Shameless (US): The American Dream
March 3, 2015 5:39 PM - Season 3, Episode 2 - Subscribe

Fiona is dealing with the fallout of having paid $1,000 at the end of the previous episode to manage her own night at Meg's club, when the family needs to pay the property tax. Now she has to be “entrepreneurial.” Lip is upset that Fiona did this of her own accord, without consulting the rest of the family — “if we’re going to be every man for himself, this family is going under, fast.”

Beto (the assistant to Estefania’s dad, Nando) is lurking in a van outside the Gallaghers’ house to keep an eye on Jimmy. Estefania tells Jimmy not to worry about her dad — he always blows off steam and then forgets why he was mad. Jimmy tells Beto he wants to go to Fiona’s club night without him — otherwise Jimmy will have to explain how he knows Beto and “that my life’s in danger.” Beto tells him: “Then you stay home.” Jimmy fakes being sick so he won’t have to tell Fiona what’s really happening to him.

Fiona asks Jimmy for $5,000 to cover the club night. “For two years, you’ve been offering to give me money, but now when I ask, you don’t have any?!” “Wait, are you mad at me? Because you get mad at me when I offer you money, but now you’re getting mad at me because I can’t?” Their relationship is starting to feel tense.

Lip tricks a lot of people into going to Fiona’s club night by telling them Wilco is going to play there and then collecting exorbitant parking fees (ironically spreading the word during his community service). The parking fees cover the family's property tax. And thanks to Lip's fraud, Fiona almost breaks even (but Meg needs to explain to Fiona why losing $100 is pretty good). Lip articulates a major theme of the series:
“The only way to make money when you’re poor is to steal it or scam it.”
Debbie lets Frank into the house, and asks him for help making a replica of Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin for school. Instead, Frank drunkenly falls onto Debbie’s log cabin, crushing it. Debbie is crushed too, and she gets back at Frank by angrily beating him with a pillowcase full of bars of soap. Later, Frank gripes at the bar about how Debbie can get away with hitting him but he isn't allowed to lay a finger on her. Then Frank gets an idea for something he can do to get back at Debbie — making an anonymous call to Child Protective Services to “report a negligent situation”: “six kids living in squalor, no parental supervision. When the father is there, he’s drunk. He hits them. Not that they don’t deserve it…”

Mickey starts gay-bashing when he catches Ian having sex with someone else. Ian looks into Mickey’s eyes to try to see how he feels about him.

Mandy and Lip are together at the Gallaghers’ house. Mandy is literally not wearing the pants in the relationship, but she seems more interested in Lip’s future than Lip is.

Sheila is miserably exhausted from taking care of her grandson, Hymie. She’s horrified when she almost causes him to be taken away by the huge claw of garbage truck (echoing her horror at the falling airplane piece almost killing her in season 2). Sheila, Jody, and Debbie can’t stop Hymie from crying, but Frank does it with one weird trick. Frank tells Sheila and Jody: “I raised eight kids myself — I know what I’m doing.” (Wait ... eight?!)

Kevin’s estranged wife, Cheryl, shows up at V’s door, and V shows up at Fiona’s door.
posted by John Cohen (4 comments total)
This is one of the episodes written by Nancy Pimental, and — based on my earlier observations — that should make this one of my favorites. But I can't say that it was. I continue to have problems with the Fiona character, who feels like the character we're supposed to identify with. We were supposed to go along for the emotional ride with her as she became gutsily entrepreneurial and then crash when the scheme failed and deeply struck when Lip delivered the big "only way to make money when you're poor" line. But her scheme looked dumb from the start to me, so the coming disappointment was predictable. And it's not the case that she wasn't being dishonest too. We're supposed to see ourselves in her big sad eyes as she is confronted by one barrier after another. She can't escape from her trap of poverty. But I can't get on that ride when I see her throwing herself into dumb ideas.

Now, the whole dumb-ideas tendency of Fiona reminds me of the 2 classic sitcoms of the 1950s, "I Love Lucy" and "The Honeymooners," each of which had a central character who would get involved in some scheme each week that we, the viewers, could see was going to go wrong, both because it was obvious and because it was the sitcom plot. We enjoyed the predictable pattern, even as we saw that Lucy/Ralph was going to get in trouble and fail again. So what's the difference between them and Fiona? The answer is clear: Fiona isn't funny!

Frank is funny. Frank is the heart of the show. He gets in trouble and you enjoy his getting into trouble. More Frank, less Fiona. That's what I want. Unless they can figure out how to make Fiona funny. But I think they've invested in the idea that we'll just identify with Fiona and see the tragedy of it all through her eyes. She represents the theory that the show is a soap-opera.
posted by Alizaria at 6:06 AM on March 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Too true. In later episodes it seems to get worse and worse, too.
posted by Literaryhero at 11:46 PM on March 6, 2015

Your comment does raise some interesting questions about the show...

The characters are always lying, cheating, and stealing. For instance, Lip is always stealing stuff, and there's a later episode about how Fiona is a liar. (I should note that I've stopped using the "rewatch" label for this season, so I don't want to include any major spoilers.) This happens so much we become habituated to it. Yet every once in a while, we're supposed to consider it an outrageous offense.

I agree that Frank = funny and Fiona = serious. That seems to be the fundamental dichotomy of this comedy/drama series. Many others characters are more unpredictable in going back and forth between comedic and serious (e.g. Lip, Debbie, Sheila, Kevin). The only time I can remember laughing at Fiona is in the pilot, when she suggests bringing Liam to show and tell because his birthmark "looks like Latvia." There may be others, but still — not very many out of several seasons. I think Emmy Rossum is a great actor, so I can't imagine she wouldn't be up for a comic role — I assume it's a conscious choice by the writers and directors. But why?
posted by John Cohen at 2:13 PM on March 7, 2015

She represents the theory that the show is a soap-opera.

I'd say Shameless is a hybrid of a soap opera and a sitcom:

Soap opera = Multiple, overlapping, serious plotlines continue over the course of many episodes, often with a lot of suspense at the end of an episode. (That's paraphrased from the Wikipedia entry.)

Sitcom = Wacky mishaps start at the beginning of an episode and get neatly resolved just in time for the episode to end.

If those definitions are right, then Shameless generally has a "soap opera" structure, although some individual plotlines happen to fit within a "sitcom" structure (e.g. "Casey Casden," where Debbie kidnaps and returns a two-year-old).
posted by John Cohen at 2:30 PM on March 7, 2015

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