'Shameless' Season Six Brilliantly Chronicles TV's 'Least Likely To Succeed' Family

by Alyssa Rasmus

4 October 2016

Complete with abrasive “previously-on” intros, new behind-the-scenes featurettes, and deleted scenes, the Gallaghers are back with a vengeance.
William H. Macy in Shameless S6 

Babies, Boyfriends, and Bruises

cover art

Shameless: The Complete Sixth Season

(Showtime)
US DVD: 30 Aug 2016


Over six seasons, the Gallagher family ranks as perhaps the “least likely to succeed” TV family that’s ever graced the small screen. Season six is no different, as the ups and downs of the Gallagher way of life continue to prove challenging. The Emmy-nominated series has stuck to its goals keeping its realistic, dark, and edgy drama that doesn’t shy away from nearly any problem or modern familial issue.

Yet, erring on the side of comedy, both the ridiculous and the extreme situations they find themselves in make this show as unique as ever.  The brilliance of the writing comes from the show’s ability to stay connected to a very large ensemble of characters, without making the audience feeling like they’ve missed anything in anyone’s lives. Fiona (Emmy Rossum), Debbie (Emma Kenney), Lip (Jeremy Allen White), Carl (Ethan Cutkosky), and Ian (Cameron Monaghan) took center stage this season by embarking on very different life paths.

One of the peak moments of the season comes when the Gallaghers lose their house to a foreclosure auction. Unable to beat out some gentrifiers, Fiona feels the family is going into free fall. At the moment when the literal bottom falls out from underneath them, Debbie, age 15, announces she’s pregnant, Carl’s a new and improved gangster straight out of jail, and Lip’s still stuck in a bad relationship with a professor.

Throughout the series, Fiona tends to get kicked when she’s down; she’s down a lot. Her storyline pressed on her relationship status with Sean (Dermot Mulroney) and Gus (Steve Kazee), trying to pin down what she actually wants from her personal life after sacrificing this aspect for so long. Sean, however, isn’t a likeable character, but the former heroin addict pushes his way further and further into Fiona’s life until marriage is the only next logical step.

When they lose the house, Fiona takes a pause to reflect on where she and her family are and how far they’ve come, but having all the Gallaghers under one roof does make things easier. The difficulty of keeping her family unit together all across the city creates some tension, but also some new opportunities to act independently.

Ian, on the other hands, finds himself to be the most stable character of the season; a happy step forward from last season’s bipolar breakdown. It was satisfying to see Ian be a part of a new relationship and leave his Southside ways behind—a little. After meeting a hot fireman, Ian decides to join up on Team Fire, but the attractive civil serviceman Caleb (Jeff Pierre) decides Ian’s experience and interests points him more in the direction of being an EMT.

Ian’s biggest challenge this season subtly exposes a larger modern conflict: the persistent stigma of mental illness. After reconciling his new diagnosis and finding a good meds routine, Ian falls head first into becoming an EMT, but only by claiming he’s never had a mental illness. This bold lie is encouraged by Caleb because, at the top of his class and eager to keep excelling, he can tell himself that this declaration is only an invasion of Ian’s privacy.

Shameless has been consistently strong when tackling narratives of mental illness, and this time is no different; the series argues that mental illness should be respected in the same way as other illnesses. Ian’s bipolar diagnosis didn’t shock anyone in the family, but Ian feeling as if he needs to hide this forces the hand of the society they live in to explain why. Why does he need to hide? Why is it so bad? How can his talent, skill, and training be tossed out with an unceremonious firing because he decided honesty was far from the best policy? Ian’s character is regularly used to stir the cultural standards pot, which has created an incredibly layered and detailed character that Cameron Monaghan plays with strength and power.

Another major theme of this series, and certainly of this season, is upward mobility. As per example, Debbie truly believed that having Derek’s (Luca Oriel) baby would change her position in life. Although any outsider can see the flaws in the 15-year-old’s plan, Frank’s (William H. Macy) singular support and push to connect her with an upper middle-class family furthers her vision of what life could be, despite her baby daddy’s quick exit. The deleted scenes featured on both discs of the Blu-ray feature scenes with Debbie that further explain the reasoning behind her decision, as well as Fiona’s reasoning in deciding not to have her and Sean’s baby.

Although these scenes were cut from the episodes, they showcased the two women in the same circumstance, and both looking into the future trying to find the best way to make a better life. During the uniquely designed featurette called “Running the Table: A Shameless Conversation”, Emmy Rossum, William H. Macy, and two of the series’ writers discuss the thought processes behind the series’ approach to abortion this series. Rossum offered that she appreciated the unexpected approach to Debbie’s character being the one who keeps her baby, as she would more likely be described as an unfit parent by society, and possibly by the law. While Fiona, seemingly most fit as an adult, in love and employed, feels unprepared to be a parent.

Caleb and Ian’s budding romance is a good counterpoint to Lip’s crumbling relationship with his professor, Helene (Sasha Alexander). He had the greatest opportunity in his family for life-long success, particularly with his ability to and aptitude for success in a university setting. As the season progresses, however, he devolves into Frank. (It’s far from a compliment to be compared to the Gallagher family patriarch.) Lip’s relationship with his teacher is only the first step in his downward spiral. As Helene leaves him and makes him remember that their time together was all too fleeting, Lip checks out of the rest of his life.

It’s sad to see how yet another Gallagher can fall victim to alcoholism and depression. Lip’s the one who has the best chance to get off the constant Gallagher life hamster wheel, but by choosing to throw it all away because of a failed relationship is nothing short of a primer for “Becoming Frank Gallagher 101”. Then again, what’s a season of Shameless without a character failing off the wagon? It’s just sad that it’s Lip, calling into question how he’ll recover after pushing so many people away.

Fiona’s long-standing on-again-off-again relationship with Sean provides an additional slow-moving spiral downward. What hurts most for Fiona is that she thought she was moving up and finally making the right choices to get her life in order. Fiona spends most of the season mentally separated from the Chicago clan. She’s clouded by her need to fix Sean and create the perfect home life for the two of them, only falling back into the Gallagher way of life when realizing Debbie’s pregnant, Carl’s dealing drugs for dangerous gangsters, and little Liam still needs real parenting; her days on fantasy island are numbered.

Most jarring are the wake-up calls that come from losing the house and learning that Sean killed a man during his drug years. Sean promises to create life anew for himself and Fiona, so they get engaged. In one of the funniest moments of the season, Fiona gets engaged while getting divorced from Gus (Ronald William Lawrence), and spends the later part of the season prepping for her long awaited perfect big day. Said joyous big day works to bring the family together—almost. Frank’s strategic, and often selfish, intentions lead to his discovery that Sean’s using heroin again, and has been for weeks. Just like that, Fiona’s chance at moving up and out, and having a family life of her own, looks dim and bleak; the man who’d once made her feel special and normal was actually manipulative and calculating throughout their relationship.

The Gallaghers aren’t your average American family. Season six continued to showcase this series’ mastery of tackling complicated societal issues with authority, and genuine first-person perspectives. The Blu-ray extras and the season offers the best (and the worst) of what makes Gallagher life so complicated, but if anyone can endure, it’s the Gallaghers.

Shameless: The Complete Sixth Season

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