Character Rehab: Frank Gallagher on 'Shameless'
Here at EW, we have a weekly series in which we — and readers — weigh in on ways to rehab much-maligned characters on some of our favorite shows.
Frank Gallagher is a shameless bastard. (Pun intended.) He always has been, and that’s why Shameless viewers love him, hate him, and love to hate him. But what makes this drunken vagrant of a father to Fiona, Lip, Ian, Debbie, Carl, and Liam Gallagher such an interesting character to watch is also one of the show’s biggest problems. The Showtime dramedy, so far, has shown three seasons of the impish William H. Macy manipulate, scheme, and use anyone and anything to serve his own purposes, which mainly consists of drinking, ingesting drugs, and having sex.
With season 4’s premiere on Jan. 12, another 12 episodes of Macy acting drunk, self-serving, and occasionally funny will be repetitive and dull. By now, we get who Frank is and how he operates. So what else is there? Although Frank is due for a visit to an actual rehab, he can also use a character rehab to make him more complex and compelling. Before Showtime’s dysfunctional family dramedy returns early next year, here are four fixes to make the Gallagher patriarch a more dynamic — and watchable — character.
1. Cut out Frank’s pointless shenanigans. Shenanigan might as well be Frank’s middle name, so he should still get himself into heaps of sticky situations. But the conflicts and problems Frank finds himself in should relate to the overall direction of the season’s plot. Picking bar fights just for a bar fight’s sake is not the same as picking a bar fight with Lip that results in further damaging their shaky relationship. Hitting the same note of “Frank is a mess! Look what he did now!” over and over again with no emotional stakes for other characters just isn’t going to cut it anymore.
2. Make Frank actually sober for an extended period of time. Last season, Frank learned that his body is deteriorating due to his epic abuse of “substances” that has so far defined his life. He has feigned attempts at sobriety in the past either due to a court order or in order to freeload on a sponsor. But what if Frank actually tried to sober up for real? What does a sober Frank look like? It can be interesting to explore whether Frank minus alcohol and drugs can be a good guy or if he’s still a bastard. A sober Frank would throw a wrench in his family’s view of him, especially Fiona. If Frank is sober, then Fiona may feel threatened that he’ll try to take her younger siblings away from her, only to disappoint them again when he inevitably returns to his debauched ways.
3. Force Frank to finally confront his demons. For the drunken, happy-go-lucky persona Frank puts on, no one can go through what he’s gone through and not have serious issues. So far, we’ve seen Frank’s mother, Peg, who was formidable at best and downright scary at worst, and had a glimpse at his brothers. Why is Frank the way he is? Is Frank happy with the life he’s led? Does he care? Shameless has yet to dig deep into the fertile ground possible in a storyline involving Frank confronting his own feelings about his happiness, emotional needs, and legacy.
4. Don’t be afraid to let Frank die. Doctors made clear at the end of last season that if Frank continued to drink, he will die. Fiona even told him she wished he was dead so that he couldn’t hurt his kids with all his unfulfilled promises and inconsistent presence. What if he actually did die? He wouldn’t be there to cause more harm, but then he wouldn’t be there for the Gallagher kids to blame anymore either. Whereas Carl and Debbie would mourn his death, it’s unclear how Ian, Lip, and especially Fiona would react. Would they be sad? Relieved? Both? Frank’s death (though sadly marking the end of Macy’s excellent performance) is rich with narrative possibilities for a show that may not have as long a history as its British predecessor.