Sunday, October 2, 2016

REVIEW: 'Shameless' - The Gallagher Siblings Try to Make Some Lifestyle Changes in 'Hiraeth'

Showtime's Shameless - Episode 7.01 "Hiraeth"

Frank wakes up after a month-long coma to find no one missed him. Worried she isn't a good mother, Debbie takes a criminal approach to making sure Franny grows up wealthy. Lip successfully completes rehab and is determined to stay "sober." Carl looks into surgery after learning he's the only uncircumcised brother. Ian gets a bad feeling about Caleb's friend, Denise.

Season 6 of Shameless was pretty bad. It was probably the worst season of the show since the first season. That first year didn't work so well because the show was still finding itself and figuring out how the stories work on an episodic basis. Meanwhile, the stories of Season 6 just didn't work at all. It wasn't all bad. It was the year where Carl finally became a compelling and interesting character. There was a stretch during the season where he was the best of the Gallagher siblings. That would have seemed impossible at any other point in the show's run. It was able to happen because it was so hard to feel for the other main characters the same way that the audience has in the past. I became indifferent to Fiona, Ian and Lip. That's a huge problem because those are some fantastic characters. Last season didn't really know what to do with them and it showed. I still want the show to succeed. But it also feels like the show should seriously be considering setting an end date and hopefully going out strong.

It's also so strange that the show is being rushed back to the schedule. Every previous season of the show has started in January. And now, Season 7 is starting in the fall. There will be two seasons of the show in the same calendar year. It's a move that happened because Homeland and The Affair needed to delay their production starts. Showtime needed something in addition to Masters of Sex airing in the fall. Shameless was really the only viable option. So, it's what's being done with Homeland replacing it in its previous slot on the calendar. And yet, this could be a troubling sign for the show. The writers needed a break to analyze what went wrong last season and find a way to steer back to the quality of seasons two through five. A shorter hiatus limits that time of reflection. So, the show could easily continue sending these characters down the same paths that caused them so much problems last season. Of course, that's just speculation due to production concerns. I don't think production started any earlier or later than previous seasons. It's just airing earlier on Showtime. So all of this could be nothing. The only way to tell is by actually watching the episodes.

"Hiraeth" is a solid season opener. Most of the premieres on Shameless are table setting episodes. They have to touch on every story with every single character. They have to introduce new plots and remind the audience of how they've changed or stayed the same in between seasons. Only a month has passed since Fiona's almost wedding to Sean. Frank has spent that time in a coma in the ICU while Lip has completed his stint in rehab. Other than that, not a whole lot has actually changed. Fiona is now running Patsy's Pies. There's no explanation given for why Sean doesn't show up at all. The audience can infer that he's gone completely. It's a nice clean break that is very appreciated. The reveal that he was secretly using drugs for the entire season wasn't all that great. He was an important fixture of the sixth season. And then, the finale revealed that truth and it felt like the show purposefully writing Dermot Mulroney out so that he could star in a CBS medical procedural. Of course, the clean break largely works for Fiona's story here. After almost walking down the aisle, she has taken it as the excuse to finally change her ways and stay single for a little while. That's a great idea. Too often, her stories are defined by the men she's sleeping with. Those have been great in the past. They've just gotten too redundant over the years. It should be interesting seeing Fiona as a single woman dealing with her own problems. Of course, it's hard to trust that the show will stick to this plan. As soon as Tate Ellington shows up from the company that manages Patsy's Pies, it already feels like an inevitability that Fiona will sleep with him.

Ian's romance with Caleb was another story that didn't work last season. It was never a good idea to rush him into a relationship so soon after things ended with Mickey. But more importantly, it took precedence over him struggling to come to terms with his bipolar disorder. That was a huge concern at the start of the season only for it to be completely forgotten about over time. The show tells the audience he has his disorder under control. So, I guess that must be true. We didn't actually get to see all that hard work happen on the show though. It did feel like a cheat in order to get him into a new romance. And now, the show is trying to make a clean break with this story as well. It's a little more difficult to do because Caleb is still around. The relationship is still seemingly strong. So, a reason has to be produced in order to ruin things. That comes in the end when Ian spies Caleb kissing his ex-girlfriend from high school. It largely feels like a way to end this story and get Ian back to his family in the Gallagher house as quickly as possible. This family is often at their best when they are interacting with each other. This premiere understands that and offers a couple of amusing moments - like everyone reacting to all the new things Debbie has for Franny and Carl freaking out about being the only brother who isn't circumcised.

Meanwhile, Lip became very self-destructive at the end of last season. He was the Gallagher sibling with the plans and smarts to leave this life behind. He went to college in order to make something of himself. And now, all of that has been ruined because he fell in love with a professor. He had matured out of the lifestyle of this neighborhood. He was on the other side of the gentrification debate. He was making something of his life. But now, it has all come crashing down yet again because of his DNA. He reacted poorly and has essentially turned into a younger version of Frank. Going to rehab was the first step to admitting that Lip has a problem. His downward spiral wasn't always great last season but it was at least consistent during those last few episodes. Rehab represented a fresh start. However, it's now more clear than ever that he is just like his father. When he shows up at the Alibi, he outlines his new system to Kev and V. The rest of the family doesn't know that he doesn't see himself as an alcoholic. They believe he worked the program because he admitted that truth. Kev and V see Lip in the same seat as his father. Lip's rules now are so similar to when Frank got his new liver. He was determined to only have one alcoholic drink per day. Of course, that didn't last long because he needed that drink to have as much alcohol as possible which eventually led to him returning to his normal self - just with a new liver to destroy. Lip could be following the same trajectory now. He seems fine. He's able to stick to his rules. It would be great if he continued to do so. He's wiser than his father. But it still feels inevitable that he'll slip once more. And this time his family will be around to deal with the consequences.

And lastly, Frank survived his plunge into the river. That was a big moment where the family tossed him in after what he did at Fiona's wedding. It wasn't clear if Frank would live or die. Of course, it seemed likely that he would return somehow. This show loves William H. Macy. He's the reason the show was produced in the first place. It doesn't even try to treat it as a big mystery in this premiere. The hour opens with Frank literally in the water seeing all the problems in his children's lives - as he sees them. He wakes up in the ICU and spends the rest of the hour in a wheelchair because his muscles don't work. Again, it's the show in love with a joke perhaps more than it should be. It's funny watching Frank being dragged around for a little while. There's just not enough story actually there. He's furious with Kev, V and Svetlana when learning they helped throw him in the river. But then, he immediately goes back to the house and wants to know why no one in the family came looking for him - even though they were just as guilty. It's great that they all believed he was dead and want nothing to do with him. I wonder if the creative team ever thought about not having Frank in these first few episodes? Make it a mystery whether or not he's alive. Then, when he finally does show up, it's with purpose. Now, when he disrupts the lives of his children, it's not as important because their stories are just getting started. It's become routine. Sure, it's big that he nails himself into Fiona's room in the house. But that doesn't seem like a longterm strategy for him. All he has is whatever food he finds in the fridge. If the kids really want him dead, they could lock him in from the other side of the door. But they are just too indifferent to his continued presence that he just still feels like something we all have to put up with.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Hiraeth" was written by John Wells and directed by Christopher Chulack.
  • Debbie was determined to be a good mother for Franny. But she starts this season trying to leave her at a fire station. She doesn't ultimately go through with it. Plus, she gets renewed energy after stealing a couple pram strollers at the park. It makes her fun and upbeat again. A quality that has been missed with her. But it only comes because of this new criminal impulse.
  • Carl's relationship with Dom is so sweet. His story here is a little too silly though. Dom won't go down on him because he's uncut. So, he decides to get circumcised just to appease her. Yeah, this will probably go wrong in so many ways over the next few episodes.
  • Lip gets a job at Patsy's as a dishwasher. He's now the fourth Gallagher to work at the diner. Fiona seems to be the only one who actually stays though. But it could be interesting to see Lip actually working this season.
  • Kev, V and Svetlana starting a polyamorous relationship was an odd twist that happened last season. It wasn't bad. It just came out of the blue with no real purpose. And now, it's just this completely normal thing that everyone has gotten used to. That's different and could be special.
  • Of course, Svetlana is now suppose to be seen as a smart woman because she's wearing glasses and dressing slightly different. She was always a smart character. Her evolution on the show has been amazing. But she would always have know more about finances than Kev or V.