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Shameless Review: “Simple Pleasures” (Episode 4.01)

January 17, 2014  |  11:43am
<i>Shameless</i> Review: &#8220;Simple Pleasures&#8221; (Episode 4.01)

By the end of the third season of Shameless, viewers were set for a different-looking show to start season 4. With Lip away for college, Ian having enlisted in the army, Karen and Jody off to “cure the baby” in Sedona, Frank facing serious alcohol-related health issues, and Jimmy/Steve out of the picture, the dynamic in the Gallagher house, and the show in general, was set for change.

Possibly the most controversial move the show made at the end of season 3 was getting rid of the Jimmy/Steve character, played by Justin Chatwin. His name no longer appears in the credits and various sources online indicate the writers have no plans to pursue that storyline any further at this time, stating Chatwin could possibly come back for an episode or two down the road. Opinions seem split; some feel it was a terrible choice and have said they will stop watching the show, others feel it was warranted and the show will thrive without him.

The last we saw Jimmy/Steve, he was walking onto a boat after learning his wife, Estefania, was being deported. Considering what we’ve seen from Nando before, many would argue this was meant to signal his death. In the original airing of the episode, there was no gunshot, but one was added into the “previously on Shameless” recap clip at the beginning of this week’s premiere. A move by the writers to clarify any confusion and convince us he’s dead?

Whether dead or not, for a character who was so heavily involved in the show from the first episode and such a big part of Fiona’s life, I can’t help but feel like that storyline could’ve been dealt with a bit better, rather than a sudden ending with little closure for Fiona.

We don’t see Jimmy/Steve die on-screen, which suggests he could still be alive. Trying to think of it from the perspective of the writers – what’s the lesson here? Would it make sense to build up this character and his relationship with Fiona over three seasons to end it without Fiona ever hearing from him again and simply ending things on Beto telling her Jimmy/Steve knew she was too good for him? Also, she still feels partially responsible after that conversation with Kev and Veronica about when she told Jimmy/Steve to leave. It’s too inconclusive for a major storyline. I think he’ll come back in some way before the season ends, even if just briefly.

As for Fiona, in the season premiere we saw her keep things going with Mike, her boss. Things look better for her at the moment, as she’s bringing in more money and feels like Mike treats her well. She even has enough money to give Carl and Debbie lunch money for school, something that never used to happen. After so many past instances of heartache for Fiona, it’s almost odd to see her doing so well, meaning she’s probably in for something awful pretty soon.

Lip going to college, while maybe not the most intriguing plot this week, has a lot of potential and should improve. We’ve seen a lot of him in Shameless but never in this type of situation before, surrounded by people just as smart as him. We’re starting to see him out of his comfort zone. As for Ian, we’ll have to wait on his army storyline, as he was only mentioned in this episode by the Gallaghers as having been missing for 17 days.

Even without Lip and Ian around, we caught a glimpse of Mickey and Mandy Milkovich. Both characters have developed a lot over the past couple seasons and the actors, Noel Fisher and Emma Greenwell, deserve a lot of credit for their respective portrayals. Here, they showed how both Mickey and Mandy have been affected by the two Gallagher boys being gone, as Mandy found out about Ian and her brother and called Mickey out for being “a pussy.”

With Karen and Jody no longer around, Sheila threw a sex toy party. You know, like a Tupperware party for sex toys. Joan Cusack continues to nail the role, showing Sheila’s evolution over time. In other non-Gallagher news, Veronica finally ended up getting pregnant. This is, of course, after Kev slept with V’s mom numerous times in an attempt to get her pregnant instead, since they thought it was impossible for V. Expect some upcoming conflicts about whether or not V’s mom will keep her baby or get an abortion.

Getting back to the Gallagher house, now that Ian and Lip are away, it’s just Deb, Carl and Liam there with Fiona. Oh, and of course Frank, who’s living in Carl’s room, after Carl fought with Fiona to let him stay under his care. Two of the most glaring changes this season are Carl and Deb, both in appearance and character. Although they had their whole “fake cancer” thing somewhat recently, Carl and Frank haven’t bonded this closely on-screen before. It seems while others have given up caring about Frank, Carl’s the one stepping up and looking out for him. This is a good change for him on the show, since he couldn’t just be the mischievous young kid forever. As for Deb, we see her spending a lot more time focusing on her appearance, trying to get noticed by a guy who she starts getting to know. On this evidence, depending how long Lip and Ian stay away, this could be a season where we get closer looks at Carl and Deb.

William H. Macy has often stolen the show as Frank while ranting nonsensically, but he got to show off his acting skills more here, as we see Frank like we’ve never seen him before. Unable to drink any alcohol without immediately puking up blood, Frank gets Carl to help him inject some wine into his body another way. He spends all his screen time in “Simple Pleasures” in bed, nearly motionless. The contrasting views of his conditions before and after show the range of acting Macy possesses, and this look at Frank’s state was a scary one.

Some plotlines concluded at the end of Season 3, others were just getting started. The Season 4 premiere served as a reminder of the new situations many of the characters find themselves in, while leaving us with an ominous feeling concerning what will happen to Frank. Can things get better from here for him, or is it just a matter of time?

Overall, without as many great Frank moments as we’ve become accustomed to, and with some of the series’ most intriguing characters having reduced (or entirely zero) screen time, I expect next week’s episode to cover more ground. Here’s hoping Frank somehow gets better. As good as Shameless has been, I’m not sure I could continue watching without him.

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