I have an obsessive personality. It’s a trait that has weaved its way through my life from an early age; twisting my stomach in knots and causing my mind to spin. Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I’m significantly more interesting or demented than I actually am, I need to note that this isn’t some Single White Female shit. It works differently than that; it’s an analyzing of my feelings rather than external pouring of emotions. When I find something that speaks to me, that interests me in a deep and meaningful way, I feel compelled to understand it; to comprehend why it grabbed me and how it keeps me.
If you’ve read any of my other articles, you may think is going to be about my obsession with certain Shameless story lines, Ian and Mickey’s relationship, or the gorgeous and talented Emmy Rossum. Surprisingly, it’s not about any of those things. The subject that’s been tormenting me is something I’ve hinted towards in my pieces throughout season seven and the hiatus, but haven’t been able to put my finger on, until now. There was a shift that occurred in the series between seasons five and six. A certain magic that once existed seemed to wane. In order to determine why it felt different, I knocked an array of theories around my mind, searching for the answer. What I was able to come up with was the change from drama to comedy and/or the piss poor writing that broke up Ian and Mickey. Both were egregious, but neither could change the trajectory of an entire series. It had to be bigger than that, and it is.
The overarching theme of season five was gentrification; the renovation of the South Side so it would conform to middle-class tastes. Abandoned warehouses became apartment buildings, while yoga studios and coffee shops popped up on every block. There was push-back from the residents, most notably by Frank and Mickey. While Kev and V were capitalizing on Hipsters’ ironic taste, the grittiest motherfuckers on the South Side were attempting to stand their ground and keep the neighborhood licentious. As I wrote in my article “Take Me Back to Chicago: How the City is the Star of Shameless,” the South Side has been threaded in and out of viewer’s consciousness through visuals, sounds and plot. When shows make the setting auxiliary, it insists that a viewer watch from the surface, but layering a location into all aspects molds the fans as well as the characters, bringing them all deeper into the world the writers and directors construct. Finally, I’ve identified where the shift occurred. As the South Side was gentrified, so was Shameless.
The scene that stood out to me as a pivotal turning point for the series as a whole was when Mickey challenged Lip to prove how “South Side” he was by shooting up the swanky new coffee shop’s storefront. With too much on the line, Lip didn’t fire the gun. As he hid from the cops in the dumpster among the trash and rats, he seemed to make a decision that the rough and tumble lifestyle wasn’t for him anymore. Slowly but surely, his siblings followed suit. Of course the characters still cope with their own issues, both internal and external, but they are struggles of the mind more than circumstance.
The schemes and capers that brought the Gallaghers together in the early seasons have been replaced by story lines and love interests that moved them further from their roots. They are no longer the underdogs fighting to survive, rather they are workers approaching the middle class, striving to get ahead. The cold winters of seasons past have given way to a temperate climate both literally and figuratively, a perpetual state of lukewarm. The show’s explicitness and jokes still push the envelop, while the Gallaghers and the South Side have been sanitized.
The punctuation on my epiphany regarding the gentrification of Shameless is Mickey Milkovich. I’m dropping all pretenses where I tiptoe around the fact that it’s a major mistake not to bring Noel Fisher back as a recurring cast member. Though I haven’t been shy in my desire to see Ian and Mickey reunited long-term, that isn’t what this is about. Mickey is sorely missed because he never stopped being South Side. While the show moved forward in a direction that strayed from its origins, Mickey didn’t. His character grew and developed, but he never lost that South Side edge. He’s grit of the streets and the loyalty of family, everything the writers wanted for us to feel when they introduced the Gallaghers in season one. He’s heart and soul, constantly struggling but always wanting to do better for the people (person) he loves. He personifies the South Side, and the South Side was the backbone of Shameless before it strayed. I don’t think it gets any clearer than that.
People may wonder why, when I find this change so frustrating, I still watch and write about Shameless. Remember that obsessive personality I referenced at the beginning of this article? I’m crazy about the emotions the first several seasons made me feel. Often you hear people excuse the poor behavior of a significant other by remembering the good times: They weren’t always like this, maybe they’ll change. I guess maybe I am a little demented after all, but some optimism and hope for better days never hurt a person.