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The 7 Best And 7 Worst Episodes Of Shameless

In 2011, John Wells brought us the beautiful mess that is "Shameless," reimagining Paul Abbott's British series of the same name for an American audience and swapping out the fictional Chatsworth in Manchester for the South Side of Chicago. From there, we enjoyed more than a decade's worth of stories with this colorful, dysfunctional, and often self-destructive Irish-American working-class family — and for that, we'll always be thankful. A unique blend of raucous comedy and hard-hitting drama, this show explores everything from systemic class issues to mental health struggles to the ways in which addiction and substance abuse can impact familial bonds. Throughout the series, we watch tragedy tear the Gallaghers apart and then bring them back together. As Cameron Monaghan (now of "Gotham" fame) says in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, while at times absurd, "Shameless" offers "real-world commentary on what it means to be a person." 

Of course, "Shameless" is at its peak when offering layered, character-focused storylines. According to IMDb's sorted list, though, it's at its worst during the last two seasons of the show, when it veers too far into the absurd and tries to cover too much narrative ground at the expense of the drama, character development, and substance. (Obviously, the absence of Emmy Rossum's Fiona doesn't help matters.)

And so, using IMDb as our guide, we present you with the very worst — and the very best — of "Shameless."

Best: Just Like the Pilgrims Intended (Season 2, Episode 11)

In "Just Like the Pilgrims Intended," the second season's penultimate episode, Thanksgiving in the South Side comes amid relationship chaos, familial strife, and flaring mental illness for the Gallaghers. An unmedicated Monica has spiraled into a deep depression and no one seems to be able to coax her out of bed. As Monica grows more listless, and as Frank tries to help in his own reckless ways, Fiona continues to demand that Jimmy/Steve kick Lip out of his apartment. Lip, who's making a "Tools to Survive" video in preparation for the birth of the baby he believes to be his and Karen's soon-to-be adopted son, tries to settle into a relationship with Mandy. Meanwhile, Jimmy faces Marco's wrath, and Ian enjoys his first evening of pleasure with older businessman Ned. But most of that drama — and holiday joy — is soon drowned out when Monica's struggles drive her to make a devastating mid–holiday-feast decision.

Rated around a 9 on IMDb, this "Shameless" episode is "the most emotional...of the series...The dichotomy between the show's heartlessness and compassion ris[ing] to a peak befitting a season-ending episode," per Paste Magazine's Tim Basham. With CBR's Samantha McPhee classifying the installment as one that broke our hearts, and one Redditor commenting on how this has to be "The darkest [T]hanksgiving [they] have ever seen," we'd say this narrative resonates because it's a compelling blend of outrageous comedy and raw, visceral tragedy.

Worst: Sleep Well My Prince for Tomorrow You Shall Be King (Season 10, Episode 2)

The A.V. Club's Myles McNutt has some harsh criticisms for "Sleep Well My Prince for Tomorrow You Shall Be King," which is currently rated below 7.5 on IMDb. He laments the lack of depth, the flat humor, and the aimless storytelling that does little to advance character growth or spur on important narrative arcs. Defining the show as more of a comedic drama than a dramatic (or outrageous) comedy, with "its best storylines...organized around the very real stakes of a family living in poverty," McNutt goes on to suggest that "Shameless" has lost its heart at the start of its 10th season.

Den of Geeks' Daniel Kurland, though, has a different take, believing that, while some of the plots do feel a bit muddled and convoluted, Ian and Mickey — and the fact that "[t]his season starts to paint a bigger picture of identity and gender in America" — do a lot to make up for that. And it's worth noting that the two most significant arcs here involve the return of Gallavich (and the challenges Ian and Mickey face in keeping their love story alive behind bars) and the struggles Lip ("The Bear'sJeremy Allen White) faces as a brand-new parent caring for his infant son.

Still, without Fiona, and with the focus on absurdity over substance, this entry gave eager viewers little hope that "Shameless" would manage to rekindle its magic before the series finale.

Best: Survival of the Fittest (Season 3, Episode 12)

In "Survival of the Fittest," which hovers around a 9 on IMDb, a lifetime of excessive drinking finally catches up to Frank. Undeterred by the doctor's warnings regarding renal failure and a damaged liver, he engages in a day of drinking with Lip in celebration of his eldest son's high school graduation.

Of course, it's not long before Frank's right back in the hospital, with Fiona begging him to stop — if not for his kids, then at least for himself. As the alcoholic Frank continues to deny the reality of his situation, Sheila (Joan Cusack) bids a bittersweet farewell to Jody, Hymie, and Karen; Fiona panics when she can't get ahold of a missing Jimmy; and a heartbroken Ian uses Lip's ID to enlist in the army after Mickey marries Svetlana. While he lies to his family and claims he's going to an ROTC retreat, Ian does say goodbye to Mandy and to a quietly devastated Mickey.

The A.V. Club's Joshua Alston commends the story, saying it's "the finest finale 'Shameless' has ever delivered, closing some loops while leaving others open in interesting ways and providing well-earned character moments." Uproxx's Alan Sepinwall seems to agree, describing the narrative as "extremely heartfelt in places...raucous and disgusting in others...and just emotionally complicated throughout." In the case of Frank, the episode also highlights how difficult true change can actually be — even, perhaps even especially, when it's necessary and potentially life-saving.

Worst: Slaughter (Season 11, Episode 5)

Currently hovering around a 7 on IMDb, "Slaughter" is another disappointing episode of "Shameless" — one that comes during an already disappointing final season. Critics like The A.V. Club's Myles McNutt express frustration over the entry's insistence on "quick thrills, loose logic, and filling time," and it's easy to see why. Basically, the stretched-out narratives — and the lean toward more absurdity and more chaos — defuse the once-compelling drama and flatten out the once-emotionally-layered characters. Other viewers aren't much kinder. One IMDb reviewer even calls "Slaughter" the equivalent of trash, claiming that the series jumped the shark in this storyline — and that it's even worse than the ridiculous "Happy Days" scene that coined the term (via The Guardian).

Here, after their landlord decides to sell their rental right out from under them, a blindsided Lip and Tami find themselves forced into a frustrating housing market where few properties are available and even fewer are affordable. Worse, the one house they can afford, dubbed the "Slaughter House," has a dark and bloody past that Lip would love to keep secret from Tami. Meanwhile, V has an upsetting epiphany about just how gentrified the South Side's become, and Kevin and Frank join forces in an effort to push the Milkoviches out of the neighborhood — but Kev may not be up for the task.

Best: Crazy Love (Season 5, Episode 6)

According to The Young Folks' Allyson Johnson, "Crazy Love," which currently hovers around a 9 on IMDb, "is the epitome of 'Shameless' on its A-game." In this mid-Season 5 episode, the recently wed Fiona has a violent reaction to the long-lost Jimmy showing up at Patsy's Diner. Initially unimpressed with his tale of forced slave labor at a cocoa processing facility in the Brazilian rain forest, she eventually feels moved by his return. Despite her new marital commitment, the two sleep together, spurring deep regret on Fiona's part — and deep frustration from the other Gallaghers. In addition, Kev and V deal with their own baby-induced relationship strife, everyone ignores a sick and unconscious Frank, and half-sister Sammi seizes control of the Gallagher household, demanding payment for food and setting a curfew for the crew.

Most significant, though: After years of hints regarding Ian's fragile mental state, he finally suffers a psychotic break — and we watch the heartbreaking series of events that follow, in which he runs away from Mickey (and from Chicago) with baby Yevgeny in tow.

As Smash Cut's Michael Wampler says, "this episode is packed with emotional gut punches, and is just astounding on a scene-by-scene basis," and we wholeheartedly agree. From Fiona's infidelity to Ian's terrifying spiral into manic depression, the episode offers a painfully urgent narrative, boasting hard-hitting drama, layered characters, and impressive emotional depth under its veneer of outrageous comedy.

Worst: This Is Chicago (Season 11, Episode 1)

With a current rating of around a 7 on IMDb, "This Is Chicago" features thin, jumbled plots. Worse, it features the stifling presence of COVID-19. Considering that we're — in 2022 — still in the midst of this pandemic (via Reuters), we'd call the decision to incorporate it into the show's fictional setting questionable. Arguably, the writers don't yet have the kind of distance or understanding necessary for substantive COVID-related storytelling because we're still experiencing the impact of this real-world event. The result, at least for "Shameless," is a lack of emotional and critical depth. It's a noticeable loss exacerbated by the sheer number of narrative arcs the episode tries to juggle (via Den of Geeks).

For the most part, this entry fixates on our characters' pandemic-fueled financial struggles. Kev and V, in response to the city shutting down the bars, resort to selling fancy weed products; Debbie (Emma Kenney) deals with being on the sex offender registry, which strains her ability to care for Franny and her ability to secure a job;  and Ian and Mickey have difficulty adjusting to married life and the idea of shared income (or lack thereof).

The way The A.V. Club's Myles McNutt sees it? "Either we're building to an ending that could reclaim...the show's past glory, or we're at least reaching the merciless end of a...show that should have ended years earlier." One quick glance across IMDb's sorted list suggests that we, unfortunately, got the latter.

Best: Requiem for a Slut (Season 7, Episode 12)

The Gallaghers wade through tragedy in the seventh season finale of "Shameless." Hurricane Monica, who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage the morning after she and Frank renewed their vows at the end of the previous episode, has died. An unstable and largely absent figure, the sudden loss evokes very different — and complicated — reactions, including Fiona's raw rage regarding the fact that she had to step up as the family caretaker at age 9 because of a pair of ill-equipped and negligent parents. In addition, Frank, Debbie, and Carl discover that Monica stashed seven pounds of valuable drugs in a storage unit. Embracing this last "gift," Frank (William H. Macy) gives each Gallagher sibling a share of the "inheritance."

Rated around a 9 on IMDb, this entry definitely could have served as the series closer. In fact, Reddit user u/Hawk_Germlarb believes it would "have been an excellent ending to the show!" Entertainment Weekly's Christina Ciammaichelli clearly agrees, calling the story "a nearly perfect tearjerker" with "[l]aughs, fights, love, reconciliation, and — perhaps most importantly — the Gallagher siblings appreciating and supporting each other."

By the end, Fiona and Frank have enjoyed a quiet reconciliation, Lip's ready to get back to AA, Carl's found a good track for himself via military school, and Fiona's about to enter into a brand-new business venture as a local landlord. What's more: Kev and V are back in the fold! The one thing we don't have? Gallavich.

Worst: Adios Gringos (Season 10, Episode 6)

"Adios Gringos," currently rated around a 7 on IMDb, follows Frank and Liam as they attempt to sell the baby Frank thought possessed his genes (but actually possesses Carl's) to the highest-bidding couple. Yep, the storyline's just as despicable as it sounds. And, like most of Frank's money-making schemes, it soon blows up in their faces. Meanwhile, Mickey attempts a prison break, Debbie tries to use Franny lookalikes to make sharing custody of her daughter as miserable as possible for Derek's widow Pepa, and Carl devises a plan to help restore the Gonzalez family's livelihood (which boils down to finding a lucrative location for their tamale stand and a slight change to the menu). During all of this, Ian's boss threatens his life — and manhood — when he blatantly disregards her EMT scam to help someone in need of real medical care, and V embarks on a quest to rediscover (and re-embrace) her Black identity.

While discussing the episode on Reddit, some users lament Carl's character arc and the dull storylines, with u/Nonsensicalwanderlus nailing the reason this installment sits near the bottom of IMDb's sorted list: it's "lost so much of that emotional grit and compelling storytelling." The result of a democratic, rather than diplomatic, focus on plots and characters is jumbled stories that fail to push, challenge, or change our characters in interesting or well-earned ways.

Best: Happily Ever After (Season 7, Episode 11)

Ian ghosts current boyfriend Trevor ("The Fosters"' Elliot Fletcher) to go on the run with first love (and fugitive) Mickey in "Happily Ever After," the penultimate episode of the seventh season. As they near the Mexican border, though, Ian begins to have doubts about abandoning the new — and stable — life he's started building.

Back in Chicago, Fiona has hurt Etta, the former owner (and elderly upstairs resident) of the laundromat, by selling the place, for the sake of a new business opportunity, and Kev and V have lost the Alibi to a manipulative Svetlana. What's more: Kev's struggling to find another job as a bartender, but he does land a job as a dancer at the Fairy Tale. Also, Lip bonds over sugary foods with Brad from AA, and Frank and Monica decide to renew their marital vows. Of course, the joyous occasion comes to an abrupt end when tragedy strikes the next morning.

The A.V. Club's Myles McNutt describes this as "the episode of 'Shameless' where dreams go to die." But, you know, in the good, gut-wrenching, fictional way — where viewers get to enjoy richly layered storylines and satisfying conclusions to season- and series-long arcs. Ultimately, this installment resonates because it reiterates that "Shameless" is at its very best when it's blending outrageous humor with urgent, character-oriented drama focused on class-related cultural commentary and the ways in which poverty can exacerbate life's challenges. 

Worst: A Little Gallagher Goes a Long Way (Season 10, Episode 4)

In this episode, Debbie attempts to claim child support from Franny's father, Derek, only to learn he joined the army, got drunk, drove a tank into the Suez Canal, and drowned. It's not long before she's demanding a share of the resulting death benefits from Derek's widow, Pepa. Meanwhile, Frank's ill friend (and partner-in-crime), Mikey, resolves to surrender himself to the prison system in hopes of getting the medical care he desperately needs — effectively ending their friendship and their hustle. Also, Liam sabotages his relationship with Mavar and Lip strikes up a bond with Sarah from parenting class and New Mom AA.

As The A.V. Club's Myles McNutt puts it: "The title of this episode may be 'A Little Gallagher Goes a Long Way,' but the truth is that the show's unwillingness to develop real long-term storylines which impact meaningful change is at the core of its struggles to justify its longevity." While a harsh assessment, it may be a fair one, as it's clear that the absence of Fiona/Emmy Rossum, combined with the lack of direction and the overabundant storylines, has led to a 10th season that feels less balanced and more shallowly absurd. In fact, some Redditors have even taken to the discussion boards to vent their frustrations over Liam's seemingly backward character development here.

Best: Emily (Season 4, Episode 11)

At the start of "Emily," Fiona begins her 90-day sentence at Decatur Correctional for violating her probation. While she's away, a delirious Frank, oblivious to the ratcheting conflict between Sammi and Sheila, bonds with his hospital roommate, Emily, a child awaiting a new heart whom he's mistaken for a young Fiona. He even apologizes for past sins. Back in the South Side, Carl invites Bonnie and her siblings to move out of their cold and crowded van and into the warmer (but still crowded) Gallagher house. The day he makes the offer is, of course, the day Lip must contend with a surprise visit from the social worker. In the midst of everything, Amanda succeeds in using Lip and his family's chaotic life to freak out her wealthy adoptive father, driving the man to offer Lip 10 grand to break up with her, and Ian crashes Yevgeny's christening with an ultimatum.

Featuring some incredibly raw and moving character moments, from Mickey standing up to his bigoted father to the social worker offering Lip a show of quiet support and the utterly gut-wrenching exchanges between Frank and Emily, it's easy to see why this one ranks as the show's second best episode on IMDb's sorted list. As The A.V. Club's Joshua Alston tells us, it all boils down to "the writers' willingness to be ambitious and bold, and make something spectacular with a few characters rather than flit about the whole ensemble."

Worst: O Captain, My Captain (Season 10, Episode 9)

Den of Geeks' Daniel Kurland rates "O Captain, My Captain" a dismal 2.5 out of 5 stars, expressing frustration over the fact that "it...feels like a fraction of an episode" and that "the progress is so incidental (other than Debbie's storyline) that there's nothing to really get excited over here." The A.V. Club's Myles McNutt review isn't much kinder. The way he sees it, while "expanding the number of characters getting their own storylines should have enriched 'Shameless,'" it's actually done the opposite. Basically, this episode suffers because it features storylines that lack both emotional depth and a sense of urgency.

Here, Debbie spends time with her girlfriend's daughter, Julia. At first, the seventeen-year-old hates her, but that soon changs as the two get to know each other better. Trouble is, they might be getting a little too friendly. Meanwhile, Faye ("Orange is the New Black"'s Elizabeth Rodriguez) has handcuffed a drugged Frank to a bedpost, intent on interrogating him for a wrong he can't remember. Turns out, her fiancée's in prison due to false drug charges. What's more: it's all Frank's fault — and she's determined to get her revenge. In addition, Carl stages a hostage situation at the Alibi (for police training purposes), Mickey starts dating another guy after discovering Ian's not-so-genuine motivations for proposing marriage, and Kev and V expand their business, "Nurse V's Jiffy Care," by helping vulnerable and pregnant young women gain access to the care they need.

Best: Lazarus (Season 4, Episode 12)

Boasting an impressive rating of just below 9.5 on IMDb, emotionally layered storylines, powerful character development, and just the right amount of absurd comedy, "Lazarus," the final episode of the fourth season, is "Shameless" at its absolute best.

As Frank tries — and fails — to come to terms with what life will be like post-liver transplant (rejecting the mere idea of never drinking again), Fiona enjoys an early release from her 90-day sentence due to overcrowding. She also enjoys a new job as a waitress at Patsy's Diner. During all of this, Sheila loses the Native American children she's been eager to adopt to their great-grandfather. Meanwhile, Svetlana propositions a horrified Mickey with a strap-on. After he demands she take it off, she demands that he start acting like a father by helping care for their baby. Mickey's priority, though, is Ian, who shows signs of bipolar disorder when he refuses to get out of bed for two days.

Uproxx's Alan Sepinwall believes there are "a lot of wonderful performances, patient character arcs and indelible moments" in this meaningful, family-focused narrative, and he's not wrong. And while Den of Geeks' David Crow claims the fourth season of "Shameless" isn't the show's most stable run, he also says that "it feels like the most honest one. And that makes it more than a worthy collection for what is the best blend of comedy and drama on any current medium."

Worst: Father Frank, Full of Grace (Season 11, Episode 12)

The series finale, "Father Frank, Full of Grace" sits at the very bottom of IMDb's sorted list with a dismal rating that doesn't even reach a 6.5. Don't get confused: for thematic reasons, the episode shares a name with the first season's final episode, which bears a much higher rating of 8.8.

The last chapter of "Shameless" puts the focus on Frank's rapidly deteriorating health as he succumbs to a fatal combination of COVID-19 and a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse. Aside from Liam, the Gallagher siblings, now desensitized to Frank's health issues after so many years of constant exposure, barely take any notice. Debbie's preoccupied with the fact that her girlfriend, Heidi, has suggested they move to Texas together. Ian and Mickey are preoccupied with furnishing their yuppie apartment and celebrating their first anniversary. And Kev and V are preoccupied with their decision to sell the Alibi.

The reviews for this one are, understandably, harsh — with The A.V. Club's Myles McNutt assigning the entry a solid D and suggesting that Emmy Rossum's absence makes for a bitter, rather than bittersweet, ending to a significant eleven-year run. Redditor u/A_Bleeding_Corpse, who defines this episode as an insult to viewers and laments over the lack of closure, clearly agrees. As does user u/ConnecticutJohn. Den of Geeks' Daniel Kurland, though, stands against the critical crowd, claiming it's "a celebratory finale that's emotional, beautiful, crude, and chaotic" — and, in that way, a more than appropriate way to wrap the show.