Shameless, ‘South Side Rules’ review: Little touch of bourbon

“I can’t offer you much. But what I can do is be your chauffeur on the limousine drive to the Pearly Gates.” 

This fifth season could never win because it came on the heels of what will be the landmark stretch of Shameless in that fourth season. After Frank proclaimed himself alive to God in ‘Lazarus,’ there was nothing else to do.

And us viewers were spent anyway and couldn’t have stomached much more—a good coincidence, it turns out, for this fifth season had not much to offer early on.

So we sat on the porch, sipping on this flask of vodka, and waited for this wonderful show to recapture some of its magic. Boy, does it ever!

In ‘South Side Rules,’ showrunner John Wells gets viewers to stand up because Shameless, this show we’ve loved so much so often, is back. And we’re still enamored. He manages this by reminding us that there’s always a battle in this universe.

But of course, the battles too are in the eyes of the beholder—where one family member sees you giving up against chemotherapy, you see as a battle for your dignity and not a lost cause. Dr. Bianca (played by Bojana Novakovic) decides to confront her cancer the only way she can, and that’s with a swig of vodka.

Oh, it’s far from the way she knows, but she has just the right guide for getting over that “bloated irony” in the person/homeless man Frank Gallagher (played by William H. Macy).

Frank was adorable, admirable even, in last week’s ‘Carl First Sentencing‘ but we weren’t convinced if there might not have been ulterior motives behind Frank’s sudden fascination with Bianca. But after this episode? We are considering saying that Mr. Gallagher might have legitimately developed a crush on his once would-be doctor. Does it help that her odds of survival are so low? Absolutely. Is it because she does not want a man to tell her he loves her so much? You bet it is.

But if Frank indeed is prepared to somewhat become a more upstanding citizen, then we will cautiously say that we are cheering for him. (His place as the monster and the leech of the Gallagher clan has been replaced by now, but more on Sammi in a minute.) 

A trio of Gallagher siblings is battling inner demons as well. For one, Lip Gallagher (played by Jeremy Allen White) is falling victim to his greatest fault of all, his gift for self-sabotage. While the jury remains out on whether the real world does or does not pick you up, it certainly does so in the Shamelessuniverse.

The gifts are at Lip’s feet, but he’s still young and should have no problem picking them up. He timidly does so, first by ditching his not-girlfriend Amanda and then by burning the ice cream truck and his bridge with Kevin Ball (played by Steve Howey). (This slight, in turn, forces Kev’ to head home and sleep in the same bed as his wife so maybe it is good that it happens.)

Debbie Gallagher (played by Emma Kenney) battles the inner demons of love and longing for a sense of family and purpose. While it’s a delight to see her find said love, we’re actively hoping that she and Derek dodge that magic bullet. (Hey, maybe he shoots a blank one for this first time!) Because, Debbie, you don’t need to grow up this quickly.

Fiona Gallagher (played by Emmy Rossum) also has to decide what, or who, she wants out of life. Because she sure seems eager to want to speak to Gus… right until the moment she does not and instead has decided to help Sean (played by Dermot Mulroney) despite Sean telling her in very clear terms that he is fine.

Once Sean’s son leaves for Pittsburgh, he confronts Fiona with a sharp and cutting observation—namely, that she needs to stop focusing on others so much and instead to focus on herself. Because she too has problems. Just because she cares and worries about Sean and looks over him for that reason, well all of that doesn’t mean that he isn’t right and that she is not avoiding her own problems all along.

Mickey Milkovich (played by Noel Fisher) and Ian Gallagher (played by Cameron Monaghan) decide to stop fighting against pills and each other over what is right and good for the latter of the two. Instead, they fight each other in a battle that’s as much against one another as it is for one another. When they stop throwing punches, they start loving each other again and, for a fleeting moment, they’re happy again. (If very inebriated, yes.)

They don’t know it then, but they’re just about set to fight their biggest battle yet. All only because Sammi Gallagher (played by Emily Bergl) is the absolute worst.

I only take solace in the fact that locking away Ian still won’t bring back Sammi’s Chuckie. And thus, Sammi will remain miserable.