‘Shameless’ Returns for Season 9 With the Gallaghers in Full Dysfunction

Now entering its ninth season, Showtime’s “Shameless” functions like a shaggy family album. For fans of the show the season also comes with a sense of incoming change as Emmy Rossum prepares to leave at the end of this current lap. It’s not a completely surprising development. By now “Shameless” has developed a specific rhythm. The humor is still strong and the twists hilarious, but in a recognizable style pleasing for the fans. Still, if this is your first glimpse of the Gallagher family, it won’t be anything less than rowdy.

The Gallaghers are all still swirling in their own personal dramas and mayhem. Fiona (Rossum) is trying to secure money to bail out Ian (Cameron Monaghan) from prison. Ian is still in his messianic, “gay Jesus” mode, even organizing a strike of inmate sex providers. Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) is over at military school, turning into quite the barking commando, but he’s also being stalked by a crazed Kassidi (Sammi Hanratty), who chants and does pep cheers near the base fence. Lip (Jeremy Allen White) is still taking care of Xan (Amira Johnson) and finds himself hooking up with a tall, interesting woman named Tami (Kate Miner) at a wedding. But is he ready to get over some of his setbacks and ask her out on an actual date? The head of the clan meanwhile, Frank (William H. Macy), has a new crisis to deal with when a PTA meeting results in every married couple in town realizing Frank has left them with STDs.

This season of “Shameless” signals that the show has firmly settled as a series of portraits. We’re playing catch up with every character as they grow little but find new trouble to get into. The only storyline that feels as if it is actually moving along is that of Fiona, who spends most of the season premiere debating with herself over bailing out Ian, while snooping around the phone of her boyfriend Ford (Richard Flood). Is he cheating? Who knows? Maybe she’s just feeling the stress of the rest of the family not fully supporting her in getting$50,000 to bail out a guy who has transformed into an odd, religious fanatic who carried out a firebombing, among other incidents. Once Rossum leaves this show much of its charm will leave with her, because she is also a center of maturity amid a sea of rambunctious personalities. The storyline involving Lip and Tami, if it goes anywhere, also has some more meat to it. He goes to the hair salon where she works, asks her out in a very casual way and she unloads on him a brutal roundhouse kick to the ego. She tears down the way he has sex and leaves him slightly shell shocked. This is a show with a sense of dark humor that dares us to laugh at some brutal behavior, but it works because the acting is so good.

The other storylines feel as if the show is simply delivering what we expect, now daring to go anywhere too new. Carl at the military academy has some goofy moments of real hilarity, especially when Kassidi in cheerleader gear jumps up and down a trampoline while chanting a horny pep call. But where is it going? The same question can most certainly be asked of Frank’s own storyline. The PTA meeting where all the neighborhood parents realize the wives have all passed through Frank’s bed is written with some wicked verve, watch for Frank transforming himself into a virtual marriage counselor on the spot. But this character seems stuck on this loop, never going anywhere else. However Macy remains brilliant in the role, turning a not entirely likeable persona into a romping mess. The smaller side characters are just there, trying to get by, like Liam (Christian Isaiah), who Frank gets to try and pawn off silverware at school to get some extra cash in. Debbie (Emma Kenney) is still busting her chops at a construction site, putting on diapers to intimate the foreman and everyone else when it comes to avoiding the gross portable toilets.

There’s always something alluring and endearing about TV dysfunctional families. Their quirks and slips are more relatable than picture perfect, nuclear moms and dads. “Shameless” still retains its sense of family drama mixed with a rugged mess, but after Rossum departs and with few real shifts in the story, how inviting this clan will be remains to be seen.

Shameless” season nine premieres Sept. 9 at 9 p.m. ET and airs Sundays on Showtime.