One of the most intriguing aspects of Shameless is the depth and breadth of the characters’ development. Over the first few seasons, they were painstakingly built like waves; undulating through highs and lows, rises and crashes, revealing their endurance. Rarely are there moments of stillness, as the swift movement of story lines drives growth. Some of these plot points have sunk, while many of the original characters (Jimmy/Steve/Jack, Mickey, Mandy, Sheila, Karen) have been sent out to sea, rarely to be heard from again. For the purpose of this article, and because they deserve it, I will refer to them as the OGs.
I’ve mentioned in the past that beginning in season five, Shameless’ writers have had issues developing supporting characters, specifically love interests (Derek, Bianca, Amanda, Helene, Sean, Gus, Dominique, Caleb, Trevor, Sierra, Neil), in an authentic and meaningful way. Paying too much attention to auxiliary cast would shift the show’s tide away from the Gallaghers, which would be counterproductive to what they’ve created. These lovers are used as tools to further the Gallaghers’ story lines, only to be shipped off once their purpose has been served. Viewers do not hold tight to these characters for several reasons:
- They are underdeveloped and/or unlikable
- Fans miss the OGs
- We know nobody sticks around
When television shows continuously surge forward without regarding the past, they run the risk of jumping the shark. Though they were all love interests, the OGs were multifaceted and connected with the South Side and the Gallaghers in multiple ways, functioning in tandem with plot points. In contrast, the new characters pull the Gallaghers in different directions, not intertwining or synthesizing.
Still, whether we’re discussing OGs or new characters, only one Gallagher has had a romantic relationship that’s spanned the seasons, anchoring the new to the old. Ian Galllllaaaagher is a lucky guy. Unlike his siblings, who have loved and lost only to love and lose again, Ian has found some semblance of consistency through his connection with OG, Mickey Milkovich. Though they have found themselves in erratic situations, perpetually treading rough waters, they remain the strongest connection to the nostalgia of season one.
Some may argue that the Ball/Fishers are a grounding force that forges that connection, but I disagree. Just like the Gallaghers, the Ball/Fishers have continued to navigate in different directions, becoming somewhat unrecognizable from their earlier days.
When I think of the founding families of Shameless, I picture a daisy. The Gallaghers are in the middle and the Milkoviches, Jacksons, Lishmans, and Fisher/Balls build off of them. Now imagine playing a brutal game of ‘He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not’ with the flower. Once you rip off all of the petals, what remains?
Throughout all seven seasons of Shameless both Ian and Mickey have been either contending with, or relishing in, their feelings for each other. Way back when, Ian’s character development began with the Milkoviches. He continued to grow and evolve through and with them for five seasons. If Mickey was like the other OGs, that would’ve been the last we heard from him, but he isn’t. The ties that bind them have remained, either in the background (references to Mickey) or foreground (the reappearance of Mickey). Though Mickey has not always been physically there, the viewers could feel his presence. Their relationship is the only story line that has been consistently built since season one.
Disparately from the new characters and even the OGs, Mickey is weaved into various aspects of the Gallaghers’ South Side lives, able to represent something different to each of them, while providing reference to their pasts. To Frank, he’s Terry’s kid who you can go to when you need an unsavory favor. To Fiona, he’s a reminder of the Milkoviches and how things could have been worse for the Gallaghers. Perhaps he could also serve as an illustration of the type of love she should seek. To Lip, he’s high school hijinks and Mandy. To Debbie, he’s was a consistent adult in her life and a partner in crime. To Carl, he’s who he saw himself becoming in his younger years; a man who walked the path that maybe he’s choosing not to take. To Kev, he’s a former business partner and an Alibi regular like Tommy, Kermit and Frank. To V, he’s probably still the ‘Dirtiest White Boy in America’ even though he’s cleaned up really nicely. To Svetlana, he’s the father of her child and an unlikely companion. To Ian, he’s everything.
I don’t assume to know what goes into making a television show. I do, however, understand storytelling and how easy it is to get pulled down by the undertow when you’re swimming against the current. Sometimes what makes the most sense is as clear as the sky on a perfect beach day in Mexico.