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Every Season Of Shameless Ranked From Worst To Best

Over the entire 11-year run of "Shameless," fans became utterly invested in the saga of the Gallagher family, and it's not hard to see why. The show boasts scores of memorable characters and moments, all bolstered by a stellar main cast that featured the likes of William H. Macy, Emmy Rossum, Jeremy Allen White, Cameron Monaghan, Emma Kenney, and Ethan Cutkosky. The series — a rare American adaptation of a UK original to succeed on its own merits — had no shortage of great talent both in front of and behind the camera.

"Shameless" is a television show that truly ran the gamut in terms of episodic quality. From its first season to the last, the show saw many wild developments, including the arrival and departure of many key characters. The show largely did a fabulous job of tempering its often problematic comedy with an unyielding sense of the grim reality of rampant drug abuse and mental health struggles. However, not every season of a show can be an absolute winner. This is every season of "Shameless" ranked from worst to best. Be warned that there are spoilers ahead.

This article mentions self-harm, mental illness, and addiction.

Season 11

It's a shame that the final season of "Shameless" is far from its finest hour. It's widely considered to be the weakest season, especially since it doesn't feel like a proper finale until the last few episodes. This may be due partly to the interruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, which moved up filming dates and forced the writers to rework early episodes on short notice (via The Hollywood Reporter). Much like Season 10, this outing is rather scattered, with characters essentially spinning their wheels until the curtain call. There's very little momentum in the character arcs and few changes to speak of. Lip's central conflict in this season sees him trying his best to provide for Tami and Fred, stumbling along the way as per the norm. Debbie still can't get her life together in any meaningful way, and her main issue of the season — coping with a potential future away from her family — feels too low-stakes. Ian and Mickey's story, while still adorable, lacks any real urgency, especially with their wedding day in the rearview mirror.

The glue that holds this season together is William H. Macy, who turns in one final tremendous performance as Frank. Suffering from alcohol-induced dementia, Frank's mental decline is equal parts hilarious and legitimately heartbreaking. His final speech as he ascends to the afterlife, an echo of his introductory speech in the pilot, is a powerful scene for sure. If only the season as a whole had built up to the legitimately bittersweet ending a bit more.

Season 8

Season 8, especially when compared to earlier seasons, is remarkably mediocre. For starters, this season sees the introduction of Carl's most aggravating love interest by far, Kassidi — a clingy, self-destructive weirdo. "Shameless" is no stranger to complicated and difficult characters, but every scene with Kassidi is difficult to watch, lacking any of the cast's usual chaotic charm. 

Fiona, for once, has her life in marginally decent order after finding work managing an apartment building. Sadly, this doesn't make for the most interesting storylines. Additionally, Ian begins his Gay Jesus arc in this season, wherein he becomes a martyr of sorts for the LGBTQ movement. This was the weakest of Ian's storylines in the show by a wide margin, lacking any gritty resonance. We get a fairly entertaining scene where Ian blows up a van, but it's not enough to salvage this botched, overwrought subplot.

As for Debbie, her character slightly improves in comparison to previous seasons, becoming a welder to make ends meet. Unfortunately, this results in an accident involving her foot, which costs her three toes that Frank amputates. Sadly, Lip is far from his most interesting this season as his sobriety (mostly) keeps him out of any madcap shenanigans. Far from horrendous, Season 8's biggest sin is lacking much in the way of significant developments.

Season 10

Emmy Rossum's departure from "Shameless" was a sizable blow to the series for many loyal viewers. Fiona was the focal point of the story for most of its run, so to proceed without her seemed strange. Season 10 isn't horrendous by any means, but Rossum's exit presents significant hurdles. Without her to anchor the ongoing story, the focus of any given episode is a complete free-for-all, resulting in a season that feels disjointed and tonally inconsistent.

Every character jumps in and out of a few different plots, with few hitting the mark in terms of comedy or drama. For example, Debbie goes from buying and returning clothes to balancing relationships with a rich lesbian and her underaged daughter, neither resulting in ample laughs. One praiseworthy aspect of the season comes in the form of Ian and his boyfriend Mickey finally tying the knot. This plotline brings with it some truly hysterical moments between Ian and Mickey while also introducing Mickey's cousin Sandy. While not the bottom of the "Shameless" barrel, Season 10 truly suffered from being the first post-Fiona season — an issue Season 11 also struggled with.

Season 9

Following a mediocre eighth season, "Shameless" Season 9 definitely corrected some issues right out of the gate. Likely understanding just how grating fans found her, the writers quickly Thanos-snapped Carl's "wife" Kassidi out of existence in the season premiere. This allowed for the character of Kelly, Carl's best love interest, to get in on the show's madness and give him some much-needed direction. Additionally, Ian's boyfriend Trevor was wiped from existence, which allowed Ian to finally reunite with Mickey, to the delight of many fans. This season also saw the introduction of Tami, Lip's sanest love interest, which also (sadly) makes her the least interesting — though she and Lip do share some sweet moments. 

However, what truly makes this season a marked improvement over Season 8 is Emmy Rossum's final performance. Rossum once again throws herself into the role with gusto, perfectly portraying yet another classic Fiona downward spiral. From her desires for upward mobility taking a dive to her relationship with Ford going down the drain, Fiona struggles quite a bit. The season's strongest aspect is ultimately how it handles Fiona's eventual departure, which sees her head off to live her own life. Fiona's final goodbyes — and especially her last words with Frank — make for some truly resonant television that's hard to watch without getting teary-eyed. Season 9 is far from perfect, but deserves credit for its handling of Fiona's permanent exit from the show. 

Season 5

Season 5 is definitely a mixed bag in terms of quality — a bizarre blend of above-average and substandard writing. Debbie continues her increasingly aggravating storyline of seeking true womanhood, something she attained non-consensually back in Season 4 at the expense of her friend Matty. Debbie then one-ups herself by lying to her boyfriend Derek about being on birth control in order to get pregnant. For many fans of "Shameless," this is another black mark on Debbie's character, far removed from the loving and responsible girl she once was.

This season also sees the departure of Sheila Jackson, who steals an RV and rides off into the night. Sheila's exit signifies a departure from the relative innocence of the early "Shameless" years. Still, compared to Season 4, which was rife with emotional strife, Season 5 is a bit lighter in terms of tone. One of the more significant developments this season is that Carl gets hauled off to juvie, where he remains until the beginning of Season 6. Following the oft-lauded Season 4 was a tough task; while Season 5 doesn't quite hit that previous standard, it's still an entertaining watch overall. 

Season 6

Season 6 of "Shameless" is a definite upgrade from Season 5, giving the other Gallagher siblings a chance to go off the rails mentally and emotionally. This season sees Debbie's baby daddy Derek abandon her after being tricked into fathering her still-gestating child. Additionally, Carl emerges from juvie with a new gangster persona and a sizable 18-year-old boy named Nick serving as his muscle. Gangster Carl definitely provides some much-needed comedic relief for the season as Carl often goes to absurd lengths to "prove his Blackness."

This season also sees Lip's self-destruction reach critical mass as his educational strides and relationships all go up in smoke. Much like Rossum's portrayal of Fiona's downward spiral in Season 4, Jeremy Allen White really gets to flex his acting chops this season to masterful effect. The show's sixth year concludes with Frank opting to sabotage Fiona's wedding with Sean, revealing his drug relapse at the wedding. This results in the family — along with Kevin, Veronica, and Svetlana — tossing Frank off a bridge into the waters below. It's far from the best season of "Shameless," but this outing still provides plenty of the show's standard anarchy and satisfying drama.

Season 7

This season is largely predicated upon picking up the various pieces broken by the chaotic Season 6 conclusion. Fiona looks to restore peace after her disastrous wedding with Sean and seeks upward mobility by becoming a business owner. At the same time, Lip struggles with his sobriety while attempting to get back into college following his Season 6 expulsion. This season also sees the introduction of Trevor, yet another attempt to give Ian a love interest who isn't Mickey.

This season truly picks up steam when Monica returns to make something resembling amends with her family. The reason for this is revealed to be Monica suffering from irreparable brain damage due to her rampant drug use. Before the season's conclusion, Monica eventually dies from an aneurysm, once again leaving the family, and especially Frank, in shambles. The scene where Fiona and Frank argue following Monica's death still stands as one of the show's most powerful moments. In a rarity, the season concludes with many of the Gallgagher siblings — Debbie and Carl included — getting their lives together. Despite a few flaws, Season 7 boasts some of the most powerful moments in all of "Shameless."

Season 2

Season 2 is when "Shameless" started upping the ante in terms of testing its audience's squeamishness and emotional thresholds. With the Gallagher family and their various affiliations already established, Season 2 has the time to branch out its storytelling. This season sees Fiona and Steve's relationship go through some serious hurdles as a result of Steve's various criminal affiliations. Additionally, both Frank's mother and ex-wife Monica resurface, bringing with them lots of chaos in their respective wakes. Topping things off is Lip's storyline, which sees him dealing with his on-again, off-again girlfriend Karen's pregnancy.

Where this season truly becomes unforgettable is during Monica's return to the main plot and her subsequent actions. Not only does she spend the family's emergency fund on various gifts, but she also attempts suicide on Thanksgiving in one of the more shocking moments in "Shameless," which is really saying something. Season 2 is definitely a sizable transitional period (the first of many), setting up many threads for the following season. While not as strong as "Shameless" Season 1, the show's second year is still a high water mark in terms of writing quality.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Season 3

Going into its third year, "Shameless" had become an established prime-time television fixture. Season 3 pays off on many of the plot threads that Season 2 set in motion, most notably Jimmy's criminal record. Additionally, this season sees the permanent end of Lip's relationship with the consistently problematic Karen — a relationship strained to its breaking point by his burgeoning affection for Mandy Milkovich. Speaking of Milkoviches, Mickey and Ian's relationship certainly goes through the wringer during this season, with Mickey's homophobic father discovering his son's sexuality and forcing him to impregnate and marry a Russian prostitute named Svetlana, much to Ian's dismay.

Season 3 is packed to the gills with some truly stellar scenes, both in terms of comedy and drama. One of the more resonant moments arrives in the season finale, when Frank vomits up blood following a graduation celebration with Lip. While recovering in the hospital, Frank is informed that his liver is failing due to his years of alcohol abuse. Fiona and Frank's talk regarding his health and inability to change still stands as one of the best scenes performed by Macy and Rossum. Season 3's dark turn only serves as only a precursor for the harsher tone of the show's impending fourth season.

Season 1

The first season of "Shameless" is so fascinating to go back and rewatch, especially a decade-plus down the line. It's here we're first introduced to the Gallagher clan, as well as their neighbors Kevin and Veronica. The inciting incident of Season 1 sees Fiona cross paths with a charming car thief named Steve AKA Jimmy. Their budding relationship serves as the foundation for the season, which also sees many characters begin their respective arcs, like Ian, who deals with the hurdles of being in the closet while sleeping with a married older man. Seeing as how this was early in the show's run, characters like Debbie, Carl, and especially Liam seem innocent in comparison to later seasons.

Season 1 does a great job establishing the family's financial struggles, which are not in any way helped by their patriarch Frank and his excessive drinking. The first season also has a more kinetic, youthful style, with lots of hyperactive editing and freeze-frames. This inaugural season does a stellar job of setting the stage for future seasons by leavening its drama with comedy. Not every show sticks the landing in its first year, but "Shameless" most certainly did. 

Season 4

"Shameless" Season 4 is truly the show's finest hour and an example of everything firing on all the right cylinders. The season begins with the Gallagher ship sailing relatively smoothly due in no small part to Fiona's job at World Wide Cup. At the same time, Lip begins to buckle under the weight of academia, as he's no longer a big fish in a small intellectual pond. Meanwhile, Debbie and Carl deal with the awkward pitfalls of puberty, and Ian is still AWOL following his illegal enlistment in Season 3. Last and certainly not least is Frank, who's still dealing with his failing liver diagnosis, trying anything and everything (aside from quitting drinking) to fix it.

Where this season truly shines is in its portrayal of Fiona's downward spiral partway through. After cheating on her boyfriend Mike with his drug-addicted brother, Fiona's life begins to quickly unravel. This culminates in Fiona's arrest and Liam overdosing on a stash of cocaine that Fiona brought home. Emmy Rossum's portrayal of Fiona's growing instability is a true tour de force of acting. By the time the season concludes, you're begging for things to work out for her and the entire family. It's dramatic storytelling at its finest.