Shameless isn't a perennial feel-good Sunday night doozy, like the typical start-of-the-week programs that occupy that particular corner of television airwaves. And yet it's disguised as one, what with its upbeat intro, yellow-hued color scheme and boisterous clan of characters. At its chore, Shameless is a sad drama about a poverty-stricken family and their woes of addiction. But what separates Shameless from run-of-the-mill melodrama is the fierce will of each member of the Gallagher family. There's no time to be sad about their absent mother or drunkenly abrasive father, Frank (William H. Macy). There's only time to make money, churn through the day's list of duties, and survive.
Last night's episode, "Father's Day," found eldest sister and insipid mother figure Fiona Gallagher (Emmy Rossum) as the laid-back arm candy for the rich businessman who's been courting her at her evening cocktail waitress job. Richard is his name, and though his antics at first seem skeevy - he asks her to accompany him to a highfalutin wedding of some acquaintance - he comes to her defense when a rude friend accuses Fiona of being some kind of call girl. The insinuation insults her, but he's on to her the second she fibs about being a Princeton graduate despite living in a rented house her freshman year (Ivy Leagues don't let underclassmen live off-campus, Fiona - DUH). But lest we forget Fiona's good friend Jasmine (Amy Smart), who we met last season as an overly friendly mom at sister Debbie's school, who has been pretty insistent that Fiona date Richard. Maybe Fiona is an escort, and she just isn't aware of it yet. Whatever the case, this episode was a solid reminder that Fiona is more than capable of holding her own. When Richard's friend made the moves on her, she freely admitted she lied about being a college graduate - "I never went to Princeton, but if they let this a-hole in, them I'm glad I didn't" - and looked for her own way home, before Richard caught up and gave her a ride, insisting on a second date, to which Fiona obliged.
But where Fiona's struggles to maintain her standards felt central, perhaps more abrasive is the Lip storyline, one that grounds the series in the saccharine roots from which it was borne. Lip (Jeremy Allen White), the eldest Gallagher son and the resident genius with a whole slew of possibility on his shoulders, is the potential daddy of ex-f--k-buddy Karen's gestating fetus, the big reveal of last week's episode. Karen isn't flustered about the identity of the father; she eloped with her new boy toy Jody and the two plan to raise the kid together. But Lip isn't ready to cosign his potential paternal rights, and he tries to seep his way back into Karen's arms without being too overt. It's a sad thing to behold, with Lip casually dropping in Karen's house when he finds out about her father's death, hopeful that she might want to talk about it with him. Instead she blows him off and cuddles with Jody. While Emmy Rossum is the MVP of Shameless, attention should be paid to Jeremy Allen White, a near no-name before his appearance on this show, who is outstanding as the plagued Lip. His eyes teem with tears and complexity throughout the episode. From his desire to be loved by Karen to his rebuttal of picking a fight with a tough guy hoping that he'll get some sense knocked into him just to let him feel, his journey is the most painstaking one at the moment. And now that he's intervened in his brother Ian's attempts to get to West Point, he's at wit's end even with his closest allies - his family. In some ways, Karen's marriage is a clean slate for Lip. She can take care of her baby with Jody and Lip will be free to go to college, get a career, and have a life. And yet he tells Karen he's "South Side Forever," and this baby could be singular proof that he isn't the infuriating deadbeat dad his own alcoholic father is. In many ways, Shameless is a show about a victimized group of kids trying, beyond all reasonable means, to not be their parents. It's a harrowing journey, since many of them seem destined to wind up that way, but it'll be interesting to see how they divert themselves from their natural path. Lip's refusal to turn into Frank is the most glaring example at the moment, but the series is likely to be filled with stories just like this for a long time coming.
There are other big set pieces in "Father's Day," like the circumstances of Karen's father, Eddie's, death. Last season, after Eddie demeaned Karen for being a "whore," she took advantage of an incapacitated Frank Gallagher and broadcasted their sexual escapades to the world via a webcam. Eddie responded by tying a cement block to his foot and jumping through the ice in Lake Michigan. His body washed up early in this episode, much to the delight of both Karen and Frank, who naturally plans to slight his family and get a foot in Eddie's life savings. Eddie's wife, Shelia (Joan Cusack), has been Frank's caretaker since early last season, and though her severe agoraphobia was on the relapse, an encounter with a disaster in last week's tag sent her back to square one. That, coupled with the announcement of her husband's death, kept her tethered to her bedroom in this episode, giving Frank an opportunity to butter her up and wear her down. By episode's end, she suggestively announces that "now I'm free to marry," which will no doubt set the stage for the remainder of the season - will Frank and Shelia get married? What will that mean for Shelia's daughter, who is most likely knocked up with Frank's son's sperm (or Frank's - let's hope the time gap between their sex puts a cap on that possibility)? And after Frank's brief incarceration for sex with a minor - lifted when Karen admitted she "raped" him - it appears Frank is going to be the prime suspect in Eddie's supposed murder.
The episode's other subplots, including Debbie's continuous plight towards puberty and an illiterate Kevin storyline, were a little overshadowed, although well-noted. The approach towards Debbie's burgeoning young adulthood is a pleasure, and one handled with a keen regard to the complexities of being young and in love, as Debbie is with neighborhood baddie Little Hank. Kevin and Veronica continue to be the one functioning relationship in this world of abusive, destructive entanglements. Even when Veronica suspects Kevin of cheating on her, everything is carefully resolved, and the two are left to their adorable mishaps. They set a good example for the Gallagher brood, most of all Fiona, who can't seem to land a man worthy of her strong-mindedness. And naturally, since the episode ends with the reappearance of her last-season boyfriend Steve (Justin Chatwin) - seen a few weeks back getting an impressive blowjob from a yet-to-be-seen woman in Costa Rica - Fiona's romantic dalliances are far from over.