REVIEW: ‘Shameless’ season nine premiere fails to capture show’s former glory

The ninth season of the Chicago-based Showtime series “Shameless,” starring Golden Globe nominee Emmy Rossum and Emmy award winner William H. Macy, premiered on Sept. 9. (Photo courtesy of Ana Maria Da Veiga)

Based on the British series of the same name, Showtime’s “Shameless” has now been on the air for nearly a decade. The turbulent series has always been notorious for its inconsistency in maintaining compelling, believable storylines, but its early seasons established a balance of comedy and drama that produced moments interesting enough for viewers to overlook its flaws. In its ninth season, however, the formulaic structure of the show has become exhaustingly commonplace.

After a mostly forgettable and uneven eighth season, season nine of the dramedy opens with a storyline seen in several other episodes before, by checking in with each member of the Gallagher family. Lip continues to provide shelter to a young girl while working on his sobriety; Debbie carries on with her job as a welder; Carl pursues a career in military school; Frank continues his sexual and sneaky antics with other PTA moms at Liam’s school; Ian remains in prison; and Fiona works to bail him out — a goal her latest boyfriend Ford has trouble supporting.

The worst aspect of the premiere is the constant reminder of what “Shameless” was at its peak. In the show’s early years, the characters were incredibly well-developed, and their heartbreak was palpable. Now, they’ve become caricatures of their former selves, failing to connect with the audience as they once did.

Once a gifted student at a prestigious university, Lip’s storyline has been written into the ground. His arcs now feature the pursuit of one girl after another, each less interesting than the last. Similarly, Debbie’s snarky attitude and irritating nature threatens what could be a profound narrative about discrimination in the workplace. Carl, played by Ethan Cutkosky, was much more convincing as a delinquent than a military man. Ian was diagnosed with bipolar disorder several seasons ago, but the disease has never felt more exploitative than in this premiere. His storyline is unintentionally ill-developed and his illness satirizes the  issue of mental health in prisons across America. As she works to bail him out, Fiona has become a sterilized version of her former self. Her vast mood swings are now stale, as the character has shown little to no growth in recent years.

The only slightly stimulating storyline of the episode was that of the Gallagher patriarch, Frank. The premiere shows Frank continuing old habits — namely, having sex with surburban moms from Liam’s prestigious private school — but his undeniable charisma makes his actions passable. Later, Frank attends a PTA meeting where the group is notified they tested positive for three separate sexually transmitted infections, and what follows is the hilarious destruction of each seemingly perfect couple. The episode shows Frank once again utilizing his quick wit and hilarious antics to get out of trouble.

While some storylines throughout the episode were more compelling than others, the season premiere lacked a thematic cohesiveness and narrative focus. It is difficult to tell what direction the season will take, leading to the assumption that season nine will be a more character driven. This approach has been the case in past years; however, better stories will have to unfold for each member of the Gallagher clan if “Shameless” wants to retain the interest of its audience.