Sunday, January 11, 2015

REVIEW: 'Shameless' - Fiona Flirts with Her Boss, Frank Works on a Secret Project & Lip Sees the World Change in 'Milk of the Gods'

Showtime's Shameless - Episode 5.01 "Milk of the Gods"

Fiona balances her job at Patsy's Pies and a crush on her older boss. Lip says goodbye to college and Amanda during the summer. Frank works on a secret project in Sheila's basement while she tries to get rid of Sammi and Chuckie. Debbie helps Frank gather supplies. Carl steals a wheelchair after breaking his ankle.

Shameless is back for its fifth season of Gallagher-style misadventures. Welcome to my first ever review of the dramedy. I took the holiday break from a few weeks ago to catch up on all four previous seasons in preparation for the premiere tonight. Shameless had always been a show I heard great things about but I never had the time to catch up. Well, I eventually found that time and fell in love with Fiona, Lip, Ian, Debbie and the rest of the Gallagher clan. If I had done so just a few weeks earlier, the fourth season - with its major dark twist - easily would have made my Top 10 list of the best shows of 2014. I missed out on recognizing it before. But I'm a part of the show now and couldn't be any happier.

"Milk of the Gods" is basically like every other Shameless premiere. A certain amount of time has passed since last season's finale. The Gallaghers and company are getting ready for the start of summer. So the bulk of this hour has to be spent on showing us what's happening in the lives of the various characters since we last saw them. Fiona has settled into her new job at Patsy Pie's but is still wearing an ankle monitor. Frank has returned to being the narcissistic ass he has always been post-liver transplant. He's working on a secret project that turns out to be brewing his own homemade beer that is stronger than anything else out there. Lip has successfully completed his first year of college and has returned home for the summer with a job working construction for Tommy from the Alibi. Ian and Mickey are playing house at the Milkovich house, with Ian basically in denial that he is bipolar just like his mom. Debbie's two friends have stopped talking to her. Carl has a broken ankle. Sammi and Chuckie are still living next to Sheila and driving her crazy. And lastly, Kev and Vee are struggling with how their relationship and family dynamic has changed since having the twins.

I'll admit that I was worried heading into "Milk of the Gods" - solely because of the show's transition to the comedy fields for last year's Emmy awards. Shameless has always straddled the line of comedy and drama - sometimes successfully, sometimes not. It's a part of the show's identity and helps it stand out. When it comes to award's though, it's hard to categorize which is the only acceptable reason for why Emmy Rossum has never even been nominated. Season four was the most dramatic season and that was the year John Wells and the creative team opted to switch fields. The season had already been shot when that announcement came in. The fifth season has the first episodes produced since the switch. So I was worried that everything that worked so well last year would be undercut a bit just so the show could get back to its comedic roots a little more.

The starts of Shameless seasons are typically more comedic and light-hearted than the ends. The show likes to reestablish the characters and their needs every year, get them onto solid ground before pulling the rug out from underneath them midway through the year. That is very much the feel throughout "Milk of the Gods." Things are starting to look up for the Gallaghers again. Yes, they still have their issues with which they have to deal. But right now, things are looming for the future. In this moment, we are getting this peak into the Gallaghers' lives again. Seeing how they've changed or regressed since last we saw of them.

Last season Fiona was on a very self-destructive path. And now, she has stability in this new job at Patsy's Pies. She has regulars at the diner and friends for co-workers. However, she already has a weird flirting/friendship with her boss, Sean (Dermot Mulroney). The character is essentially the same as the one played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the fourth season finale. And yet, he feels slightly different too. I don't know if the change came because of scheduling problems or because the writers wanted to take the character in a different direction. I don't honestly see Morgan's character being this flirtatious with Fiona. But now, Sean is and as we all know Fiona doesn't always make the best choices when it comes to men. And there are more men then ever before who show in an interest in her. There's Sean but there's also Davis (Axle Whitehead), the lead singer of a band and regular at the diner. Plus, there's the looming threat of the return of SteveJimmyJack as represented by his travel companion, Angela (Dichen Lachman), popping up at the diner very inquisitive about Fiona and her job. Of all these prospects, Sean gets the most screentime as he actually visits the Gallagher home a couple of times. It's a somewhat weird introduction. The first time we see him he is helping Fiona and Liam set up the family pool and then we learn that he is her boss. That is not your typical boss-employee relationship even if they have quickly become friends. So it's awkward and yet I'm really looking forward to seeing how it develops.

And then, Frank hasn't really changed at all after getting this new lease on life. After getting the new liver, he started drinking again. He figures he can get six to eight more years out of it as long as he caps his drinking to one beer a day. That's just wishful thinking. He lasts until the end of one episode before he passes out from drinking again. This liver isn't going to last that long for him. He's taking all of his pills and Sheila is keeping a very watchful eye over him. And yet, he is loosing weight. His big project is creating this new kind of beer that is really strong. He believes that if he can only have one a day it has to be the strongest version of beer. That's something that would only make sense in Frank's head. And yet, he's solely focused on this project right now and completely ignoring Sheila, Sammi and Chuckie. We've seen this pattern of behavior before. He gets what he needs from someone and then completely forgets about them. Sammi is desperate for a relationship with a father. But Frank couldn't care less about what she does. That's a lesson Sammi really hasn't learned yet - but she will soon enough.

Bigger ideas also seem to be on Shameless' mind this season too. The neighborhood around the family is slowly changing. The episode opens with a trip around the Chicago cityscape before eventually making its way to the part of the city the Gallaghers call home. Apparently, the neighborhood has been labeled one of the Top 5 growing communities somewhere which means it will slowly be developing around the people who live there. People are walking door to door to get the residents to sell their homes - and yet Kev is the only one to answer because everyone thinks they are Jehovah's witnesses. When Lip leaves college and Amanda to head home, we see his trip via subway through his eyes and all the different identities of people throughout this city. The neighborhood is part of the character's identities. If it develops around them, will they be forced to grow up as well? Something tells me though that the Gallaghers will keep on being Gallaghers. The family that throws impromptu pool parties at midnight just because it's finally summer and they don't care who hears them. They are just having fun. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Milk of the Gods" was written by Nancy M. Pimental and directed by Christopher Chulack.
  • I'm most concerned about Ian right off the bat this season. He's no longer on the depressive low note that he ended on last season. However, he won't admit that he may be sick, won't see the doctor and has no problem getting together with any cute guy that looks his way.
  • Lip will be working construction pretty soon. I see that going well, don't you? He's also hoping he can be an RA at school in the fall even though that would mean even more responsibility.
  • Kev and Vee's story really was great. Relationships change after having kids. It also makes so much sense that he cares so much about his kids and is great taking care of them at home while she goes to work at the Alibi. It also wisely makes sure that both characters are right when it comes to all of this change.
  • Tony and Grammy winner Steve Kazee appears as someone else in Davis' band but he really doesn't say much. That will change eventually, right?
  • What were Fiona and Lip really expecting Mickey's errand to be? Going across the street to beat someone up (and steal furniture from rich people) is pretty norm for him.