How 'Shameless' Reinvented the Working-Class-Family TV Show

The comparison of Frank and Earl is similar to that of Roseanne and Fiona. Frank's displacement from his family inspires more feeling in audiences than Earl's consistent presence within his family and circle of friends. Though Earl, the protagonist of the series, has been married and divorced multiple times, he still keeps in touch with his ex-wife. While Frank is incapable of acting like a responsible adult due to his alcoholism, Earl takes control by attempting to atone up for his previous sins. Audiences never see Frank apologize to his children or attend AA. He constantly blames others for his woes and refuses to take responsibility for his actions. Viewers become upset and disappointed with Frank. Earl's proactive actions, framed in a red neck and lighthearted context, classify him as more comedic and unserious.

Lip Gallagher (Shameless) vs. Axl Heck (The Middle)

The eldest Gallagher son is similar to his oldest sister, Fiona, in that the family relies upon him as a father figure due to Frank's lack of presence. Despite this pressure, Lip manages to retain aspects of his hormonal teenage boyhood. His algebra tutoring sessions more closely resemble biology when his female tutee offers up sexual favors. Lip contributes to the family income by selling pot from a pastel-colored ice cream truck—fooling cops into thinking he provides cold treats to sweaty customers. While Lip has his share of hysterical situations, he also displays moments of blatant emotion. Though uncommon for many teenage males, Lip's flashes of unaffected feeling are debatably due to his involuntary patriarchal role and meager circumstances. When Lip finds gay porn under his younger brother's mattress, he accepts and respects the discovery rather than committing to the predictable heterosexual teenage male reaction of disgust or discomfort.

Axl Heck also plays the role of the eldest brother in The Middle. Unlike Lip Gallagher, who often takes on patriarchal responsibilities due to Frank's absence, Axl is solely a son and brother. Similar to the comparison of Fiona and Roseanne, Lip's requirement to step up to the plate as a father figure to his siblings charges his actions with sentiment. Yet, unlike Fiona and Roseanne, Axl and Lip are the same age. Ultimately, Frank's paternal nonexistence is what causes the two teenage boys to be characterized so differently. Axl is a stereotypical teenage boy. He is lethargic at home (despite his jock status at high school) and often unpleasant to his family. Though Axl does have sporadic, short-lived moments of tenderness, his stable home life and economic situation arguably enable him to live up to the stereotype. In fact, Axl's mother often becomes nostalgic when recalling how affectionate and caring Axl was as a child. While Axl is constantly troubling his mother with 95 percent sarcasm and 5 percent sentimentality, Lip vigilantly defends and supports Fiona.

These comparisons show how Shameless combines a unique combination of sentiment and comedy. This increased sentiment is generated through the writer's willingness to display family turmoil and poverty. In a history marked by working-class sitcoms like Roseanne, My Name is Earl, and The Middle,we have yet to see a series that makes an effort to reveal more candid emotion versus overly-charged humor within a disadvantaged ambience. By refusing to tip-toe around poverty and familial havoc, the writers of Shameless are bringing their audience step closer connecting with the non-fictional millions trying to make ends meet.

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English Taylor is a writer based in Nashville.

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