There is never a dull day for the Gallaghers. If they aren’t in the middle of scheming to make ends meet, they are dealing with their own messy love lives. The Shameless characters are diverse, complicated and a heck of a lot of fun to watch, putting any ordeal we might be going through to shame.
Showtime’s longest-running drama features a dysfunctional household in the south side of Chicago, with a derelict patriarch, Frank, who has done very little parenting and an older sister, Fiona, who’s had no choice but to raise her five younger siblings in the absence of a responsible parent.
Aside from its outrageous shenanigans and colorful sense of humor, Shameless showcases the struggles of the lower middle class through its diverse cast. From mental illness to addiction and criminal records, the characters ground the show’s crazy stories and insert the vulnerability and humanity the viewers can relate to.
However, not every character that has spent some time with the Gallaghers has helped the show along. Plenty of times throughout the seasons, new characters pop up and end up dragging the main storyline. Sometimes even the main cast can end up hurting the show.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Shameless has brought in to their world some characters that didn’t end up doing any favors for the show. However, there are plenty of actors who have been the true saving grace of the series.
Here are 10 Casting Decisions that Hurt Shameless (And 10 That Saved It).
20 Hurt: Laura Slade Wiggins (Karen Jackson)
When they say an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, they certainly were not talk about Sheila and Karen. While Sheila is sweet and generous in nature, Karen is vindictive and manipulative.
Played by Laura Slade Wiggins, Karen shows up from season 1 as Lip’s love interest and is a major troublemaker for anyone who crosses her path. While Wiggins portrays the "mean girl" side of Karen perfectly, the character quickly became an instrument to shape Lip’s storyline as opposed to a full-fledged character.
If we could have seen a performance with more softness and vulnerability, Karen could have had more dimension.
19 Saved: Joan Cusack (Sheila Jackson)
Joan Cusack always brightens up every movie or show she’s been in. From the very beginning, the south side was a slightly nicer place thanks to Sheila Jackson, the darling agoraphobic neighbor with a secret side.
Sheila is terrified of going outside. Instead she focuses all of her energy on her home and her rebellious daughter, Karen.
Thanks to Cusack’s acting skills, Sheila ends up feeling like a vulnerable, wholesome character instead of a caricature.
Her need to maintain a positive attitude in the face of so much ugliness makes her better than anyone around her.
Additionally, the way Cusack portrays how limiting agoraphobia can be sheds some light on a common mental disorder that many people struggle with.
18 Hurt: Tyler Jacob Moore (Tony Markovich)
Where was this going? Did it even need to happen? In season 1, Fiona’s main love interest is the bad boy car stealer Steve. On the other hand, her safe and sweet love interest is her childhood friend and cop, Tony.
While Tyler Jacob Moore portrays the "stand-up guy" role accurately, the show simply didn’t give him enough to play with. Whenever Fiona is angry with Steve, she runs to Tony for a few seconds.
In season 2, when Steve disappears, Tony could have had an opportunity for a significant storyline, trying to prove himself to Fiona and fit into her crazy world. But the show quickly wrote him off only to bring him back seasons later for the audience to know he is now gay. There was no ambiguity to Moore's original performance so this reveal made little sense.
17 Saved: Jessica Szohr (Nessa Chabon)
Sometimes the new characters who create less drama are the ones who end up helping a show.
In the middle of so much chaos and back-stabbing, it is nice for someone to be a stable and honest addition.
Nessa shows up in season 8 as one of the tenants of Fiona’s newly bought apartment building. At first, it seems like the show is aiming for a love interest for Fiona, but apparently Fiona's not her type.
Portrayed by Jessica Szohr, Nessa proves to be a true friend and believable to Fiona in this new chapter of her life when she tries to move on up from the poverty line.
It is unclear yet if season 9 will add a story arc for Nessa, other than being Fiona’s trustworthy friend, but we can’t wait to see more from her.
16 Hurt: Nichole Bloom (Amanda)
Portrayed by Nichole Bloom, Amanda meets Lip in season 4 when he goes away to college. The preppy, controlling teenager quickly becomes attached to Lip and shows him how to navigate his way through her higher class world, exposing him to all the things he could have.
Bloom’s performance of the rich, manipulative girl who is looking to hook up with a guy her father will hate is on point. The problem is Amanda stays pretty much one note until she decides to get back at Lip for no particular reason.
She essentially ruins his life because he was seeing his professor, even though they had agreed to a non-exclusive relationship, and there's no endearing vulnerability to make us sympathize with her.
15 Saved: Elliot Fletcher (Trevor)
One of the best decisions Shameless ever made was casting Elliot Fletcher as Trevor, a trans social worker and Ian’s love interest.
Trevor shows up in season 7 and quickly becomes the focus of Ian’s attention. While Ian has his trepidation with dating a trans man, Trevor ultimately educates Ian on a whole side of the LBGT community he wasn’t familiar with.
The fact that Fletcher is a trans man himself adds more weight to the character.
Through Fletcher’s performance, the audience is exposed to a variety of issues regarding the trans community they might not have known about otherwise.
Ian is the audience's vessel through this experience, asking questions and making mistakes while Trevor gracefully corrects him and helps him through it without any judgment.
14 Hurt: Emma Greenwell (Mandy Milkovich)
Mandy is one of those characters which seemed to be important but eventually fizzled out when she was no longer important for Lip’s storyline.
One of the issues was the obvious recast for the character. Originally Mandy was portrayed by Jane Levy, who decided to play the character as an upbeat, but fearsome girl.
Very much like her brother, Mickey, Mandy was someone the Gallagher boys knew not to mess with. Her love for Ian made her more approachable and eventually a person who would remain loyal to the end.
When Mandy was recast with Emma Greenwell, there were some changes to the character.
Mandy ended up becoming one of Lip’s rejects and she was fueled with anger and vengeance. After that, the character slowly left the south side, leaving the viewers with a sad glimpse of her future.
13 Saved: Noel Fisher (Mickey Milkovich)
Mickey shows up in season 1 as one of the neighborhood’s violent thugs. The character, played by Noel Fisher, initially serves as Ian’s dysfunctional love interest since Mickey can never admit he is gay but is not opposed to hooking up with Ian, as long as no one ever finds out.
As the seasons continue, Fisher plays up Mickey’s vulnerabilities.
He nails Mickey's inability to admit to himself and everyone else that he is he is gay, the fear of feeling like less of a man in front of his friends, and also the fear of losing Ian, which he eventually does.
On top of that, Fisher gets to show a more caring and affectionate side to Mickey when he ends up taking care of Ian after he is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
12 Hurt: Chloe Webb (Monica Gallagher)
Monica Gallagher, while not always present, is a huge part of Shameless and possibly the main reason for the Gallagher’s pessimistic/realistic attitude.
Frank frequently blames his fate on Monica’s spell on him and their children. She disappears for years and when she comes back, she creates a whole new batch of problems for her family.
Whenever she shows up, the viewers sympathize even more with the Gallaghers and their inevitable trust issues.
The problem is Chloe Webb portrays Monica in one note, like a naïve helpless woman instead of the manipulative force she really is. While Monica’s actions do scream betrayal and chaos, the character’s nuances are not really there in the performance.
11 Saved: Steve Howey (Kevin Ball)
Whenever the Gallaghers are in a pinch, which happens frequently, there is Kev, to offer limited intelligence but a ton of support.
Kevin Ball, played by Steve Howey, is the Gallaghers; neighbor, along with his girlfriend Vee, Fiona’s best friend.
Howey does a great job of portraying a menacing-looking guy who is really just a sweet pushover underneath.
Howey’s extensive TV experience in drama, like Sons of Anarchy, and appearances in comedy shows like Reba and New Girl, have helped him in handling a character like Kevin, someone who brings in unintentional comedy relief in an otherwise tense situation.
Regardless of some of his morally questionable choices, Kevin always means well and does his best to do well by Vee and help his friends.
10 Hurt: Vanessa Bell Calloway (Carol Fisher)
Carol Fisher, played by Vanessa Bell Calloway, is Veronica’s mother and shows up early on in the series. The character’s story grows in season 3 when Veronica and Kevin can’t conceive and ask Carol to be their surrogate.
As it often happens in Shameless, the situation escalates quickly. Vee, with her shoddy logic, decides to bring her mother into her bedroom--- quite literally. Soon enough Kevin sleeps with his mother-in-law in order to have a baby and things get very weird fast, even with everyone’s approval.
Calloway never feels quite believable as Vee's mother figure and the storyline feels unnecessary very quickly, especially after Vee is able to get pregnant.
9 Saved: Isidora Goreshter (Svetlana Milkovich)
Sometimes Shameless strikes gold when it takes a minor character and evolve them into a main contender. That was the case with Svetlana, played by Isidora Goreshter, a Russian nightworker who was forced to marry Mickey due to her pregnancy.
If played by anyone else, Svetlana could have just been a quick novelty who disappeared by the end of the season.
However, it is Goreshter’s portrayal of this stern and unyielding woman that makes fans love and hate her at the same time.
Svetlana starts as an obstacle between Ian and Mickey but quickly becomes an important character when she initiates a "throuple" with Vee and Kevin, slowly manipulating them and taking away their business. Even though she is untrustworthy, Shameless fans can’t help but admire her ruthlessness and tenacity.
8 Hurt: Emily Bergl (Sammi Slott-Gallagher)
There is no doubt Sammi Slott is on every fan’s bad list.
Sammi, played by Emily Bergl, was introduced in season 4 as Frank’s oldest daughter and only helping hand in Frank’s search for a liver transplant. When all the other Gallaghers turn their backs on Frank, Sammi steps in to save (or ruin) the day.
Bergl initially plays Sammi as someone in search of affection and family, since it is just her and her annoying offspring, Chuckie. However, the character's desperation and back-stabbing ways quickly become uncomforable.
However, quickly after Frank survives, the show didn’t know what to do with Sammi. She became an annoying type of villain whose only gears were crazy and crazier.
7 Saved: Justin Chatwin (Steve/Jimmy/Jack)
Jimmy/Steve was definitely not a flawless man, but the truth is Fiona has not had an equal partner esince Justin Chatwin left the show.
Steve shows up in the pilot episode, promising Fiona love, adrenaline and excitement, all things Fiona feels like she is lacking in her life. Due to her trust issues and Steve’s frequent little lies, the couple has a lot of problems and break up constantly.
There is no denying the chemistry between Chatwin and Rossum.
They play perfectly off each other. Even when the characters are yelling at each other, viewers can see they truly care about one another.
Maybe the ease comes from both actors, Chatwin and Rossum, working together previously, but there is no denying there was something special about the connection Fiona and Steve shared.
6 Hurt: Dermot Mulroney (Sean)
Jeffrey Dean Morgan appeared in the season 4 finale as the diner’s manager. It seemed he was going to have an important role in Sseason five as Fiona’s boss, and he did. Except it wasn’t Morgan, but Dermot Mulroney who played Fiona’s boss and future boyfriend.
The character of Sean was an important part of Fiona’s story.
It could have worked wonderfully if they had kept Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
However, with Mulroney, Sean comes off as selfish and arrogant, making his big confession less impactful.
The point should’ve been that Sean pretends to be a good guy when he really isn’t. It is clear from the beginning Sean is not the most honest person. Instead, it just feels like Fiona is being stupid once again and at no point does the audience believe she is close to a happy ending.
5 Saved: Jeremy Allen White (Lip Gallagher)
Phillip "Lip" Gallagher was an instant favorite for Shameless fans. His extraordinary IQ and street smarts made him a unique member of the Gallagher family.
Lip could have just been an additional member of the family who made things extra difficult for Fiona, but thanks to Jeremy Allen White’s acting skill, Lip has grown up in ways that were not expected.
While in the early seasons White portrayed Lip as the apathetic teenager who thought he was too cool for school, the most recent seasons have explored the fears and vulnerabilities Lip constantly tries to avoid.
Lip often suppresses his own problems by getting involved in other people’s lives but in order to control his addiction, he’s had no other choice but to take a long look at himself.
White clearly understands his character-- what angers him and what’s most important to him.
Because of that, throughout all his mistakes, Lip has stayed a fan favorite throughout the show.
4 Hurt: Emma Rose Kenney (Debbie Gallagher)
It hurts to add Debbie into this category but it cannot be avoided. Portrayed by Emma Rose Kenney, Debbie started off as a good-natured child with some caretaker instincts she couldn’t suppress.
As expected, Debbie started making terrible choices when she became a teenager. Due to her stubbornness and obsession with becoming a mother, Debbie became one of the least liked Gallaghers.
On top of that, Kenney’s portrayal of Debbie has become stiff and monotone, as if she were reading lines instead of living the character.
Debbie no longer feels like a person who grows or changes with experience.
She makes terrible mistakes she never learns from. She is stubborn to a fault and never listens to anyone who wants to help her.
3 Saved: William H. Macy (Frank Gallagher)
What is Shameless without Frank’s shenanigans? The show could have easily tanked by casting the wrong actor as the failed patriarch of the Gallaghers. Thankfully, William H/ Macy took on the role and made Frank into the father we love to see mess up but would never want to have as a parent.
Frank is the source of the Gallagher’s problems. He takes everything and gives nothing back. Without him, the Gallaghers would get on a lot better in life. However, Frank never feels like a one-dimensional clown, even though he provides a good part of the humor.
While Frank’s sentimental moments are few and far in between, Macy handles them delicately and allows for the viewers to see there is more to Frank thank his addiction and selfishness.
2 Hurt: Richard Flood (Ford)
What is even the point of Ford? Season 8 is not exactly the most exciting season for Shameless and that is thanks to characters like Ford, played by Richard Flood, who don’t seem to add anything to the story.
Fiona struggles to adjust to her role of landlady after buying an apartment building. She meets Ford, an Irish carpenter, who claims he doesn’t want "complicated" in his life but has fathered over five children for lesbian couples who were looking for the right donor.
Since Emmy Rossum announced she is leaving the show after Season 9, it might be a safe assumption that she ends up with Ford if she is to end up with anyone.
Flood's character, while mysterious, doesn’t seem like the right fit for Fiona.
We don’t know enough about Ford to judge him but he has yet to prove worthy himself of being with Fiona.
1 Saved: Emmy Rossum (Fiona Gallagher)
Emmy Rossum became known worldwide after 2004, in her roles in The Day After Tomorrow and Phantom of the Opera, but it wasn’t until her starring role in Shameless that she was able to show her exceptional acting skills.
Playing the role of the older sister who had no choice but to raise her siblings, Rossum portrays a perfect combination of a put-on fearlessness that masks pain and the disappointment the character feels from her parents' abandonment.
Fiona is a force to be reckoned with. She will stop at nothing to protect her siblings and even, though she was dealt a rough hand, she does her best to better herself and set an example for her family.
The show would simply not have the same amount of heart and humanity if Rossum didn’t play the lead role, something we'll have to face in a possible season 10.
Who's your favorite actor on Shameless? Let us know in the comments!