The third season of Shameless ended with a lot of upheaval that's palpable the first time the Gallagher family gathers in the kitchen during the season four premiere. Several familiar faces are missing, and most have disappeared without any explanation. But Fiona (Emmy Rossum) is still soldiering on as caretaker for her youngest siblings. Despite the recent turbulence, things might actually be looking up.
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After securing her first full-time job last year, Fiona is continuing to excel at Worldwide Cup and even finds that she has to learn what things like "401K" mean. She's still seeing her boss, Mike (Jake McDorman), but taking things slow, given the impact the relationship could have on her financial stability. While money may be less of an issue, taking care of the kids has gotten a bit more troublesome, even as the quantity has gone down. Debbie's (Emma Kenney) descent into the pit of despair that is being a teenage girl has transformed the once adorable little girl into a sex-obsessed hell beast. Her newly discovered angst is aided by the fact that she's one of the girls in school not to have gotten her period yet. Aside from growing some under-arm hair, Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) is mostly unchanged, but when Frank (William H. Macy) is dropped on their doorstep, still suffering from impending liver failure, the boy takes it upon himself to take care of his father.
Ian (Cameron Monaghan) and Jimmy (Justin Chatwin) are still AWOL, the former having stolen his brother's identity to join the Army and the latter having boarded a boat to almost certain death at the hands of his father-in-law. Lip (Jeremy Allen White) is now in college and struggling academically for the first time in his life while also finding it difficult to connect socially with anyone but his fellow employees at the school cafeteria. Veronica (Shanola Hampton) and Kev (Steve Howey) are preparing for the arrival of their baby, which mostly means that they're getting shaken down by her mother (Vanessa Bell Calloway) for maternity care and clothing. Sheila (Joan Cusack) is combating her loneliness by acting as an unpaid maid for the Gallagher house. Meanwhile, the Milkoviches (Emma Greenwell and Noel Fisher) are dealing with absences of Lip and Ian.
Shameless has always been a show that's walked the line between drama and comedy. While there are funny moments, the outset of season four is a little more melancholy than usual. Frank's impending doom, Lip's failing grades, Debbie's desperation to fit in with her sexually active peers and Sheila's solitude are all big downers. Fiona's exuberance over nearing the poverty line and finally being able to provide her family with healthcare are the lone bright spots in a season that starts out gloomy. Perhaps it's the fracturing of the family or the loss of Debbie's trademark sunny disposition, but Gallaghers aren't the jaunty bunch they used to be. Still, even shrouded in darkness, they're still a joy to watch. But hopefully they return to form soon.