suddenly making good choices, and starting to mature enough to understand that a decision isn’t necessarily a terrible one or something to run away from simply because people expect it of you. All good things.
But the Frank Problem is one that can rear its ugly, greasy, unwashed head at any moment and throw an episode off its game. While its terrific that Frank is no longer finding ways to bounce between Gallagher Manor and Sheila’s place, it’s still a major issue that any Frank story has to start with “Where is Frank going to be sleeping and eating his meals now, and what situation must be contrived to explain it?” So after a short-lived stint at the home of Christopher the Needy Taxidermist, Frank is going to be living it up as the face of the gay marriage movement after a video of his rant goes viral.
I suppose I don’t mind any of this on its face, because the limitations of the Frank character are what they are, but he’s a part of this universe and has to be incorporated some way. So it’s a given that there’s going to be some kind of ridiculousness, some kind of contrivance that keeps the Frank character chugging along in the story. But man alive, does so much freaking time have to be spent on Frank? Even when the Frank portions of an episode don’t add up to a lot in terms of actual time spent, because the Shameless writers have worked so hard to make this an ensemble show, anytime there’s attention on Frank, I wish it was somewhere else.
It’s especially irksome when there’s a story like the downfall of Ian and Mickey, one that’s been festering for a couple of episodes now, feeling like it’s been pushed to the fringes in favor of Frank in the Alibi Room getting pelted with gay jokes or singing “I Will Survive” and getting serviced by a transsexual. It’s a truly heartbreaking turn of events for Ian, who was finally starting to settle into a groove with Mickey after Lloyd’s appearance created some urgency for Mickey. And it was clear the trauma they suffered together at the hands of Terry Milkovich would either strengthen their bond or destroy it entirely. But for it to end with Mickey agreeing to marry a girl he randomly impregnated and pummeling Ian when he dared to confront him about it was really brutal. The shot of Ian in bed crying as the rest of the family caroused downstairs was quite a gut-punch.
There were plenty of tears for Sheila as well, in what wound up being a pretty emotional episode all around. We’ve seen Sheila struggle with the realization that she has raised a daughter who seems to completely lack compassion or empathy. But the Hymie incident is particularly hurtful to Sheila because even though it was a ruse on Karen’s part to get the baby out of the house, the premise of that ruse—that Sheila’s psychological problems make her an unfit mother—hits close to home, especially as Karen demonstrates the result of that bad parenting on a daily basis. And as usual, it’s Debbie to the rescue, literally showing up as the anti-Karen, with kind words, an unflappable optimism, and an assurance that a sincere apology might be all it takes to set things right with Karen.
But before Karen and Sheila could complete their reconciliation, Karen dashed out to meet with Lip, only to be run over by a vengeful Mandy. I’ll confess that part of me wishes the writers had played a little more with this development by keeping the identity of the driver a secret for a bit longer. Not that I want Shameless to turn into a whodunit all of a sudden (a la The L Word), but it was an odd choice not to show the face of the most obvious culprit, only to reveal a few scenes later that the most obvious culprit was, in fact, the guilty party.
I’m still trying to sort out how I feel about the choice of having Karen get run over. As odd as it feels to say, I’ve spent all this time wishing a piano would fall onto Karen every time she’s in a scene, so I’d have expected a rush of schadenfraude in seeing Karen get hit by a car, but it never came. (This could, again, have to do with the choice to keep the assailant concealed initially; I may have been more satisfied with it if I’d known it was Mandy all along.) But it’s the aftermath I’m more concerned about. After making the choice to be with Mandy because she’s better for him, this will almost certainly send Lip running back to her side, and I just can’t stand to see Lip punishing himself like that anymore.
- I realize I spent little time talking about Fiona and Steve this week, but their stories were a little bare bones, with Steve deciding to become an EMT (the adrenaline rush he craves, but legal and medicine adjacent) and Fiona getting a foothold at her new temp job.
- I was a bit tickled by Steve being so satisfied with his new career revelation that he doesn’t even notice Karen being wheeled into the ER right under his nose.
- Debbie to Sheila: “I’ve seen crazy, and I’ve seen bad for kids. And you’re not either of those things. You’re nice.” That Debbie, I swear. I want to hug her at least once per episode.
- Kev and V are into gimp porn now. Is that a step up from slavery porn?
- Frank’s general philosophy on life: “I am whatever I need to be at the time I need to be it.”
- Also, how is it that Frank knows the words rhetoric and recompense?
- Fiona, on her new job warming calls to throw to a sales department: “So I’m the fluffer, and they’re the happy ending. Sorry… I have a lot of brothers.”