With Sunday night’s eighth season premiere, something feels different about Shameless. It felt different in a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air season 4 kind of way. The Showtime series pulled a fast one on viewers by swapping out the actor for one of its well-known characters: Liam Gallagher. The difference is, well, noticeable. Liam already stood out from his five older siblings because he is — still inexplicably — the only Black Gallagher child among Frank’s (William H. Macy) brood. He is also one of the most beloved since his youth still protects him with a shield of innocence. This is the second time Liam has been recast, but swapping out twin actors Brandon and Brendan Sims with Christian Isaiah was kind of shocking to the system. There was no passage of time to explain the change, and Liam is way more vocal than he ever has been. Not to mention the fact that he’s at least 2 shades darker with a completely different hair texture. Let’s just say Twitter, especially Black Twitter, noticed.
But what was even more disturbing than the new actor playing Liam is his storyline, which involves a new private school that was introduced last season. Near the end of season 7, Liam was disappointed to learn that he wouldn’t be able to start first grade because his local public elementary school was closing its doors. A recently-opened private school and an influx of wealthy gentrifiers to the Gallagher's neighborhood caused a decline in enrollment that forced the public school to close. Always ready for a moral crusade, Liam’s dad, Frank Gallagher, showed up at the private school in protest. But surprisingly, one of the administrators offered Liam a free slot at the bourgeois institution. We now know what her intentions were.
Every day, Liam is dragged out of his classes by that administrator and literally put on display to prospective parents. Unbeknownst to the Gallagher family, Liam was only allowed to attend his new private school to be their shining example of diversity, even at the expense of his education. He is pulled from tests, art projects, and reading time to play on the playground during the exact moments when the school tours are happening. Like many things on Shameless, it starts off as a funny sequence, but the underlying implications are anything but.
The past few seasons of Shameless have been pretty committed to calling out the gentrification happening in too many of America’s major cities. Liam’s academic woes are another extension of that. Just like the time The Alibi was overrun with millennials who thought Svetlana’s (Isidora Goreshter) Russian accent and tough exterior made the place “fun,” Shameless is still not afraid to call out the hypocrisies of the burgeoning adult middle class. They are more “liberal” in their views — which is why tokenizing Liam is so important to the posh new school — but fail to interrogate how achieving their desired lifestyles happens at the expense of more marginalized communities.
If the season 8 opener is any indication, Shameless is looking to take on an even more political overtone. In addition to the education issue, housing is still at the forefront, with Fiona becoming a property owner. She is worried about finding tenants for a unit in her new Southside apartment building, but is surprised to find herself in the middle of a bidding war between three young renters. Viewers were also been introduced to a team of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officers who raided Fiona’s restaurant. Perhaps Chicago’s racial segregation will be the next topic Shameless tackles.
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