More Than a Binge

From drugs and alcohol to sexual identity, “Shameless” addresses relevant world issues through its portrayal of American dysfunction.

By Nicole Fryer, University of Pittsburgh


Over the summer, I started watching “Shameless” and immediately fell in love with the show’s drama and dysfunctional family .

After months of begging, I’ve finally convinced my roommate to start watching. While I’ve seen every episode, I’m watching again and realizing how important the show is. If you haven’t watched “Shameless,” I highly recommend doing so, because the show is not only entertaining, it’s a wake-up call and reality check on your own life.

I’ll start you off with the basics.

Starring Emmy Rossum and William Macy, the show focuses on an abnormal family living in the ghetto of Chicago, the Gallaghers. Macy plays Frank, the alcoholic (and mostly absent) father of six kids. The eldest of the kids is Fiona, played by Rossum, who is just twenty-one when the show starts, and is raising the children as well as taking care of the house.

Liam, the youngest, is only two-years-old, and in between we have Lip, Ian, Carl and Debbie. Frank is too drowned in his drinking habits and drug addictions to be a present father in the kids’ lives, and their mother, Monica, has bipolar disorder and disappeared without a trace. Fiona works any job she can to pay bills and buy food, while Lip and Ian chip in because the rest are too young to work. Yeah, there’s a lot to remember here.

Image via Tv.com

One of the many reasons I’m drawn to “Shameless” is because the show focuses on taboo subjects and isn’t afraid to bring up things no one wants to talk about. There are no limitations.

Sex happens a lot, and they’re not afraid to show anything (like seriously, I’m surprised the show isn’t considered porn). I wouldn’t classify sex as taboo, but the circumstances in the show make it somewhat so. Fiona hooks up with a guy she meets at a club, he gets injured and she takes him back to her house, before they then have intense sex in the kitchen and eventually begin a serious relationship.

Ian, who is fourteen at the time and gay, is sleeping with his married boss, who’s twice his age. His boss’s wife has no idea her husband is gay and is sleeping with the cashier (until she sees security footage of them getting it on in the store).

Lip is the hottie every girl wants, and he has a hard time maintaining a relationship. He falls in love with his friend-with-benefits, and during their “off” times, he’s sleeping with Ian’s “girlfriend” (until he comes out). Once they fizzle out, he starts seeing his college professor (she’s married and twice his age. It happens more than you think), and once things turn sour, he goes running toward his next heartbreak.

Image via The AV Club

There’s also a major focus on addiction. I’ve already mentioned Frank is an alcoholic, and he spends all his money (from scams and disability) on alcohol. When there’s extra money left, he picks up some crack and whatever other drugs he can get his hands on.

His addiction is so bad that he often blacks out, sometimes for months, and wakes up in another state or country. Lip seems to be following in Frank’s footsteps, especially after his relationship with his professor ends. His drinking habits get him kicked out of school and land him in rehab. After he gets out, he keeps his drinking under control, but he eventually starts to spiral out of control when life gets tough.

Kevin, the Gallaghers’ neighbor, grows pot, and he and Lip sell joints to locals over the summer to make extra money. When Monica, the mother, decides to be in the picture, she and Frank blow through the family’s money to get their hands on whatever fix they can. When the Gallagher clan throws a party, there’s a mixture of alcohol and either weed or cocaine, which ends up causing a huge scene (you’ve got to watch to see what happens).

Image via The AV Club

Mental illness is also a recurring theme throughout the show. Monica is bipolar, and viewers see her highs and lows. One minute, she’ll be happy-go-lucky and in the kids’ lives, living with them, cooking for them  and being a normal mother, and the next minute, she won’t be able to get out of bed; she gets severely depressed, and at one point attempts suicide.

After a couple of seasons, Ian starts to act out, and the family suspects he is also bipolar. After he steals his boyfriend’s baby and tries to travel across the country, he is subdued and taken to a hospital for treatment. Once his meds are straightened out, he’s able to live a functional life.

Although the show has yet to diagnose the younger kids, I believe Carl and Debbie also struggle with some mental problems. Carl exhibits signs of a psychopath (he likes to kill small animals and hides knives and weapons all over the house), and Debbie has severe mood swings and anger issues. In the newest season, Carl tries to get his life straightened out, but Debbie shows no signs of improvement.

Feeling Shameless? The Importance of The Gallaghers

Carl and Debbie (image via pinterest)

Pregnancy happens often (remember, lots of sex) and shows that women can do what they want with their bodies. One of Lip’s love interests becomes pregnant when they are seventeen, and there’s a high probability the baby is his. The mother has no interest in raising the baby, so her mother and her fiancé, not Lip, end up raising the baby, who has Down syndrome.

Meanwhile, Debbie falls in love and thinks a baby will sustain her relationship, so she tricks her boyfriend and gets pregnant. Her boyfriend leaves, and at fifteen, she is raising her own child (and is not doing a great job). Fiona finds out she’s pregnant shortly after Debbie does, but decides abortion is the best option for her.

No matter what, there’s always some drama happening in the Gallagher family. Despite your background, everyone can learn something from watching “Shameless,” and the show can affect each viewer in different ways. The first six seasons are on Netflix (bless), and season seven is available on Showtime.

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