No shame in Shameless

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.


Author: Kimberly G. Giarratano

I'm a YA author. And mom of 3. I'm also tired. Very, very tired.

12 thoughts on “No shame in Shameless”

  1. I have not seen it, having disconnected my cable, but I’ll look for it on the streaming services. Sounds great. I did binge-watch Peaky Blinders which is about another Irish family, Travelers, in post-WWI England. The patriarch is played by Cillian Murphy. What’s there not to like? But Peaky Blinders is noir. It goes from dark to darker all the time. Anyway, you’re right about characters. That’s why I’m postponing writing the historical series that is near and dear to my heart until I’ve learned enough how to write properly. I want the Berkshire village I’m building to come to life. Thanks for post! I’ll look for Shameless.


  2. I don’t have Showtime, so I’ve never seen this, but yes. Characters are key. We discovered The Blacklist last spring and raced through the two seasons on Netflix. Red Reddington is NOT a nice guy – but man, we sure are hooked by him.


  3. I’ve never even heard of Shameless, but want to check it out now!! The characters sound super intriguing. Thanks for sharing!


  4. *scurrying off to add it to my queue* I’m reading a book now that I can’t quite wrap my head around. I really actively dislike every. single. character, but I absolutely understand them and why they do what they do. But they are a mystery to one another, which creates all the drama. As the reader, of course, I get to know all their secrets. It’s weird, though, I can’t stop reading it. I want to know whodunnit, even though I hate all of them. Pretty sure that’s never happened to me before.


  5. I never thought I’d enjoy Downton Abbey because it’s so not “my” genre. Now I’ve binge-watched it and am considering watching the entire series from the beginning. Why? Because of the characters. Same with Blue Bloods.

    Several months ago I bought a best-selling novel (later turned into a movie) and fell in love with the main character. The story was compelling but the detail left me cold. I finally skipped ahead to the end because I cared about the character coming out okay but not about how he got there.

    Wow, Becky. I don’t think I could care enough about a story if I hated all of the characters.


  6. Mary — my husband and I love Blacklist. Like Shameless, the main characters are so flawed and for that, we’re hooked. Bad guys who are really good guys. Yes.


  7. Keenan — the thing about Shameless is that it isn’t dark. There’s always love and hope in it. Whereas, my husband watches Bloodline on Netflix, noir, and that is really dark. I can’t keep watching it.


  8. Kimberly, I found it on Netflix last night and got through episode 6. It is most addicting. I see what you said about the characters. I’ll have to check out Bloodlines as well. Thanks!


  9. I haven’t seen it, Kimberly! But I love William Macy (he’s in it, right?) so that plus your recommendation means I will go add it to my list. The last sentence description made me think of Transparent, which is on Amazon and is really wonderful.


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