Sunday, September 9, 2018

REVIEW: 'Shameless' - Fiona Questions If She Should Help Ian After His Arrest in 'Are You There Shim? It's Me, Ian'

Showtime's Shameless - Episode 9.01 "Are You There Shim? It's Me, Ian"

Frank gets into trouble with the Hopkins Academy PTA. Fiona struggles with her decision to bail Ian out of jail, while he continues his Gay Jesus antics inside. Lip juggles taking care of Xan with a potential romance.

The eighth season of Shameless wasn't all that great. It's an opinion I stated on numerous occasions throughout the season because it seemed like the show lost the thread on so many of its stories. As such, it was fascinating to see what the show would do in order to course correct as it heads into Season 9. This season even has an expanded episode order from Showtime because it continues to be one of the biggest successes the premium cable network has ever had. Sure, it's difficult for a show to still remain fresh and relevant in its ninth season. The characters could start becoming broad versions of what they used to be. The stakes of the world may no longer be as serious. And yes, there was that fear that Shameless was choosing to focus too much on the broad hijinks of its storytelling. It simply enjoyed putting its characters into increasingly ridiculous situations even though they didn't connect to each other as strongly as they used to do. And now, it seems like there is some course correcting in the season premiere. Cassidy is written off the show in a potential dark and problematic way. Frank is refocused on serving on the PTA at Liam's school. Kev and V are focused on their daughters needing to start school. But the show is still doubling down on a number of its stories as well. Ian is still all-in on his Gay Jesus persona which is only amplified in jail because he is choosing not to take his medication. And Fiona is still happily in a relationship with Ford even though it's still difficult to get a good reading on that coupling. The premiere states that they are living together in the apartment that Fiona owns by herself. She was able to successfully evict the family that was squatting there. She is maturing again. That's a huge development. Something that has been a longtime coming. Of course, this premiere also has Fiona asking what is emotional healthy for her to continue doing for her siblings. That appears to be the core arc for her at the moment.

The family needs Fiona less than they use to. Liam is the only kid who needs her supervision. She is still his legal guardian. And yet, they are no longer living together. Liam is at the Gallagher family home while Fiona is off at her new apartment. But Liam isn't being neglected either. In fact, he seems like the one sibling who may actually try to do the right thing at all times. Lip is certainly questioning if Liam is even a Gallagher. That doesn't seem to be a real concern though. It's just nice for a joke in the moment. Liam is fine. The family doesn't need Fiona. The other siblings are adults and living their own lives. Carl is at military school and Debbie is fighting for equality on her construction site. The only Gallagher that needs Fiona's help right now is Ian. He is in jail and needs to be bailed out. He is facing some extreme charges and is awaiting trial. Fiona believes it's the right thing to bail out her brother. It's the Gallagher way. They help each other no matter what. But now, Ford just nonchalantly introduces the idea that she doesn't have to bail Ian out. That's especially true because he doesn't even want to be released according to her time frame. She is getting an appraisal on her apartment complex in order to get the loan that will cover the bail. She is willing to do that for her brother. And yet, Ford is making her question if Ian can still be dependable. Will this be a wise investment for her? Fiona could instead take this money and invest in another property. She could continue to expand her business holdings in the city. Or she could let Ian out of prison with no certainty that he will take his medication or even show up for his trial. It's a risk. One that Fiona has to genuinely consider despite it being the thing that the Gallaghers have always done. She's uncertain if it's indulgent of her. She believes she's doing the right thing for her family. But it's also clear that Ian is more reckless than he has been in a long time.

Ian's transformation into Gay Jesus last season was so erratic and forced. The show never explained if this was something he genuinely believed in or if it was crazy behavior from his illness. The show has tried balancing stories about his bipolar disorder and how it doesn't define everything about him. But the show also didn't put in the real work to show that he was sticking to a regimen with his pills. It made no big deal about them because it wanted to tell different stories with him as well. It's a balance that the show hasn't always handled well. Now, it's clear that he is fully off of them and getting into serious trouble. He is believing in his mission as a prophet and just listening to wherever the world wants to take him. This could help his case because he can claim he's not mentally fit to stand trial. But he still has to take responsibility for his own actions. He lost his job as an EMT because of this. He lost his relationship with Trevor because of this. And now, he no longer has his loyal flock who is helping him commit these serious acts of violence. Because the show spends time with him in prison as he is leading a strike against the inmates who sexually abuse the gay population, it seems pretty likely that this is an environment he will stay in for awhile. It may afford him the structure for the rest of the family to know where he is and what he is doing. He can still get into trouble inside the system. There is no guarantee that he will get the help that he needs. It's all so difficult because it's easy to understand the passion and argument for his beliefs. He is fighting for equality. He is just doing so under the assumption that the medication will knock the fight out of him. He can't afford that right now. He has to remain open to the world. That just threatens to cut him off from his family. All of this is potentially compelling. The show just needs to get a somewhat stronger grasp on the stakes of it all.

Elsewhere, Lip finds himself grappling with his maturity as well. He is stepping up as a father figure for Xan. He took her in when her family continued to abandon her. He is trying to do the right thing. And yet, it has the potential of coming off as creepy as well. He is saving her from a life inside the foster system. As someone who has been sent to multiple foster homes over the years, he knows the abuses that occur in there. He doesn't really articulate this point of view here though. Instead, Xan's presence mostly serves to age up Lip. He's now a sober father who doesn't have fun at weddings. He is no longer like his peers who just want to have a good time. He's not getting drunk and having random sex with no regard for the potential consequences. He is sticking with the program and trying to remain sober. He still needs to do a ton of self reflection though. Right now, that mostly amounts to him being called out in the middle of a hair salon that he is a shitty lay. That's a fascinating concept as well. All the signals are there that Tammy is going to be a new love interest for him. That may still be the direction the show pursues because she is Brad's sister-in-law and Brad is still an important part of Lip's life. But it's also highlighting how he may not be connecting with people his own age. He's an alcoholic who would rather spend his time looking after a kid who isn't even his. It's going to be fascinating to see how all of this develops in the future. Lip and Xan continue to have a fun dynamic that shows that he can care for her better than any of the maternal figures in her life. But again, it's a responsibility that he may not be ready for. He's embracing it in the hopes that it could lead to something more meaningful. But it's also awkward with the rest of the world not totally understanding it even though she is welcome to stay in the Gallagher house.

And finally, Frank's story is actually pretty amusing. His stories have always been hit or miss. Some seasons try to set him up in a complete different place that will define his entire story for the year. Last year they didn't really keep to their promise of Frank trying to finally grow up after being emotional stunted for years because of Monica. Now, he's just the rambunctious guy who is having sex with all of the moms at Liam's private school. He presents it all as a way to get back for his failure to score from Liam during the previous finale. But it's mostly just something he enjoys doing because he loves being seen as sexually desirable by a number of women. In fact, it's crazy to think about how often he is having sex and getting gifts from these women. That's what makes the punchline of the whole story even better. It turns out that half of the PTA is infected with sexually transmitted diseases as a result of Frank. They are all just casually sleeping with each other. It's completely scandalous and forces everyone to analyze their marriages. Frank is able to pivot all of this into a conversation about what these women need and how their husbands haven't been providing it for them. In a couple of cases, it actually opens an honest dialogue that is beneficial for everyone involved. Of course, there is still that one guy who wants to kill Frank for wasting his day and infecting him with these diseases. He only wants to see his wife as a slut even though he had to get the diseases from somewhere as well. Frank still deserves that kick to the groin in the end. He still did a despicable thing. But it's a solid one-off story that is a fun way to start the new season. Sure, it doesn't indicate what will happen next with Frank whose stories can go perilously flying off the walls. But only time will tell if that will happen once more this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Are You There Shim? It's Me, Ian" was written by Nancy M. Pimental and directed by Iain B. MacDonald.
  • The show is seriously suggesting that one of the cadets at military school who is very eager to prove his worth to Carl actually kills Cassidy. He buries her body so that no one will ever find her. It's a completely dark and horrifying twist that is played for comic relief. Carl had these problems to fix in order to advance his career. And now, the door is open for him to attend West Point. It's just going to be curious to see if the show follows through on the consequences of murder or if it will just forget about annoying Cassidy completely.
  • Debbie discovers that she isn't being paid the same amount as her male co-workers. It's a strong topic that is introduced here because it's an issue faced by so many women every day. She is being discriminated against because of her boss' own bias and beliefs towards women. As such, she just has to put on a makeshift diaper for an entire shift to prove that she is more than capable of doing more work than her co-workers. It just leads to an unfortunate nickname.
  • Kev and V suddenly realize that their daughters have a ton of energy and they are simply not worn out by the end of the day. They are literally treating them as animals that need to run around until they get tired. They didn't think about enrolling them in preschool until they saw the well-behaved children elsewhere on the playground. But now, that will be a new mission for them since Svetlana is out of their lives.
  • Fiona also discovers that Ford has a second phone with someone named Patty calling him. It's a fairly conventional story where she believes there is another woman in his life who he is keeping a secret. But it just turns out to be the phone he calls his mother with. He trusts the device with Fiona who then promptly drops it in the toilet because she is obsessing over something that really doesn't seem like anything just yet.
  • Richard Flood and Christian Isaiah have been promoted to series regulars after recurring on the show last season. As such, that means the story will see even more from Ford and Liam. It's about time that the show has done more with Liam after keeping him an infant for too long in its early seasons. Meanwhile, Ford's relationship with Fiona could develop into something life-changing and appropriate. But again, it's not quite there yet.