A Final Look At TV’s True First Family
I’m sure there are those who want to look at the 2010s and say that the TV family represented America were the Dunphy-Pritchett clan at the center of Modern Family. Isn’t it pretty to think so. I think a far more accurate accounting of not only American television families but a closer view of America itself are the Gallaghers, the South Side clan at the center of Shameless; Showtime’s longest running series which came to a close last night.
I say ‘close’. One would like to say there were happy endings, but as the Gallaghers knew better than anyone, happy endings are for rich people. Long before America started to truly look at the ‘ninety-nine percent’, the Gallaghers were the epitome of them. Trying to live from day to day, a family that stuck together despite the horrible cards that they were dealt, much of which was due to their own flaws and those of genetics. None more epitomized than by Frank Gallagher, played to perfection by William H. Macy.
Frank was never an antihero or even someone you could ever sympathize. He was an alcoholic and an addict who only cared about his family as to how as he could use them to get what he wanted. Near the end of the series, Liam the one child who hadn’t given up on him yet, asked if he was proud of his kids. Frank didn’t even hesitate before saying: “Hell, no.” Frank never cared about anybody. He didn’t have an arc or — as he finally faced his mortality from alcohol based dementia, which was poetic justice in a series that never provided any — a redemptive last couple of minutes. He remained unrepentant.
And much as the Gallagher kin would deny it, they were their father’s children. All of them inherited his self-destructive nature. To try and list all their self-inflicted wounds would take a longer article, so here’s how they described themselves during season 9: Fiona: “Bankrupt with anger issues. Lip: “Recovering alcoholic.” Debbie: “Sexually confused teenage mom.” Carl: “Military psychopath. Ian: (Don’t forget) the arsonist felon.” The only reason Liam was alright so far was because he was only eight. He may be the only one who might survive unscathed — of course, he is black.
The Gallaghers took their triumphs were they could — with the ones they loved. Perhaps that was never more clear with the messy, painful (often literally) and heartwarming love between Ian and Mickey Milkevitch. From the harsh beginnings (affected by Mickey’s denial that he was gay which lasted four seasons) their constant problems with the law (they actually ended up sharing a cell — which wasn’t a happy ending) and their feuding families to finally realize they were soulmates and get married in the tenth season finale. They celebrated their anniversary at the Alibi in the finale.
But all their efforts met with struggle. Lip who had the most potential from the beginning of the series, pissed it away and now spends his days in food delivery. He has a family which may sustain him, but he has always put the most strain on himself. Debbie spent much of the last season dealing with issues of abandonment all season and seemed to have found love — with a felon with a rap sheet so long even Carl knew what it was. Carl and his partner were considering buying the Alibi, the bar which Kevin and V, the backbone of the series for its run, are now selling to move to Kentucky. The fact that they have chosen to leave Illinois itself rather than fight a losing battle against gentrification indicates the Chicago — and the America — the Gallaghers are just not a part off. Maybe Fiona had the best exit. She took the money from the sale of her building two years, and left Chicago family.
And Frank finally met his end, first overdosing and his family meeting with his shrugs. Then dying in a hospital alone, with no idea where he was. I’m not entirely sure I bought in to the sentimentality of his last moments — it didn’t seem to fit in with what we knew about him the last eleven years, and it just seemed a little too reminiscent of the last moments of Mark Greene on ER. (Probably not coincidental; John Wells did produce both series.) And I’m not sure his floating off to heaven was the right end, either; if anybody deserved to go to hell, its Frank Gallagher. I did, however, find certain appropriateness in his final message to his children, where he often sarcastic and backhanded ways of saying everything would be fine, to the last he was unapologetic. And it’s also right that his children will probably never read them — Frannie, his granddaughter, colored over them without knowing what they were. By far, the most moving moment exchange came when Lip asked why everyone was asking him to make decisions. Ian told him: “It’s because you’re as close to a dad as we’ve ever had” in much the same way that Fiona spent much of the series being the mom.
The Gallaghers are America. They knew politics had left behind, even as they best represented it. They kept reaching for the American dream, even though they knew it was a sucker’s game. They spent their lives trying to game the system and get by. I may never have really liked Shameless as a series, but giving the country and the world we live in, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect representative of the American family.