We have already seen how Shameless manages to tackle almost every single problematic aspect of American society, with an absurd but honest narrative about the complex sociological mechanisms that create a large divide between the rich and the poor.
We’ve talked about the main theme of poverty, the consequences of gentrification, the disease of addiction, and how it affects the family dynamics. Let's follow that thread by analyzing some of the other key themes in the show:
Most of the time on TV, mental health is portrayed as someone who’s violent or just “crazy”. Once again, Shameless didn’t fail to fight the stereotype and offer a realistic and accurate depiction of bipolar disorder.
Monica, the absent mother of the Gallagher family, is a drug addict who was also diagnosed with bipolar. She perfectly represents what unmedicated bipolar disorder looks like: chaotic, self-arming, and out of control.
On the other end, Ian is also diagnosed bipolar midway through the series and viewers see him come to terms with it. Every phase involved in the diagnosis and management of the disorder is accurately portrayed; starting from season 4, we start witnessing both his manic and depressive episodes. We see him denying his condition and refusing help until he finally accepts his condition and even stands up for himself in one of the most iconic scenes of the show.
Ian and Mickey are the key characters to another important theme that we see throughout the whole series, LGBTQ+ rights.
The whole LGBTQ+ community is portrayed in an extremely accurate way, featuring homophobia, catholic oppression, homelessness, transphobia, and gender identity.
This accurate depiction is achieved thanks to the introduction of new characters such as Trevor - a trans, gay man - or the evolution of other characters exploring their sexuality. It’s the case of Monica, who comes back to her family with a new girlfriend, just to eventually run away again, or Debbie, who starts questioning her sexual orientation around season 9.
Once again, the show walks on a thin line between heartbreaking moments - such as Mickey’s dad catching him and Ian together with the violent consequences that it brings - and more funny and sweet scenes.
There would be so much more to talk about: domestic abuse, technological unemployment, institutionalization, diversity and racism.. but I’ll just leave you with the curiosity to watch the show.. or start it all over again, like I’m gonna do right now.
Shameless manages to highlight how lower-class citizens are extremely limited in their capacity to act and function within the confines of what’s considered “normal”, and as a result experience internal conflict. The dynamics and conversations in the show, create an inevitable attachment to the characters and push the audience to explore society on a new philosophical level. All of this is achieved in a way that no other show has ever done before, with a good amount of sarcasm, irony, and laughter. Like the creator of the show, Paul Abbott said during an interview:
“If you ever wanna tell the truth, you’ve gotta make them laugh or they will kill you. And I was trying to tell the truth about a certain level of poverty and Frank was my immune system, he is my defense mechanism because they just laugh at him.”
That’s how Frank becomes the bearer of powerful critics to American society, delivering messages through ironic performances that get really close to parodies.