Don’t piss off the fandom

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my love for Showtime’s Shameless, a dramedy about the loyal, albeit dysfunctional, Gallagher family who live in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood. Anyway, long story short — it’s an awesome show and the first four seasons are available on Netflix, so go watch it.

I wanted to follow up that post with a bit of a vent about the inevitable consequences of messing with a beloved OTP (one true pairing) and essentially, pissing off the fandom.

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Let’s back up. You see, one of the pillars that supports Shameless is the relationship of Ian Gallagher and Mickey Milkovich. These are two guys who have grown up together in a crime-ridden, survival-of-the-fittest neighborhood where being gay is cause for a beat-down. The couple has had their ups and (mostly) downs, but their character development is unlike anything seen on television. It’s a work of beauty that took years to achieve. I could pen a dissertation on their relationship, but I won’t do that here (again, watch the show). The thing you need to understand is that the Shameless fandom loooooooves these characters with a vengeance. The fanfiction devoted to Gallavich (their OTP name) is a wondrous place where fans can pen their happily-ever-afters without judgement.

However something happened that was not in Shameless writers’ control. Noel Fisher (the actor who plays Mickey) decided to leave the show after the fifth season to pursue other projects. This put producers in a bind. Obviously the Gallavich coupling could be no longer. Fair enough. Actors come and go from their shows all the time and writers have to get creative. Fans understand this. But Gallavich fans got upset when the writers played a bit of revisionist history with Mickey’s character. It was as if suddenly Mickey hadn’t been the man the writers had developed him into over the course of five seasons.

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[No, I’m not happy.]

Mickey’s character assassination has left fans with bitter disappointment. They’ve taken their heartache to tumblr and Archive of Our Own where they rewrite the sixth season as if it never happened. Some fans have admitted to not watching the show anymore because they can’t bear witness to the destruction of a beloved character.

I read this great post about the dissolution of Mickey and Ian and how the writers need to be true to the characters, not the fans. Understandably, but that’s not what is happening here (at least, not to this fan). The writers appear to disregard five seasons of growth, making Ian spew out the most ridiculous of comments that almost make him feel like a non-participant in his own story. In this case, the writers aren’t staying true to the character either.

Season 7 starts in October and I’m curious to see where the writers take Ian Gallagher’s storyline. I’m also desperately hoping Noel Fisher will return, and I’d like to win the lottery. Cause I’m greedy like that. Anyway, I just want what all fans want — I want the writers to do right by the characters and that means staying true to the development they established over the last five years.

I don’t expect happy endings abound since Shameless is not that kind of show. But I do expect the writers to value the emotional connection fans have made to the show’s characters and to do ‘write‘ by it (see what I did there?) Otherwise, what’s the point of watching?

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Author: Kimberly G. Giarratano

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

12 thoughts on “Don’t piss off the fandom”

  1. Kimberly, so true. I think a couple of TV shows have done this. I understand. Actor leaves, you have to do something. But no revisionist history. Same for books – you have to make the character act true to him/herself. No forcing things just because “oh, I felt like it.”

  2. Wow. This is a great illustration of just how important it is for writers to make sure their characters remain consistent!

  3. Or at least show events on screen that explain why characters would think or do certain things. On screen.

  4. Great topic, Kimberly! From another perspective, is it “art” if we write for the critics? Ernest Hemingway was highly critical of F. Scott Fitzgerald when he was writing magazine pieces which Hemingway thought were beneath him. On the other hand, you got to eat. The writers of that show got to eat too. I suspect that their spin is merely a justification for writing for more powerful critics, the people who write their checks, as opposed to the fandom. Nora Ephron warned all of us that Hollywood uses writers and throws them away. So I wouldn’t blame the writers; I’d blame the producers. Sorry for the stream of consciousness but that’s what I got out of it.

  5. I don’t watch the show, but I love what you have to say here. I also think Keenan has a great point; the writers may not have had much choice, but still–viewership needs to be understood and respected.

  6. I don’t watch the show either, but I have Netflix, so I will put it on my “to watch” list, if I EVER have time to watch. I have a question for you all about continuing characters.

    First, in a series, how do you keep your characters fresh, interesting, and pertinent?

    I love reading a continuing series of books with the same characters; it is like reading about my family. I know them; I like them; I have invested a lot of my time in reading about them. However, I have also given up on books when the characters are basically the same, book after book, and have almost been “dropped” into a formula crime or the same plot just in a different geographic location. I like characters who grow, age, and improve their lives, not ones who just exist for the sake of the story.

    Second, have you ever “killed off” or otherwise “disposed of” a character who became too needy, too tedious, too boring, or just too whatever, to continue in the series? How did you “dispose” of that character? Was it in a grand style (kill them off with much fanfare and blood) or did you just have them move away? Did you get feedback from readers who loved/hated this character?

  7. Unexpected life events happen to characters, as they do to all of us. The way characters respond to those events has to be in keeping with their character, which is constantly evolving. I think that’s how they stay interesting. We are watching them grow. As for killing off a series character, I haven’t done that (yet) in mystery, but I do downplay them from one book to another.

  8. I don’t think the writers need to please the fandom, definitely not, as that doesn’t make for good storytelling. But you also don’t want to destroy a beloved character.

  9. 3 no 7: As Sue said, life happens to all of us. Things expected and unexpected. Those events push us and make us grow. But the way we react to them is always going to reflect who we are at our core.

    That’s what I see for series characters. A person is a certain way – kind, diligent, dutiful, pick your adjective. And whatever challenges come his/her way, that core is going to determine how they react. Now, there maybe times that a deeply held belief changes, but it’s got to be organic. You have to show the character at the beginning (which is probably going to greatly resemble how they looked in the last book – and maybe every book up until then) and the change is going to happen. It’s go to happen in a reasonable time frame (you don’t wake up one day and hey presto, you ditch something you’ve believed in and that has defined you for the last 20 years of your life) and it’s got to happen for good reasons (again, you don’t really make a huge life change because you woke up and thought, “Hey, this might be fun”).

    And no, haven’t dropped a character – yet. I can’t see myself doing it in the near future, but never say never, right?

  10. I don’t watch Shameless (confession, we don’t subscribe to any TV service so if it’s not on Netflix or Prime, we’re not watching. I miss a lot of first runs that I catch later on the streaming networks.

    Based on what you describe, I would HATE to have a beloved character basically trashed. It’s like the scene in Dallas where they trashed an entire season by framing it as a dream. Huge cheat. Same with trying to villainize a character because he is leaving or has left a show. In addition to being a huge cheat, it makes the audience feel stupid. How did they miss this evil character and why did they care so much if he was so bad! Not a good thing.

    I can think of series characters that were shuffled off to Buffalo, Kay Scarpetta’s BF and later husband–Benton–was supposed to be killed in a fire. That was well handled until that too turned out to be a spoof. That’s the other thing, if you kill them off, they need to stay dead, otherwise they become groaners. One of my characters has been written out of the series. I hope I handled it well, but only the fans know for sure. Will he be back (he’s still alive) I’m not sure…hum.

    Good post, Kimberly.

  11. Great post!

    I’d intended to write my books as standalones based in the same geographic place with maybe a little bit of character overlapping. But readers wanted more, they wanted to know what happens next to so-and-so, and now I’m writing two separate series. While it might be a little confusing at some point, I know these characters so well I can’t imagine pulling the rug out from under any of them and cheating them into doing something they’d never do organically.

    In my first book one of my secondary characters is killed in a not-gentle way. It surprised some readers but it made for good story.

    You’re making me wish I had Netflix! (Right now I’m streaming SIX FEET UNDER from Prime and loving the characters.)

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