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Your Last Chance Catch Up: The 8 Essential 'Shameless' Episodes

By Emily Cutler | Shameless | January 8, 2015 |

By Emily Cutler | Shameless | January 8, 2015 |

I’ve been steadily (though restrainedly) trying to get everyone on the Shameless bandwagon for months. And now the season 5 premiere airs this Sunday at 9pm. Which hopefully means you’re all caught up on the past four seasons.

What’s that you say? You haven’t watched any of the previous four seasons? And now you don’t have enough time to get caught up before the premiere? I’ve got a couple of answers for you:

1.) That’s quitter talk. You’ve got at least 80 hours before the premiere. As long as you ignore your job, friends and family over the next three days, you’ll be able to binge all 48 episodes with plenty of time for sleep and meals. You might not have time to shower depending of your sleep requirements, but that hardly seems important now.


2.) If you insist on continuing to be a productive member of society, you can watch the eight essential episodes listed below.

Bear in mind, these episodes won’t give you the full picture of the various plot lines. For that you’ll still need to do some basic research. But these episodes will give you a feel for the show, its characters and their relationships. Consider it your Shameless CliffsNote’s, and consider all of your excuses for not watching the show rendered moot.

(If you happen to have an extra four hours, I strongly recommend watching each season’s finale too. They’re the best on tv. And if you stick around till the end of the fourth season finale, you’ll be treated to Jeffery Dean Morgan looking like this, if that’s your thing.
Also spoilers. Clearly.)

Season 1
Episode 4 - “Casey Casden”
This is the episode that Shameless earned its wacky hijinks reputation on. Most shows wouldn’t be able to find the comedy in an eight- year- old girl kidnapping a 3- year- old boy, or they would treat it too lightly and rob the situation of any serious jeopardy. Shameless balances both and throws in a fart joke.

Episode 8 - “It’s Time To Kill The Turtle”
The first episode that veered from the British original is also one of the best of the season. On most shows when a life-long alcoholic tries to quit drinking for two weeks, everyone’s hopeful and helpful. On Shameless, one character gets pissed and actively encourages others to help him sabotage the sobriety attempt. That’s what we’ve signed up for.

Season 2
Episode 4 - “A Beautiful Mess”
A lot is made on Shameless about the kids not being like Frank or Monica. For children who identify with the desire to not turn out like their parents, this picture is terrifying.
It turns out your parents didn’t become the people they did because they wanted to be shitty parents, it’s because they made the same mistakes we’re all capable of.

Episode 10 - “A Great Cause”
And sometimes your parents become the people they did because they’re truly shitty people. Frank is an abusive, alcoholic asshole. But his mere presence in his children’s lives has given them a slight immunity to his assholeness. Not so much with Monica. As negligent and abusive as Frank can be, he’s no match for the sheer destruction that Monica wreaks. You will not feel OK after this episode. Brace yourself.

Season 3
Episode 2 - “The American Dream”
You can only tell in retrospect where exactly things started going bad. This episode is where. Fiona tries to work her way up (somewhat) honestly, Debbie grows up but only by losing all faith in her father, and according to one character, “That is an all time low. Even for you, Frank.”

Episode 9 - “Frank the Plumber”
A lot of shows feature love triangles. Some of the better shows resolve the triangles in ways that make sense and actually make the characters better people. None of those shows resolve a love triangle the way Shameless does. Because none of those shows have Mandy goddamn Milkovich.

Season 4
Be warned, season 4 is dark. Really, really dark. The summertime antics of season 1 have been traded for cheating, jail time and liver failure. It’s still occasionally funny, but you’ll want to keep the tissue closer than usual.

Episode 4 - “Strangers on a Train”
“Strangers on a Train” is actually pretty simple. It’s the Gallaghers in freefall. Fiona unable to keep it together in her relationship, Frank unable to get it together to get a liver and Lip losing it altogether on a few parked cars. Within their element, the Gallaghers are almost flawless. Out of their element, they’re a complete mess.

Episode 10 - “Liver, I Hardly Knew Her”
And if the last episode is the freefall, this one is rock bottom. In a season that including a four-year-old overdosing on his sister’s cocaine, this episode is the bleakest. Yeah, it’s darker than “baby overdose.” And anyone who’s ever had a couple too many and slept through an important meeting/ class/ appointment will be grateful their fuck up can’t possibly be as big as Fiona’s.

Honorable Mention Episode 11 - “Emily”
If you can squeeze in one more episode, you should watch the penultimate episode in season 4. After all of the defeats of the past 10 episodes, the small victories (and I do mean small) will help you recover. Bitchy editorial note: Aaron Sorkin, this is how you make a character’s absence felt while they’re incarcerated.