‘Shameless’ Continues to Push the Envelope in Season 8

The world has changed so much since “Shameless” season seven wrapped at the end of 2016, that it’s no surprise that the Gallaghers should evolve with it. When we last left Frank (William H. Macy) and his brood, they were saying farewell to matriarch Monica, who was largely absent during most of their lives, but managed to leave them an inheritance of several pounds of meth. But it’s not all fun for this dysfunctional family making their way on the southside of Chicago. Gentrification, immigration, and the Black Lives Matter movement all play a role in the eighth season premiere episode of this dramedy that never shies away from going where most other series would dare not to go. This season, the Gallagher siblings continue to exhibit great character growth as they navigate their various new life paths.

Having lost the woman he called the love of his life, Frank proclaims himself a new person, free of old shackles and determined to make amends with all those he has wronged in the past 30 or so years, which as one can imagine, is not a small list and hilarity ensues as he goes as far as to visit the local cemetery to apologize to wronged parties. The fact that he has become addicted to meth doesn’t really help his case when attempts to be sincere with those he hurt, especially when it comes to the biggest victims of his years of selfishness and addiction, his own children. Determined to be a productive member of society, he get’s a job and genuinely seems determined to turn over a new leaf, evening come to his children’s rescue in a crucial moment. However, Frank has a pattern of getting up the hopes of his kids,’ especially the younger ones, only to let them down, so time will tell if this new Frank sticks.

As for Fiona (Emmy Rossum), who almost gave up on her education and a shot at a normal life at a young age to raise her siblings, she has changed immensely from the full-time babysitter introduced in season one. She starts off the season swearing off casual sex, instead devoting her energy to her business pursuits. Having taken the apartment she purchased from one-time Tinder sex partner Ryan (Barry Sloane) and turned it into a hot property in an “up-and-coming” (read: dump with a few coffee shops neighborhood), she proves everyone wrong by finding hipsters willing to pay to spend upwards of a grand to live in small one-bedroom apartments. Predictably, she receives some pushback from existing tenants, forcing her became something of a hardass, reconciling the old, “ghetto” Fiona with this new savvy businesswoman. The oldest Gallagher is still managing Patsy Pies, and the immigration policy of the current administration affects business as usual, as ICE raids are now a regular occurrence, which leads to some darkly hilarious moments involving Fiona and her largely illegal staff.

One illegal immigrant who is determined to outmanoeuvre all those who stand in her way is Svetlana (Isidora Goreshter), who has taken the bar that she tricked sex partners/friends Kevin (Steve Howey) and Veronica (Shanola Hampton) into signing it over to her and changed it from The Albi to Putin’s Palace, complete with a mural depicting the shirtless Russian president/suspected Trump crony. However, refusing to be defeated, Veronica hatches a plan to take down her former wife, which not surprisingly involves ICE. Kevin, meanwhile, who continues his career as a gay-for-pay gogo dancer, faces a health scare that leads him to go in search of his roots.

Like his older sister, Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) has a knack for business. Unlike her, however, he doesn’t let something like the law stand in the way of his making a few bucks. Despite military school having installed some structure in him, along with a disdain for the elitists on the coasts, old habits die hard as he pushes the five bags of meth left to him and his sibling by Monica. As viewers recalled, Fiona decided to bury her and youngest brother Liam’s share with her dear mother. In true “Shameless” fashion, the other shoe drops for her less ethical siblings, forcing them to come crawling to Fiona, who may get the upper hand but isn’t spared from having go to great lengths along with the others to save their asses in a hilariously horrifying way.

As for Lip (Jeremy Allen White), the former scholar remains committed to staying sober, now working in the bike shop run by his sponsor Brad (Scott Michael Campbell). In order to keep his mind off the drink, Lip turns his focus to helping others, including Professor Yuens (Alan Rosenberg), the man who helped him into rehab and now himself is at rock bottom. He also lends a hand to former love Sierra (Ruby Modine), even going as far as babysitting her son while she rekindles her relationship with the boy’s father, Charlie (Chet Hanks). He’ still not entirely a saint, however, as Lip plays dirty in an attempt to discredit Charlie, leading him to experience a very un-shameless emotion – remorse.

Speaking of kids, Debbie (Emma Kenney) continues to strive the odds stacked against her as a teen mother, attending classes to become welder and working a job as a toll booth operator. She leaves much of the care of baby daughter Franny to her disabled fiance Neil (Zack Pearlman), which seems to be a recipe for disaster. Despite all the progress she has made, Deb still has a bit of a selfish streak as she allows her man and her baby take a backseat to her thriving social life with new new classmates, making the implosion of her domestic situation imminent.

One of the best storylines last season involved Ian’s (Cameron Monaghan) romance with Trevor (Elliot Fletcher), a young trans man who works tirelessly as an advocate for LGBT youth. Their romance, which involved some groundbreaking sex scenes, came to a halt after Ian temporarily ran off with his jailbird ex Mickey, but now the paramedic, who has worked hard to control his bipolar disorder, works to win back Trevor. Also, having shared a special bond with Monica due to their shared struggles, Ian, who has always been the most sensitive of the bunch, feels real grief for her, something that isolates him from his siblings, even leading to his being ridiculed.

Even the littlest Gallagher, Liam (Brenden and Brandon Sims), has a pretty shameless storyline this season. Now a student at the prestigious private school Frank got him into (one of few times the patriarch’s scheming led to something positive), he finds that his status as the school’s only African-American student makes him a valued commodity, as he is repeatedly pulled out of class to be paraded in front of the parents of prospective students in an effort to make the institution appear more diverse. It is Liam who delivers what is probably the funniest line in the premiere episode while soaking in the hot tub with his brothers: “A cracker told me today that my life matters.”

Shameless” season 8 premieres Nov. 5 at 9 p.m. and airs Sundays on Showtime.