TV TATTLE

Shameless' disappointing finale was a disservice to the entire series

  • The hit Showtime series' series finale Sunday wrapping up 11 seasons "embodies all of the problems—the lack of history, the inconsistent tones, Debbie being terrible—that plagued the show in the last half of its run, a microcosm of the 'sitcom' John Wells was dead set on making all along," says Myles McNutt. "It demonstrates no awareness of these problems, but rather embraces them as apparent strengths, and acts as though the audience is so invested in this world and its characters that it requires no closure or character development to bring this decade-long relationship to a close." McNutt adds: "In his dementia-riddled state, Frank is the embodiment of Shameless: constantly forgetting what’s happened in the past, incapable of coherently explaining his present, and unable to grasp social cues that he’s overstayed his welcome in our space. And we, the audience, are the rest of the Gallaghers: we know deep down that we should care about a show we’ve been watching for a decade ending, but we can’t seem to muster that emotion given the state of the show’s storytelling, and our instinct is to just go about our day. But by the time I reached the end of 'Father Frank, Full Of Grace,' I realized that I was misreading the metaphor. Sure, it’s safe to say that the remaining audience for Shameless carries a significant amount of ambivalence toward this show after it fell off a cliff creatively in recent years, but the show’s fans are passionate about that ambivalence. While not all viewers embody the extremes of love and hate embodied by the Gallavich fans, the soap opera DNA of the show is built to invest us in these characters even as the sitcom antics of more recent seasons pushed us away. Without suggesting I am representative of the average viewer of the show, I watched this finale with all the tension of desperately wanting the show to tap into what it once was, co-existing with my building frustration with the show it has become. It’s an emotional cocktail none of the show’s characters embody in that opening scene. When the credits rolled on Shameless’ final moments, though, I realized that in this metaphor the Gallagher children aren’t the audience: they’re the writers. Because in the end, the failures of this series finale stem from the fact that when Shameless reached its final breath, it was John Wells and the rest of the writers room who seemingly couldn’t make up their minds if they were invested in the show coming to an end. It was ultimately the writers who, faced with the task of bringing 11 seasons of television to a close, delivered a series finale that doesn’t just poorly memorialize the show it once was, but even manages to dismiss the gestures to closure they developed in this final season."

    ALSO:

    • Shameless showrunner John Wells wanted an ending similar to his past hit shows ER and The West Wing: "I've been pretty fortunate to do a number of longer-running series and, as a fan, I always appreciate things not being wrapped up," says Wells. "We're so invested as writers and audience members in their lives that you want to fill in some blanks and not run the American Graffiti end crawl. It's fun in American Graffiti where you tell everyone what happens. I want to think what I want to think about the characters, where they end up and what happens with them and have the audience have those conversations with others over drinks. I think that's more fun, personally. Shameless is obviously outrageously exaggerated but we tried to ground it in a real world in which you felt like if you turned the right corner of Chicago you could run across some Gallaghers and their whole world. It's the same reason that the end of ER we walked away from the hospital in the middle of a shift and at the end of The West Wing Santos (Jimmy Smits) had just gone into the White House and Bartlet (Martin Sheen) was headed home. We didn't try and solve anything. Their lives continue. Many wonderful novels end and you're still thinking about the characters and what they do. And that makes me feel good as a viewer and a reader."
    • Wells on why Shameless was overlooked during awards season: "I never want to complain about it, because I’ve been on the good side of that equation," he says. "But I would say that when you’re doing stories about people who are less fortunate, if you’re not providing easy answers, the shows tend to get overlooked a bit more. I don’t have any explanation for why The Wire was never the most decorated show in television history. We want to pretend that the country is egalitarian, that it’s a meritocracy, that everybody has the same opportunities, and it’s just not true. That’s hard for us to accept. It challenges our sense of who we are. What are our responsibilities to each other? There was some backlash. Critics did not latch onto the show at the beginning. Many people wanted to write off Shameless as a sex comedy. And that’s OK. We had a great, loyal audience for a long time. People would stop me on the street and tell me that Frank was like their dad. Kids would come to our Chicago set, and tell us about how they were thrown out of their homes for being gay, lesbian or trans. People would tell us how their big sister raised them, or how they reconnected with older siblings because of the show. We all search for community, and the Gallagher world was a community of kids who cared about each other."
    • Wells explains how his personal experience with the pandemic impacted the series finale
    • Wells on the possibility of a Shameless revival: "Never say never"
    • William H. Macy, Emma Kenney and more Shameless stars say goodbye

    TOPICS: Shameless, Showtime, Emma Kenney, Emmy Rossum, John Wells, William H. Macy, Series Finales




  • More TV Tattle: