I’ve recently discovered Shameless (US version) on Showtime and I am beyond hooked. I binge-watched five seasons on the app on my computer — staying up as late as 2am to watch one more episode, feeling hungover that same morning. It’s not healthy, but I can’t stop.
Has anyone seen this show about The Gallaghers, a poor family growing up on Chicago’s South Side? Emmy Rossum plays Fiona Gallagher, a twenty-one-year-old, who cares for her five brothers and sisters because her father is an alcoholic and her mother has bipolar disorder. Sounds uplifting, right? Except, the writing is imbued with so much humor and heart that you can’t help but root for this family and their, oftentimes, questionable morality. There’s Lip, the eldest brother and certifiable genius, who makes money by taking the SATs for rich kids. Frank, the patriarch, invests more time and effort into conning people out of their money than he would if he just got a job. Little Debbie Gallagher kidnaps a child from a birthday party only to have “found” him later. In return, the neighborhood hails her as a hero and she gets the family a new hot water heater in the process. And lastly, my favorite, Mickey Milkovich, a tough-talking, fist-throwing, closeted thug, who is also having a secret romance with Ian Gallagher.
It’s not the characters have no shame, it’s just that shame runs a distant third to survival. South Side is a jungle where the gray area and a strong self of self-preservation rule decision-making. Drugs, sex, violence are a constant presence in the show. But so are love and family. The Gallaghers are a loyal bunch, taking in neighborhood pariahs such as the Milkoviches. Even when they have so little, they’re willing to sacrifice for others.
There’s something to be said for a cast of characters you wish you knew in real life. As for plot, these characters could sit around talking about dishwashing detergent and I’d still be hooked.
Why do readers select a mystery above other genres if not for puzzling out a good mystery? But if you really want to hook a reader, create an ensemble cast of flawed, goodhearted, questionable characters who show growth. Everything else becomes gravy.