Why is Shameless Still Considered a Comedy?

Episode 404

Shameless is one of the best shows on television right now. There, I said it. Despite never getting the biggest numbers, the overwhelming critical acclaim or the awards recognition it deserves, Showtime’s remake of that British show about working class folk making mistakes and showing themselves up has been quietly and stalwartly working away in the background, getting better and better every year.

Yet it’s rarely recognized for this, and its switch from drama to comedy for this year’s Emmy submissions went some way towards explaining why. For some reason, despite it being one of the darkest and most challenging series airing right now, someone decided that it deserved to be judged next to sitcoms and half-hour HBO dramedys come Emmys time.

Once a dramedy in the purest sense, season four of Shameless upped the drama in a way that pretty much removed any trace of frivolity and humor from the show. It really works since, with no one but the hardcore fans paying attention anyway, they already have their audience on board to follow these characters anywhere. And their cast are notoriously amazing, with Emmy Rossum, Jeremy Allen White and Noel Fisher deserving particular shout-outs (though pretty much everyone is stellar every week).

A huge part of the problem is the Emmys themselves, which have proven time and time again that they’re not interested in rewarding new talent. Joan Cusack has been nominated three times for her role on the show and William H. Macy got a nod in 2014, yet the younger cast slip by unnoticed each and every year.

The show also gets ignored, along with its writers and directors which, for anyone who has been watching, is a complete travesty. It’s a problem with the system, that’s only been exacerbated by the strange decision to submit the show as a comedy for awards.

A show that features the main character accidentally leaving cocaine out for her baby brother – for whom she is legal guardian, along with the rest of the Gallagher clan – to snort, possibly leaving him brain damaged, should not be in the comedy category.

It has been more comedic in the past, sure, but so was Breaking Bad. No one has a problem recognizing that show as a drama because of how it developed and how it ultimately ended, but not enough people are watching Shameless to see how much it has evolved since its premiere.

Even the advertising for the show has a role to play, since William H. Macy’s Frank is invariably held up as the star of the show, despite being relegated to the background since the beginning. Macy’s performance is often remarkable, of course, and his Emmy nomination this year was completely deserved, but he should never be the thing used to sell Shameless to the uninitiated.

Fiona is the protagonist – the anchor around which the chaos that characterizes each hour of the show revolves around – and Rossum is wonderful.

Challenge someone to watch a single episode of seasons three or four, and ask where it should live. Shameless is ridiculous, over-the-top and often hilarious in the blackest of ways, but the perception of it carried over from how the show started – and possibly from the much more comedic British version, which ran for years – is hurting the show more than its helping.

Shameless is one of the best shows on television, but people’s perception of it needs to change if it’s ever going to get the attention and awards recognition it has deserved since day one.