This season’s gotten off on the right foot so far, with last week’s premiere filling us in on where everyone stands, while also stirring up new obstacles for these characters to get past. “I’m the Liver” officially gets the ball rolling. Almost every significant character got enough meaningful screentime this week to leave an impact on how the rest of the season may play out. There’s no slow start with Shameless these days: two episodes in, and this season’s already prepared to start dropping bombs on us.
One of those bombs just might be gentrification. Ironic, because the topic was so underplayed in the season premiere that some people who didn’t watch last week’s episode a second time may not have caught it being introduced. “I’m the Liver” not only emphasizes its importance, it gives the characters against it a reason to wage war (Imagine a scenario where an entire avenue of eccentric hipsters went into battle with the Southside’s best and baddest). Frank couldn’t have classified it better, pointing out how it starts with people going door-to-door looking for homes on the market and ends with buildings being demolished for Starbucks. The residents who’ve called the Southside home for generations are being asked to leave without even knowing it yet, and old landmarks that helped define the neighborhood are becoming torn down and replaced. Judging by how both the show’s current setting and characters have been portrayed over the years, it’s not easy for me to just assume that the people here will go quietly. But like Frank also said, the Southsiders are like dinosaurs, and gentrification is the comet waiting to hit civilization. All of which made the end scene of last night’s episode more of a warning sign than anything else, as the work from Tommy’s demolition job helped clear out space for a new coffee shop (with Frank gazing in the background, admiring the validity of his prediction like a Messiah).
Giving Svetlana a more meaningful role this season through last night’s proceedings was a big surprise for me, but Shameless pulled it off in spades. Her and Kev getting along just felt right, considering how they’re both now parents handling newborns. One of the funniest moments of last night came from when the two acknowledged their dispositions – Kev’s illiteracy and Svetlana’s job – and were totally cool with bonding anyway. Svetlana explaining the painfulness of breast-feeding like she did was hilarious, and her advice to Kev that he put his foot down more on certain marital decisions (like Veronica making him keep his extremely long hair) felt honest and justified. Of course, Veronica wasn’t too happy about this new budding relationship, or the changes that came with it – like Kev ultimately shaving all of his hair off – so it’ll be interesting to see if it puts a wedge between her and Kev down the line.
That being said, Svetlana’s increased presence in “I’m the Liver” was great because she made others around her better. Kev’s getting more accustomed to feeding and nurturing his children, and even Debbie was influenced by a brief chat with her as she struggled to hit on the boys at the community pool. Debbie’s transformation from a silent, awkward little girl to a more wild, flirtatious young woman is a bit much, but it felt needed in my book; I finally feel like as being fleshed out. One has to wonder if Debbie will also attribute Fiona’s unpredictability, since she’s been lacking any sort of parental influence for a good two seasons or so. Nonetheless, we are witnessing a whole new Debbie (again, thanks to Svetlana), and if her night out with Fiona was any indication, she might be here to stay. And that just might be what her character’s needed all along to stay relevant.
Mickey’s slowly starting to see Ian’s bipolar disorder switch on and off, and he almost had to drag him from a funeral surrounded by homophobic church-goers before it got out of hand. Still, the episode played off it a bit, using it effectively for some good laughs. Their plan to get back at the ultra-homophobic church minister wound up being extremely x-rated (and extremely Shameless), and I loved the scene before it where Ian and his old war mates discussed who would help Mandy with the (very) dirty deed.
Frank’s dinner with the other organ recipients was another highlight, with the amusing introductions (“I’m David, the lungs”) and Patrick Fischler’s mildly strange guest appearance providing great comic relief. Seeing Frank measure his wine glass to ensure that he’s drinking at his self-calculated pace cracks me up every time.
Joan Cusack actually got some meaningful lines this week, as Sheila expressed her hatred of Sammi to Frank and then quietly called out Sammi on her reckless behavior. I was prepared for a whole season where the two misses would fight over both the house and the man they (presumably) love, but watching Sheila put it to rest the way she did (while rightfully classifying Sammi as a needy slut) was profound. There’s no doubt Cusack had the best material to work with in “Liver”, and it was truly the first time in a long time that I felt like the show knew how to properly use of their more fascinating characters.
Lip didn’t have much to do here besides work the demo job with Tommy for the first time, but I think it was a good idea to throw him out into the workforce as soon as the show did. He’s definitely phased from the heckling and the physical strain he winds up enduring from the new gig, but he’s surprisingly loyal, showing up to the job-mandated Alibi get-together for a few drinks with the old guys. The old Lip would bail and go f#%$ s#!% up; this Lip is a little more dedicated to what he’s been told to do. Still, that doesn’t cement that he’s far gone from the good old days, so we’ll have to see how long he can withstand the new job and its requirements.
I’d like to close out the review with Fiona and her status with Sean. Now free of ankle bracelets and house arrest, she can finally go about her untamed ways like she used to, but her interests still lie in hooking up with her boss. While we got to see Sean keep Fiona in check last week, here he has a bit of a tough time keeping sane with himself. Her volatile approach triggered some intense moments for him, especially the incident outside the diner with the disrespectful customer. Again, it’s why I find him to be such a great match for her. However, this week added an extra layer to Sean, one that would indeed suggest that Fiona may not be the best match for him. The importance of both his son and the NA meetings are compelling, but both sort of pale in comparison to finding out why he’s been brushing off Fiona. Learning that he had a past love similar to Fiona who introduced him to his former drug addiction was a shocker for me, and it put his consistent rejections into perspective. Since Fiona’s chaotic behavior changes him so suddenly, his point to not get physically or emotionally engaged is a valid one. It pains him that he can’t commit, for fear of any such relationship damaging what he has with his son and what he’s done to “keep himself alive”. Both Emily Rossum and Dermot Mulroney take it home again, providing yet another line of nuanced dialogue in that brilliantly-written kitchen conversation (Side-note: Why are the best scenes in Shameless always happening in the Gallagher kitchen?) Mulroney’s Sean continues to break ground as the hard-nosed boss, as he’s easily become one of my favorite US series-exclusive characters.
Here are some last minute notes that I didn’t get the chance to discuss in full:
-The last scene of last night’s episode was telling for both Fiona and Debbie, as they spent a night out together and got into some trouble at an underground concert. Debbie’s elated expression suggests she’s comfortable with the change her makeover has created, even if that includes creepy older guys dancing on top of her. Fiona, on the other hand, was none too happy about her reluctance to stray from wild nights like these. Her talk with Sean seems to have resonated, but does that mean she’ll finally give up all the late night parties and clubbing?
-Jimmy/Steve’s return was teased at the end of “Lazarus,” and the closest thing we’ve gotten to seeing him again was with his supposed mistress appearing at Fiona’s diner in the season premiere. All I got from that was he’s still not ready to be a part of Fiona’s life again, since his mistress simply flirted with Fiona and left absurdly generous tips. He’s obviously watching over her, though, but why?
“I’m the Liver” wasted no time moving all the pieces that the season premiere set in motion, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have some fun along the way. There were some truly amusing moments here and there, and it evenly offset the drama that came with it. In addition, many characters had signature moments here that carried last night’s episode, specifically Mulroney’s outstanding performance as Sean. It was generally a fantastic showing through and through, and I think it’s safe to say that season 5 will be rid of the slow start last season succumbed to.
+ The show continues to flesh out Sean
+ Fiona’s night out with Debbie
+ Frank’s dinner with the organ donees
+ Svetlana becoming a very solid supporting character
+ Sheila (finally) puts Sammi in her place