Shameless: “Summer Loving”
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Shameless: “Summer Loving”

At the risk of repeating myself, Shameless works better for me the more grounded it is. When I say “grounded,” I don’t necessarily mean “dramatic,” I mean rooted in character and tethered to reality, as are plenty of other comedies currently on the air. I don’t mind Shameless’s broad, crude comedy, and I find a lot of it funny, but just a pinch goes a very long way for me. Hence, my enjoyment of each episode of this show tends to hinge on how well a particular episode balances the cartoonish and earthbound elements of the show. I enjoyed “Summer Loving” a bit more than I did the season premiere, but I’m still waiting for a more equitable balance from upcoming episodes.

I hate to keep making the same complaints about Shameless, because I do believe that at a certain point, a show is what it is and you have to either decide to take it or leave it. Like plenty of other shows, Shameless focuses its energy on creating shocking, taboo-pushing, dangerous moments, sometimes at the cost of its storytelling. But you only get to make those complaints for the first season. Once a Glee, or a True Blood, or an American Horror Story makes clear that this is the way things are done, viewers have to decide to either jump in the boat or swim away with a hook lodged in their cheeks. The same is true for Shameless, but it’s hard. I really warmed to the Gallaghers slowly but surely, and there’s a gem of a show lost inside the show Shameless actually is, and I really want to watch that show.

The biggest issue, obviously, is Frank. While I enjoy William H. Macy’s performance, most of the plots that irritate me stem from having to find something for Frank to do. To have a major character willfully keep his distance from the rest of the group for an indefinite period of time means that Frank always has to have his own deal going on. And honestly, I just don’t care that much about Frank as a character. When I care about Frank, it’s because his actions have the potential to affect characters I’m more invested in. I cared about whether or not Frank would be able to withstand Karen’s seduction, because Lip was developing feelings for Karen and I care about Lip. This season, Frank is really on his own (especially as Sheila’s growing comfort with the outside world hastens his eviction) and I can’t muster up enough interest in whether or not Frank finds another person to mooch off of.

Frank’s latest scheme is especially distasteful, as he places his target on Dottie, a former party girl with a banging body and an unfortunate face, who is awaiting a heart transplant. The fine line Shameless walks is between fun poor taste and icky poor taste, and there will always be fierce disagreement about which category each unsavory Gallagher plot lands in. For me, Frank’s plan to be there when Dottie croaks so he can take her pension checks is despicable, and when it appears to have no bearing on the rest of the story, I don’t want to watch it at all. And the ultimate reveal, that Dottie can’t have sex with Frank or else her heart will explode, is a silly way to complicate the quest and ratchet up the sexual tension, like some kind of scuzzy Pushing Daisies.

I was encouraged by the Fiona stuff this week, though. She had some excellent scenes with Frank (one thing the show could use a lot more of) as well as one with Richard, the wingman of Jasmine’s sugar daddy David. As irritated as I am by Jasmine as a character, I’m starting to understand her utility in a way that makes me tolerate her until the dynamic she creates bears fruit. Jasmine is essentially the female Steve, always trying to motivate the duty-bound Fiona to be impulsive, capricious and irresponsible in the way everyone is entitled to in small doses. A girl like Fiona will always fantasize about what her life could have been like if she had made different choices, and her friendship with Jasmine allows her a little glimpse of the slutty fun she could have had if she hadn’t had responsibility foisted on her. (Or if, like Jasmine, she had responsibility foisted on her and decided not to take it anyway.)

There are some little seedlings of Gallagher drama that I’m cautiously intrigued by at this point. The Ian and Mickey story is a prime example of my watchful waiting. Mickey’s out of jail now, so he and Ian are continuing with their odd little love affair, even to the extent of having Mickey come to work at the Kash and Grab now that Kash has split. It’s a story I’m interested in if for no other reason than that Mickey’s negotiation of his sexuality is fascinating. He’s clearly terrified of identifying as gay, or being caring or emotional towards Ian in a way that he associates with being gay, yet has no qualms about assuming the receptive role in he and Ian’s sexual encounters. (“Liking what I like don’t make me a bitch,” he says.) I’d expect the power dynamics of their relationship in that regard to provide some complications going forward.

I also want to see more of Debbie dealing with her oncoming puberty. Sensitive Debbie has always been one of my favorite characters on the show, and it seems like a wonderful thread for her, and an opportunity for us to see how a family like the Gallaghers approaches the mundane. That’s what I liked about Debbie’s decision to push Liam’s crib into the boys’ room so she wouldn’t have to be exposed to his genital exploration. It was a minor thing, but reverberated throughout the house and made an already uncomfortable situation more uncomfortable for its characters. What I could have lived without, is the introduction of a pregnant Chinese woman who is renting out Frank’s bedroom until her baby is born. It’s outlandish, and it unleashed a barrage of half-baked Asian jokes that was a triumph of quantity over quality. Maybe I just don’t understand Shameless, but I’d be so much more entertained by this show if there was an effort to decrease the number of those kinds of beats.

Stray observations:

  • I don’t have a ton to say about Lip and Karen just yet, other than that he and Kevin might be misreading Karen’s relationship with Jody. Her chaste, couple-y vibe with Jody could be an addition to her sexual relationship with Lip, not a replacement for it.
  • How will the show manage to keep Sheila around if Frank is no longer living with the Jacksons?
  • “It’s not sex if you don’t remember it.” “Then you’re a virgin, Frank.”
  • “What did Dad tell you? No titty-twisters now that I’m a C-cup.”
  • “Aunt Ginger” is back!  

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