When it was announced last year that both Emmy Rossum and Cameron Monaghan would be leaving Shameless, the show's conclusion seemed inevitable. With nine seasons under its belt, it felt like the right time to wrap things up. Then it was renewed for a tenth season, with Monaghan back on board. Whether or not Shameless still has stories left to tell isn't necessarily the problem, they've always found ways to keep things moving, even when the well has long since seemed dry. The question is whether the show will stay interesting in Rossum's absence.
Season 9 ended with a fitting farewell to Fiona, sending her off with enough cash to escape the South Side and make sure all her siblings can build futures for themselves. So, now what? William H. Macy's Frank Gallagher may be the family's patriarch (and the show's biggest name), but there's no denying the fact that Rossum carried Shameless on her back for several seasons. Who, if anyone, can possibly fill the void she leaves behind? Only time will tell, but we have a few ideas.
Fiona both literally and figuratively passed the torch to Debbie (Emma Kenney) at the end of Season 9 in the form of a $50,000 check to keep the Gallaghers afloat, so she's a likely in the running. Debbie's no longer a kid — hell, she's raising one of her own — and she's worked through some of her more questionable phases (including throwing herself at Carl's girlfriend), so she's certainly a contender for Shameless' shiny new star. Debbie may never be quite as exciting to watch as Fiona, but she's fought her share of battles, and it's about time she got to run the show a little.
Lip has always been a Shameless staple, serving the show as a captivating force thanks to Jeremy Allen White's stellar performance (and thirst trap tendencies, too). Lip has largely been second only to Fiona over the course of the series' tenure, and White's performance has always been a crucial component of the heart and soul of Shameless. Even if Debbie was passed the torch, we'll continue to root for Lip, now a sober, responsible young adult ready to welcome a child into the world with a woman he truly adores. His character arc has been the most compelling and rewarding of all the Gallagher siblings, so if anyone is going to step out of Fiona's shadow and into the spotlight, why not Lip?
Shameless pulled quite the stunt when they led us to believe that Ian would be out of the picture moving forward, but we have a hunch Cameron Monaghan negotiated a pretty penny to return once he learned Rossum was out. Regardless of how it all went down, even the totally blatant fan service of reuniting Ian and Mickey (Noel Fisher) in prison at the end of last season couldn't keep us from delighting in his return. Ian has long been one of the series' most beloved characters, and even when things have gone off the rails writing-wise for him — Gay Jesus? Really? — he's remained one of TV's most endearing gingers (and half of one of the best relationships Showtime has to offer).
Ethan Cutkosky, who's played Carl since he was a fire-starting little kid in Season 1, surprised us all by stepping up to the plate in the Season 9 finale, delivering a surprisingly moving monologue (and perhaps vying for the screen time about to open up) opposite Kenney's Debbie. The second-youngest Gallagher embarked on quite the journey last season, working at a fast food joint, nursing a broken heart, and reeling from a West Point rejection, and now that he's got his sights set somewhat higher than vandalizing his ex's car, there might be something to get pumped about here. Carl is never going to be the heart of Shameless — it's just the nature of his character — but he's certainly more than the trash-talking, drug-dealing tween from seasons past.
William H. Macy may be a hell of an actor, but Frank Gallagher hasn't been remotely interesting for several seasons. How many times can we watch the same bum get sloshed and try to take advantage of a situation or an unfortunate new friend? Frankly, it's exhausting attempting to get invested in anything Frank is a part of, and it doesn't seem likely that he'll turn over a new leaf anytime soon — even in Fiona's absence. I'd like to think there's a good reason that Macy was left out of the college admissions scandal and his wife Felicity Huffman served time instead, so maybe Shameless does plan on doing something mildly intriguing with Frank this season. Or maybe he's still just getting drunk at The Alibi.
If Shameless itself can't seem to remember that Liam exists for multiple episodes in a row, how are we supposed to? The show has done the youngest Gallagher wrong too many times for him to have any shot at getting viewers excited. Perhaps they'll start remembering to write him into the story now that they're short a Gallagher sibling?
Regardless of who steps up as the new official Gallagher protagonist, Rossum's ability to play vulnerable-yet-scrappy, eliciting both the sympathy and admiration of the audience, will be missed. There's talent on the bench that Shameless can utilize if they play things right. And if they don't, we're sure another Gallagher disaster can be arranged.
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Jade Budowski is a freelance writer with a knack for ruining punchlines and harboring dad-aged celebrity crushes. She was previously a reporter/producer at Decider and is a member of the Television Critics Association. Follow her on Twitter: @jadebudowski.