I hope to God you’re watching Shameless, the knockout Showtime series that is halfway through its fifth season on the premium cable network. If you’re not: start.
Shameless, based on the long-running U.K. series of the same name, tells the story of the Gallagher clan of Chicago’s South Side. Led by alcoholic single dad, Frank (William H. Macy), the Gallagher children have mostly raised themselves, with the help of oldest sibling Fiona (Emmy Rossum) acting as surrogate parent in place of actual mom, bi-polar Monica, who comes and goes as the mood strikes.
This is a brutal show. This is a comic show. This is a bleak show. This is a whip-smart show. And this show is often hard to watch. It’s about the most astonishing thing on television right now. And what drives it for me is the relationship between Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan) and neighbor Mickey Milkovich (Noel Fisher).
At the beginning of the series, teenaged Ian comes out to his older brother ‘Lip,’ and soon begins a relationship with Mickey, scion of a family that makes the Gallaghers look normal. Actually, relationship is entirely the wrong word. What Ian and Mickey do is have sex. Often brutal, often carnal, often animalistic, but love doesn’t enter into it. Mickey, at this point, may not even be capable of love. Ian is, however, and he slowly begins to fall for Mickey.
Cameron Monaghan and Noel Fisher have tremendous chemistry and their performances have grown throughout the show. It’s been terrific to watch these young actors sink their teeth into this dense, layered material and see what they do with it.
Through twists and turns and near-death experiences, Ian and Mickey’s relationship slowly begins to shift. Ian slowly begins to change Mickey and Mickey slowly begins to realize that he is capable of love, of caring for another man, of loving Ian, but he doesn’t know what to do with that. It is information that he can’t process. He couldn’t even say the word gay in reference to himself, even though he was desperate for the physicality of the tenuous bond with Ian.
Season 4 is lovely because Ian keeps making demands of Mickey and each time Mickey refuses before almost immediately acquiescing and at the end of the season, Mickey finally comes out, announcing to the patrons at the local bar, “I want everyone to know, I’m fucking gay. A big old ‘mo.” He does it because Ian was going to walk away. He did it for love, to protect the one thing that he loved in the world, the one person who dared to love him. And then he immediately got beaten to a pulp by his father.
But, Mickey was free and, because this is Shameless, his happiness lasted basically until the next morning when he awoke to Ian’s descent into the bi-polar abyss, a gift from his unstable mother. When he learns from Fiona what is likely wrong with Ian and that Ian may need to be hospitalized, Mickey is adamant: no hospital. He will take care of him. The tables have turned. It is now Mickey’s turn to be the strong one because, thanks to Ian, he now knows what it means to love and be loved.
Again, it’s Shameless, there’s no Pollyanna-ish moments coming. In Season 5, Ian’s bi-polar disorder makes him spiral further and further out of control. Finally, at the mid-point of the season, Mickey realizes that Ian needs more help than he can give him and he and Lip and Fiona convince Ian to commit himself. Like everything else, expect Shameless to confront mental illness head-on and without, well, shame.
Watching Mickey say goodbye to Ian and let him go into the mental hospital will simply rip you apart. Noel Fisher gives one of the most raw and most truthful performances I’ve ever seen on television in that scene. He’s utterly magnificent.
Back in Ye Olde Timey Times, the theatre where I worked was the most prolific producer of the plays of George F. Walker in the U.S. George is a Canadian playwright. He writes savage plays, hilarious plays and plays with characters that you never see on stage. He always said he wrote about a group of people he called “the articulate poor.” These are people, he said, that exist in every corner of the world, but we don’t put them onstage. And if we do, we seldom understand their reality or their needs. Just because you don’t have money, George argued, doesn’t mean you don’t have big ideas, dreams, knowledge, desires, wants. (George is the reason that I unequivocally believe Shakespeare was a glover’s son from Stratford-upon-Avon and not that bullshit about the Earl of Oxford.)
He also said that his characters never have subtext because the poor don’t have time for subtext. Everything is right here, right now. Only the rich can recline and ponder. And perhaps what I love most about Shameless is that there is no damn subtext. It’s all: right here, right now, what the fuck is that?, Jesus Christ move already.
The back six of the 12-episode fifth season begins to air on Showtime on March 1. You should watch it. I will be; right down front in the #gallavich section.