‘Shameless’: How the First Episode Set Up the Entire Series

by Maggie Schneider

The first episode of Showtime’s Shameless sets up the entire series. Here is why the pilot is such a strong introduction.

I remember the first time I watched the pilot for Shameless. It was the summer of my freshman year of college, and I wanted to find a new series to binge-watch. After watching the first episode on vacation, I was hooked. From seeing the chemistry between Fiona and Steve, to watching the petty crimes of Frank Gallagher, the hour-long episode kept me intrigued. To this day, I go back and specifically watch the pilot on its own.

Why is this first episode so compelling? For starters, viewers get more than just a glimpse of the Gallagher’s family dynamic. Shameless shines a light on each character’s backstory. For instance, we see the struggle of Fiona Gallagher finding balance as the eldest sibling and maternal figure of the clan. We also learn that Ian Gallagher is in the closet and having an affair with his married boss. Each family member has his/her own storyline, which is pretty incredible for a pilot to take on.

The writers also introduce us to the show’s side characters and their relationships with one another. The Shameless pilot sets up the committed relationship between the Gallagher’s neighbors, Kevin and Veronica. They become lovable staples of the series. Viewers also get to meet Steve, who becomes Fiona’s first love interest on the show. As my personal favorite (don’t judge me), Steve is much more than he appears to be. The pilot hints at his true identity (and name) without causing too much suspicion. His passionate first encounter with Fiona remains the focus.

Frank’s Opening ‘Shameless’ Monologue

Another important element of the Shameless pilot is Frank Gallagher’s opening monologue. To me, these few lines that he says by the bonfire set up the major themes of the show.

He begins these opening lines by comparing his children to himself. “Every single one of them reminds me a little bit of me,” he says.

Going through and describing each of his kids, it is clear that Frank does not see them or their situation realistically. His skewed perspective, thanks to drugs and alcohol, make him a very unreliable narrator in this first part of the pilot. William H. Macy does a great job making himself a character that viewers cannot hate. Although problematic, he is necessary to the storyline.

“Nobody saying our neighborhood is the Garden of Eden. Hell, some people say God avoids this place altogether. But it has been a good home to us, to me and my kids.”

Through comedy and complicated relationships, Shameless covers a wide variety of important issues. From poverty, to substance abuse, the Gallagher family experiences it all. It is their love for each other that helps them survive. This shines through the show’s pilot, and is a reason why I will continue to hold the episode dear to my heart.