‘Shameless’ Keeps Proving That We Love Our Dysfunctionals

The Showtime comedy continues to surprise during its third season, demonstrating why its British counterpart lasted as long as it did.

It’s not hard to imagine that there are enough dysfunctional scenarios to keep Shameless afloat. The American version of the series reached the end of a third season without losing any of its grit or wisdom. The third season, which premiered in January 2013, has all the usual elements: sex, drugs, and stooping to conquer; and as is typical, the season finalé features plenty of bittersweet moments meant to bring us back for another go with the Gallaghers.

In this season we see plenty of Emma Greenwell (as Mandy Milkovich) as she and Lip (Jeremy Allen White) find their relationship intensify. Greenwell is one of the new season’s highlights, playing TV’s best tough girl since Busy Phillips as Kim Kelly in Freaks and Geeks. Just as her relationship with Lip intensifies, so too does her brother Micky’s (Noel Fisher) relationship with Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan). Both relationships have serious consequences not only for each of the lovers but also for those around them, alternately resulting in some of the season’s darkest and most uplifting moments.

The Gallaghers are, in general, on an upward swing this season: Lip graduates high school and Mandy sends out myriad college applications in his name; Fiona (Emmy Rossum) lands a new job and a new love interest; Frank (William H. Macy) places the family in peril only to see it grow closer together without him and, by season’s end, is presented with a challenge that may (but probably won’t) cause him to change his ways.

As an outline of the seaso,n the above paragraphs don’t give you a fair sense of what happens and maybe that’s because this season is the most involved, emotionally demanding, and interesting to date, though it doesn’t really start that way. There are moments during the season premiere (“El Gran Canon”) and its successor (“The American Dream”) that even the most cheerful of viewers might begin to question whether we haven’t seen it all before and if the writers weren’t falling back on old tricks from the first two seasons but by “May I Trim Your Hedges”, the season’s third episode, one gets the sense that what’s made this show so much fun all along is deeply intact and at our disposal.

The Shameless cast has consistently given stellar performances but this season sees several members improving by leaps and bounds. Rossum, who seemed to struggle during the show’s first season, came to life during the second season and continues that trend throughout the third, finding emotional and intellectual depth in Fiona she seemed incapable of at the show’s start. Justin Chatwin (Steve Wilton/Jimmy Lishman) also came into his own during the season (which is probably his last), finding new maturity and depth within his character and a broader range as an actor. (And, of course, Joan Cusack returns as Sheila Jackson and gives a performance that is as commanding as anything she did in the first two seasons.)

Shameless and its characters continue to evolve during this third season and, if this US version continues to be smart, funny, and armed with an ace cast, it might just last nearly as long as its British predecessor, which closed out in 2013 with an amazing 11 seasons behind it. There are no guarantees, of course, but this is television worth watching and laughing with from start to finish.

Special features include featurettes such as “Where the Streets Have No Shame”, “The Many Sides of Sheila”, and others which explore some of the show’s most complex characters, plus a host of unaired scenes that should keep viewers sated for some time.

RATING 8 / 10