(CW: brief mentions of sexual assault)
Relentlessly boring, season 10 of Shameless—a sometimes dark, sometimes absurd dramedy about a family from Chicago’s South Side—set a new low for the long-running and ever-declining series. For me, a (former? Present? Recovering?) Shameless fan, the success of the show has always hinged on two things: a delicate yet irreverent balance between comedy and drama, and the interconnectedness of the Gallaghers’ stories. For the last couple of years, the show has fallen immeasurably short in both ways—that is, until this season’s final episode, titled “Gallavich!,” a nod to the ‘ship’ name of the fanbase’s favorite on-again-off-again couple, Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan) and Mickey Milkovich (Noel Fisher).
“Gallavich!” opens on their wedding day—when Mickey’s violently homophobic father burns down their venue, the Gallaghers must con their way into landing another locale at the last minute. In the words of Debbie (Emma Kenney) to a defeated Mickey: “We’re Gallaghers. If you’re going to be part of this family, you better nut up. We’re going to white trash this shit.” And ‘white trash that shit’ is exactly what they do. In order to secure a place at a not-so-gay-friendly Polish polka house, the family orchestrates an elaborate scheme in which Debbie poses as the bride-to-be. It’s a ridiculous set-up, but the wedding drama—in a move all too rare for this show in its penultimate season—unites all its characters toward a common cause.
Season 10 is Shameless’s first without Emmy Rossum, who bowed out after nine seasons in her role as Fiona Gallagher, the eldest Gallagher sister and matriarch-of-sorts. Throughout the many years, she was the glue that held the show together—with her, Shameless lost not only its heart and soul but also, apparently, its ability to weave the Gallaghers’ storylines together effectively.
Each 60-minute episode—barring the finale—felt labored to meet its runtime. Amongst the filler, few plot threads were well-developed or ultimately meaningful to the season as a whole. ‘Comedic’ (and I’m using the word loosely here) premises were set up and characters introduced only to be dropped a few episodes later. Characterization issues, both big and small, abounded. With the writers seemingly disinterested in their own characters and those characters’ histories, each new episode had nowhere to go and little, if anything, to say.
Thankfully, “Gallavich!”—much like its namesake relationship—is all about history. Since the show’s debut in 2011, Ian and Mickey have amassed a cult following online which—after four seasons of contractual issues, brief guest appearances from Noel Fisher, and Cameron Monaghan’s statements that season 9 would be his last—was reanimated earlier this year by the announcement that the two would be returning as series regulars. The wedding thus bookends ten seasons of romantic obstacles in a manner celebratory both of the characters’ arcs and of Shameless’s long and storied canon. But “Gallavich!” is not the end for Shameless.
A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that the Gallagher clan would be returning for an eleventh, and final, season: a rare accomplishment in a television landscape of rapid turnover. But, for many fans, the relatively long lifespan of Shameless is more curse than blessing—both within online fandom and in critical reviews, the showrunners appear to have burnt through a lot of goodwill with their audience.
“Gallavich!” could and should have been the series finale—with Lip (Jeremy Allen White) and Tami (Kate Lang Johnson) reconciled, ready to build a life together in Chicago, Ian and Mickey out of prison and married, Kev (Steve Howey) and V (Shanola Hampton) engaged, and Fiona out of the picture, the eldest characters and their corresponding members of the cast seem ready to move on. Even the storylines of the younger Gallaghers appear to have come to a natural close—Debbie’s season concludes with her being chased by the cops, but considering her bafflingly unaddressed history with sexual assault and statutory rape, prison would be a fitting end for her character. Of course, season 11 gives the writers an opportunity to tie up loose ends and deliver a sense of closure for veteran fans, but, if the overall quality of season 10 is any indication of the future, I’m not too hopeful.