At times Shameless plays like a Shakespearean comedy, albeit a black one. But there’s an even darker side to this wildly dysfunctional family, none darker than Frank’s abhorrent treatment of his own children—that is, until their mom shows up.
According to Monica Gallagher, she left her six kids because she would have died if she stayed in the same house with her alcoholic husband. But we learn that Monica had her own addiction problems, before and after she had left her family. Now she’s back, but apparently only to take the youngest, Liam, with her to be raised along with her big, bad, black lesbian girlfriend Roberta, coincidentally the same color as Liam (who they learn from DNA tests is really Frank’s child).
Roberta’s relentless pushing for Monica to take Liam from his brothers and sisters, and her rants about white people raising black children, are both hateful and extremely disturbing acts. No comedy here. Lip heroically stands up to Roberta, and also to Frank whom he eventually cold cocks off of a bar stool.
Daredevil Carl breaks his arm when only Frank is home to help. But Frank, always the thoughtful one, lets Carl ride his bike in front of an insurance investigator so that the investigator can be blamed and Frank can sue.
Diane begins to soften toward Eddie when he takes Karen to a Christian father and daughter “Purity Ball,” where Karen can pledge chastity even if she isn’t a virgin. Diane asks the most innocent and insightful question: “Do they have these balls for young men?”
At the ball, however, Karen is pushed into confessing all her sexual discretions. Before she can finish the incredibly long list, Eddie butts in and calls his daughter a whore, completely devastating the young girl. Once again Eddie is kicked out of the house by Diane whose temper leads her out onto the street, with no signs of agoraphobia.
With Karen’s confession of leading an active sex life, and the scenes of other underage teens and adults, the writers don’t just tread lightly on some traditional moral grounds. They trample all over them, leaving some big, unanswered questions about children “doing it” just because it feels good.
In the end, it becomes clear that Monica’s failures as a mother aren’t because she cannot handle it but because she won’t try. After a strong verbal attack from both Fiona and Lip, however, Monica does leave, without taking the child.
If anything good can come from the dark reality in a show like Shameless, it would be the awareness that in many American households, children are raising children. And usually not well.