Halfway through the fourth season of Showtime’s guilty pleasure Shameless, it’s becoming clear that the comedy/drama featuring the near destitute children of alcoholic and often absent father Frank Gallagher is shifting from shameless to shameful. Arguably an updated version of the 70’s sitcom Good Times, albeit post-racial with permissive amounts of nudity, the Showtime original succeeded because it never crossed that brackish line separating coarse, crude and indecent within a narrative structure from just plan coarse, crude and indecent.
At least until now. It actually started heading south last season with the “traditional” impregnation by Kevin of his mother-in-law because she refused artificial insertion. With his supposedly barren wife Veronica maintaining Kevin’s interest during the various interludes, Veronica’s mother continued the sessions even after becoming pregnant.
Season 4’s shock and awe campaign has included pre-teen sex, whiskey enemas, bloody tampon blood match samplings, incest and near statutory rape. It’s as though the writers lost interest in the characters and turned them into vessels for transporting dark matter. Worse, with Fiona’s arrest in episode 6 on charges relating to Liam’s endangerment, the two year old ingested Fiona’s cocaine, Shameless morphed from comedy/drama to tragedy. Fiona finally found a job with good pay, health care, and pension and the brilliant but mercurial Lip just discovered the inner strength to remain in college. Given the seriousness of the charges, Fiona will probably serve prison time forcing Lip to quite school to care for the family. In one fell swoop instead of standing on the cusp of respectability, economic mobility and pursuit of the American Dream, the family finds itself worse off than before.
Are the writers commentating on the state of the rich and poor? Seeking to illustrate the growing canyon between the economic extremes? Or is it a broader statement on the inherent improbability of escaping one’s DNA and environment? Were the Gallaghers destined from the beginning to fail, or did the show’s producers make the decision on a whim? I suppose I will stay tuned till some of this gets figured out. But the only way the show gets back to comedy is if in prison Fiona meets Piper Chapman from Orange is the New Black and they begin a lesbian relationship. But that’s an entirely different kind of guilty pleasure.
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