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Shameless' Showrunner Felt It Was Important To Incorporate COVID-19 In The Final Season

The Showtime hit "Shameless" spent 11 seasons following South Side Chicagoan Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy) and the effects his alcoholism had on those around him, particularly his six children. Macy earned six Emmy nominations for outstanding lead actor for playing the difficult yet endearing Frank, and the gritty dramedy sometimes pulled back the curtain on its fictional universe to give a peek into real-world events and how they affected ordinary folks just trying to survive day-to-day.

In Season 11, the legalization of cannabis in Illinois gives bar owners Kevin and Veronica (Steve Howey and Shanola Hampton) a chance to make up for their COVID-induced bar closure. At first, they grow the plant in the basement of The Alibi Room, and later they sell joints and cannabis-infused food products in the bar itself. But that was far from the only way that the devastating pandemic affected the scripting and production of the final season of "Shameless." In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, showrunner John Wells shared just how deeply COVID-19 affected the popular series as it wound to a close and why he chose to incorporate it so thoroughly into the final season's plotlines. 

Shameless' final season had to be rewritten due to the pandemic

Lesley Goldberg of The Hollywood Reporter wrote that half of the 11th season had already been written when — just before filming began –the outbreak of COVID-19 halted television and movie production worldwide early in 2020. "We were three days away from shooting when everything went to hell in March," said showrunner John Wells. "We rewrote the entire season over Zoom. To be honest, I haven't written the finale yet because ... we thought it was important that 'Shameless' deal with the issues of the pandemic and the economic and health consequences for a community like' Shameless' takes place in." While none of the Gallaghers ended up contracting the sometimes devastating virus, the effects of the pandemic became an essential force that drove storylines throughout the final season of "Shameless."

"We rewrote all of the first six or seven episodes, all of which were already written," Wells said. "We try and make it as specific to the time when we're shooting it, even though we know we are going to be a couple of months off. But the impacts on all of us — particularly on working-class and poor communities — have been significant and we're trying to deal with those issues in a satirical way but also taking an honest, dry-eyed look at what has actually happened to these communities and specifically to our characters." 

The pandemic would end up outlasting the series by more than a year, and the lingering health and economic consequences will undoubtedly impact real working-class families like the Gallaghers for years to come. And while "Shameless" wasn't the only show to be disrupted by the pandemic, the seamless way it incorporated the real-world effects of the virus on working-class Americans was in perfect line with the messages and themes that it carried through its 134 episodes.