My TV Addiction—"Shameless"

By Kelly Green 07/05/17

I can’t figure out why I need it – the hit. I have avoided my own family members at all costs, due to their struggles with substances. What has this show tapped into that I am happy to be part of?

Girl watching television
The themes of addiction and strained family relations make Shameless a powerful show, especially for those of us who know the subject matter intimately.

I have liked television shows before; I have even felt like I loved some. But until I started watching Shameless, I had felt nothing so close to an addiction to a show. I have become completely and utterly addicted to a show centered around addiction. And this is a totally new take on the subject. This isn’t a show where you’re going to find yourself with tears running down your face, aching to help or change the circumstances of the cast. This time, the addiction manages to become somewhat of a sideshow. The show is incredibly engaging, incredibly funny, and rarely sad. Anyone who has ever had an active addict in their life is not apt to describe the situation in those exact words, but I dare you not to describe Shameless similarly.

The effects of addiction in families often bleed over – rarely is only one person affected. Such is the case with the Gallaghers. Frank Gallagher, a father of six, is an active drinker (and user of other illicit substances) and an active source of destruction in the lives of his children. He obliterates their hopes for a parental figure. He smashes their expectations so deeply that they no longer have any. He is ruthless, unkind, and often cruel to his own offspring. And yet? Ask me who my favorite character is. That’s easy. FRANK! He’s so wily! He’s so funny! He’s so adventurous! He’s prone to grabbing life by the balls and commanding it to his will. He’s – dare I say it? – a kind of inspiration…in his blind pursuit of self-joy.

His children, offshoots of both his genetic makeup and a perpetually unsteady home since their birth, are caught up in their own trainwrecks. They struggle in school, in love, and in most every aspect of being alive. But while it is acknowledged that the instability the family is always surrounded by is a direct result of Frank’s addiction, no one is sitting down, begging him to change or screaming or crying. They shrug off his antics; they accept his presence even when it does nothing but take from them. 

I find myself wondering if this discourse is 'good' for us (for me?) Because it feels like it's ignoring the bigger picture – that untreated substance misuse is decimating a family. It feels like Frank isn’t being 'punished’ enough.


Pre-Shameless, my husband and I crawled into bed around 10 p.m. every night. He’d prefer to make it closer to 9 p.m. But once we started the show, I would practically shake, waiting for our baby to go to bed. We’d skip dinner or eat junk food on the couch just so we could get the TV turned on. And then we would stay up way past our desired time. 10 p.m. became a smoke signal. We went to 11. Midnight. Sometimes, 1 a.m. – on work nights. (Be it known that I wake for work around 5 a.m.)

I can’t figure out why I need it – the hit. I have avoided my own family members at all costs, due to their struggles with substances. What has this show tapped into that I am happy to be part of?

I think we’re exhausted. Collectively, as a society – of the severity that is tangled up in our stories around addiction. I think we’re tired of interventions, and punishment, and shame put on others. We must be craving the acceptance of the addiction with a type of lightheartedness, and humor. I have never liked people to mention addiction without the weight of a thousand tons on the edges of their words. I get quiet, and my eyes wide, when dealing with the subject. It can feel so heavy.

At times, the show is painful. It’s not easy to witness others really screwing up their lives. I cringe and I close my eyes during certain scenes. I think about the real-life implications of the scenarios. But we are all screwing up our lives – in different ways. Some of us do it with our romantic relationships, some with food, some with our families. Substances are just often the most obvious addiction. And this show allows us to stare it straight in the face. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for this family; there are different – and new – layers of destruction every day. Without any solid foundation, the walls of their house keep crumbling. The only thing that remains strong is the only thing that keeps any of us going, in the face of adversity – the stubborn and inherent self-love in persistence.

As for Frank’s lack of punishment; it will always tug at me. It is genuinely annoying how much some people seemingly get away with in this world. While many of us are trying our very best to be the very best version of ourselves, and exhausting ourselves in the process, we can look to our left and see others who appear to be floating high on a wave of their own shit, unaware of the tornado that knocks down everyone in their path.

But what a waste to stay focused on the punishment of another soul. We each wield our own wounds, based on our own pitfalls and those injuries we have sustained. To seek punishment for another is pointless. So let us do as the Gallagher children do. Accept – or not accept – their father, Frank, based on who he can be on a given day.

The odds are, he is not a man without shame. He has the right to bear it on his own, in whatever way he can.

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