Shameless boss on what to expect in final season, and whether Emmy Rossum will return
After 11 years of hilarious debauchery, Shameless is returning on Sunday for the final season of Showtime's hit series.
To catch you up on the Gallaghers, here is where we last left them: Fan favorite couple Ian (Cameron Monaghan) and Mickey (Noel Fisher) tied the knot, Kev (Steve Howey) and V (Shanola Hampton) finally got engaged, the cops are looking to arrest Debbie (Emma Kenney), Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) is hoping to become a cop, and Lip (Jeremy Allen White) fell off the wagon after a fight with Tami (Kate Miner) over his refusal to move to Milwaukee.
Ahead of Shameless' final season debut, EW chatted with showrunner John Wells about rewriting the entire season due to the pandemic, addressing the big issues of 2020, and whether Emmy Rossum will return as Fiona.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How far along were you writing the final season when the pandemic hit? I feel like you guys were prepping to start shooting, right?
JOHN WELLS: We were three days away from starting shooting. I was supposed to direct the first one, and we were supposed to start that next Monday when everything shut down on that Thursday. We had written through about seven or eight episodes, so we continued in the writer’s room on Zoom for several more months. Like everyone else, we assumed it was going to be a few weeks that we shutdown originally, and then it ended up being five months. So we rewrote everything from the beginning. We felt that on Shameless, because we see the show as a raucous comedy that also is a satire, we’re trying to satirize what is going on in the country all the time, so it seemed essential for us to address what was going on for communities all over the country that were bearing the brunt of the financial consequences of what was happening. We eventually had to start shooting, so we picked a moment in time and we continued to write to what is going on, as best we can knowing full well that we’ll be several months out of sync by the time it airs.
There has been a big debate over whether shows should be incorporating things like the pandemic into story lines. For example, I just was talking to my dad about this, and he's someone on the side of saying he turns to TV for entertainment and to escape what's going on in the world. I totally get that and agree that not every show should do this, but Shameless is one that I was very interested in seeing how you handled it, just because of your history with social commentary. Was there ever any debate over whether to incorporate everything going on in 2020, or did it feel like a no-brainer?
[Laughs] Never any debate about it. I have four shows that are in production right now, Shameless being one of them, and Shameless is the only show that we actually felt it was important and in the best interest of what the audience would want to deal with the pandemic. Animal Kingdom we’re not dealing with it at all or in the pilot we’re doing for HBO Max. Shameless lives on being topical, and to not deal with it and to not deal with the impact of it on this community would be wrong. So I’m with your dad; there are sometimes where I think it’s the right thing to do and sometimes where I think it’s not, but Shameless felt like one of the shows that really required it.
I’ve seen the first episode and the pandemic definitely plays a big role, but another 2020 element that I was curious if you’d be tackling was the Black Lives Matter movement and what happened in the aftermath of George Floyd's death. The last few seasons have featured Liam (Christian Isaiah) trying to understand what it means to be Black and stepping outside the Gallagher house to find role models who look like him. Will there be more of that for him, and will you dive into some of the BLM movement?
Yes. It’s a central issue and a central issue in communities like where we are on the South Side of Chicago. Nationally, it’s an essential conversation, and particularly important to deal with in communities like the South Side. So, yeah, absolutely, it continues to come up and it’s part of what is happening with Liam and Veronica.We just touched on Liam, but I wanted to run through all of the main characters and see if you could give me a bit of what to expect for each of them? Sound good?
We just touched on Liam, but I wanted to run through all of the main characters and get a bit on what is coming for each of them in this final season. Let's start with newlyweds Ian and Mickey.
The Gallaviches! Now they have to figure out how to be married. It’s one thing to get married and a whole other thing to be married. And it’s an issue. We have several writers involved with the show who are in similar situations in their lives, with same sex marriages, should they be married. People who are gay who get married face exactly the same challenges that everyone else does, which is, what does that actually mean now? Who are we? Did we actually talk about all of the things we should have talked about before we get married? So that’s a big part of what’s happening with Ian and Mickey. Where do they belong? How are they actually going to be a married couple now that they’re a married couple? And what does marriage mean? It’s a great way to explore it, because it’s been explored so many times in so many ways, and yet to get to be able to do it was a same sex couple gives you all different type of new ways to tell those stories.
What's up with Lip? The end of last season was busy for him, between falling off the wagon and getting a house without telling Tami.
We’re really using Lip and Tami to explore how hard the financial implications for working-class people have been during the pandemic, and how that impacts their relationship and their hopes, and how much it sets them back. One of the things that I think is going to be explored in great depths once we come out the other side of this is just how far down the ladder did we knock millions of working-class people, and the economic consequences of the pandemic. Lip and Tami are both having a really hard time, because their jobs and financial security is being undermined, so we’re spending a lot of time talking about that. And it’s a comedy, so we’re trying to find ways to make it funny. We’re dealing with some healthcare issues that they have to deal with within their families. They didn’t have much in the bank to begin with, and now how are you going to recover? One of the well-publicized statistics that was talked about a lot last year was that 40 percent of Americans don’t have $400 in the bank to cover any unexpected crisis. That definitely applies to Lip and Tami.
Debbie followed in the Gallagher tradition of being a criminal, as she was last seen running from the cops after sleeping with the underaged Julia. Where do we find here now?
She’s got an ankle bracelet on, and she’s also really struggling to have to figure out, who am I going to be? The overarching thing that we’re trying to deal with is, when you’ve had a really tight family that has difficulty together and has survived together and you’re dependent upon each other to survive, what happens when you become adults? How do you move away from each other and have your own relationships? How do you carve out your own life, and yet continue to look out for each other? Of everyone, she’s having the most difficulty with the fact that they’ve all grown up and they’re all going to have to start going their own separate ways in their other relationships. So that’s a big part of what she’s dealing with. She would be happy if they all just stayed in that house and nothing ever changed. [Laughs] And there’s always one sibling who has that opinion, like, “Why does this have to change? This works for me. It may not work for everyone else, but it works for me.”
On the other side of the law, Carl’s big pursuit of late has been to become a cop. How is that going?
This is one of the places where we’ve really been trying to deal with and find the kinetic way to deal with what the problems are with policing in the United States. And so we’re trying to use Carl to do that. It’s tied into the Black Lives Matter conversation, the defunding the police conversations. What should police be doing, who should they be on the streets, and what responsibilities do they have? All of that sounds really serious but it’s actually really funny [on the show]. Because we have to laugh about it so we can have a real conversation about what policing has become and how we need the police; nobody really wants there to be no real police, but what should policing be? And that is what Carl is trying to figure out.
You mentioned V earlier, but what else will be happening with her and Kev? They previously expanded The Alibi to include a gym.
If you close down small businesses, like bars, over and over again, small businesses that struggle to pay the bills as is, but are important vital parts to the community, what happens to those people who have tried to maintain that small business? We’re trying to use Kev and V to show how everything that is going on is ultimately impacting small business owners and people who are just trying to hang on. Again, sounds really serious, but it’s actually pretty funny. But we’re trying to get at the point of, without some real governmental support, a huge number of these businesses are going to disappear.
And Frank is still Frank. Should we expect that to continue?
Eventually you have the pay the piper for a lifetime of the kind of behavior and abuse that Frank’s been doing. So that is where it’s heading. What cost does Frank ultimately have to pay for all of these years of abuse?
I feel like it’s almost required for anytime I talk to you to ask about Emmy returning as Fiona, and now especially so as we approach the end. When we spoke for the season 10 finale, you said you would ask her, while also noting how busy she is. Obviously a lot has changed in the world since then, and it’s not as easy as just showing up for a day of filming. Have you talked with Emmy about returning, and what can you say about the possibility of seeing Fiona again?
Yeah, sadly, I’m not being coy at all. Emmy is doing Angelyne, a show for Peacock, and they had to shut down in the middle of it and they’re not sure when they’re going to go back. She and I have talked, and I think she would like to come back for a brief something. Whether or not that will be possible given what our shooting schedule is and what her shooting schedule is and where she’s going to be in the country, I have no idea. Again, not trying to be clever about it or anything. It will be based on circumstances when we’re ready to shoot, whether or not she’d be able to. But would love her to, I think she would like to, not sure it will be possible.
Wrapping up, what can you say fans overall should expect as we prepare to say goodbye to the Gallaghers?
A bit of what I already intimated, which is it’s going to be the show that you’ve seen in the past and if you liked it then you’re going to continue to like what we’re doing. We’re not pulling any punches on what’s going on in the country and how difficult it is for people in these financial circumstances, and how things have only gotten worse. But this is a family and a group of people who love each other and who survive by depending upon each other, which is a wonderful thing. So it’s going to be more of that, and we hope that everyone who has invested so much in these characters over the years will be pleased with where it ends up.
Shameless returns to Showtime on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET.