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‘Shameless’ Series Finale: Showrunner John Wells On The Gallaghers’ Goodbye, Why (Spoiler) Never Showed Up & Spinoffs

Dominic Patten
·12-min read

SPOILER ALERT: This post contains details of the series finale of Shameless tonight.

After 11 seasons, it was truly last call for Frank Gallagher tonight on the series finale of multiple SAG Awards winner Shameless.

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Having apparently overdosed in the penultimate episode, the William H. Macy portrayed debauched patriarch evaded his maker one more time to the frustration of his offspring and extended family. However, as son Lip (Jeremy Allen White) and lady love Tami (Kate Miner) face the prospect of another baby as they are barely scraping by and brother Ian (Cameron Monaghan) and hubby Mickey (Noel Fisher) move up the social ladder and contemplate a baby of their own, the dementia inflected Frank is laid low in the end by another adversary that had plagued the final season – the coronavirus.

“So, we had to show that there were some consequences,” Shameless showrunner John Wells told me of the decision to finally kill off the nine-lives living Frank in the end of the Showtime drama. “We tried to find some way to make it Frank-like and fun and let him hold onto who he always was in the last moments,” the EP says of tonight’s ‘Father Frank, Full Of Grace’ episode that Wells penned.

In the end, as Frank floats above Chicago with departing words of wisdom, the rest of the Gallagher clan gather one more time at the Alibi for a surprise party for Ian and Mickey’s first anniversary. Kevin (Steve Howey) and Veronica (Shanola Hampton) get low balled in their attempt to sell the old joint, but rookie cop Carl Gallagher (Ethan Cutkosky) and his old skool mentor Arthur (Josh Malina) may just buy the place and turn it into a hang-out for the Windy City’s finest, or not.

With all that and some timely political tenets, Wells chatted with me from the set of his Maid project up in British Columbia about ending Shameless, old friends, absent friends and saying goodbye one last time, or not.

DEADLINE: There was some resolution, some loose ends, and a lot of leaning into the future for the Gallaghers in the finale, but no Fiona? Emmy Rossum tweeted about the finale last week and there’s some flashback footage, but why didn’t she appear in the series ender?

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WELLS: You know, she very much wanted to, and we wanted her to. It just hit at just the wrong time with the continuing shutdown. She lives in New York, and you know, we were trying to make it work, but there were quarantine setups that were in there if she came out to LA. We couldn’t figure out how to do it in a way that would work with her schedule.

So, it was disappointing for everybody, and we would’ve loved to have her back, and she wanted to come back, but it was one of those things that couldn’t get done during the pandemic.

DEADLINE: When I was watching the finale scene of Bill Macy’s Frank hallucinating about Fiona in the hospital, I wondered for a second if that nurse in front of him, I wondered if it was going to be revealed that she was Emmy.

WELLS: (LAUGHS) No.

DEADLINE: In that vein, we all know how hard series finales can be, even when you have the luxury of planning one out like you guys did. What was there that you weren’t able to do or include with the end of Shameless that you wanted to get in there?

WELLS: Well, the original idea was that we would see Kevin Bell leave and that we’d also see Carl purchase the bar that he was going to turn into a cop bar, and I never quite got there, And, of course, wanted to do something else with Emmy, which ended up with the Fiona character, which we ultimately weren’t able to do. So, yeah, I wish there had been more we could have had in there.

DEADLINE: Is it really over, my friend, for the Gallaghers, or is there more Gallaghers to come in a different form perhaps?

WELLS: I would love to be able to do more of something. We wanted to do more years of this. But now that we’ve finished it up and I saw all of the sets in the trash at Warner, I think we’re really done.

DEADLINE: 100%?

WELLS: Well, never say never in the world that we live in now.

DEADLINE: Certainly, it’s never never now for Frank …

WELLS: Yes ..

DEADLINE: Coming off the seeming OD of the penultimate episode, why did you decide to have Frank finally die of Covid?

WELLS: Bill Macy and I talked about it a lot of times over the years, which was it would be wrong to let Frank completely off the hook for living the life that he’s lived and doing the damage to his body, that he had done to his body over all these years.

So, we had to show that there were some consequences. We tried to find some way to make it Frank-like and fun and let him hold onto who he always was in the last moments. But, in all that he has been through and all that we’ve been through the last year, it didn’t seem right to allow somebody to simply say, oh, yeah, you can live your life like this and there won’t be any consequences.

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DEADLINE: As one would expect of a West Wing EP, there has always been a strong political component to Shameless. We saw that in the finale with Ian and Mickey’s confrontation in the furniture store with the saleslady wearing the Stop The Steal sweatshirt and spouting Trump talking points and with cop Carl fighting for wealth distribution in his own way by soaking the well-heeled with parking tickets for using disabled spots. And obviously, a mask less Frank dying from coronavirus. Is it a struggle to get that part of the narrative in there amidst the Gallagher shenanigans that makes up so much of the surface of Shameless?

WELLS: The only struggle is I’m always afraid when I’m doing something that’s that palpable, that by the time it actually airs, that it’ll feel like old news.

So, in terms of that Stop The Steal scene, we had it in and had it out, and then we’re like, we’re so close when it actually airs. Then, if it was still valid and pertinent and the conversations were still going on when we were ready to shoot it, then we’d go ahead and do it, and that’s what we did

In some ways, I wish we hadn’t included it because it was no longer an issue. Sadly, it is still a conversation in the country, it’s still ongoing.

DEADLINE: Besides the Trojan horse element of Shameless, which is one of my favorite parts of the show, there’s the alcoholism, the good times and its pain, drug addiction and dysfunction of the family, which sometimes makes it hard to watch to be honest. There’s also a family struggling with the socioeconomic realities of the American Dream, the limits, the slap downs, and then there is a family ..

WELLS: Yes.

DEADLINE: There’s this scene in the finale at The Alibi where Ian and Lip are talking about the future and maybe selling the house and divvying up the sale and Cameron’s Ian says to Jeremy’s Lip, and of course I am paraphrasing, he says “you can have share, our $15,000, and you do whatever you want to do because you’re as close to a dad as any of us had.” That’s a very powerful moment there, and a lot of the series is in that moment. I wanted to get some idea from you about that, about writing that particular dialogue and about how it resonates with you.

WELLS: Well, thank you for seeing that.

Yeah, I think one of the secrets of the show and a lot of the reason that it has resonated for people is that, you know, whatever their problem is, the Gallaghers are a family. They look after each other. They care for each other, and you know, particularly the way in which they’ve stepped up to be the parents.

The kids have stepped up to be the parents that they didn’t have, which is what Fiona did as a mother and what Lip did as the real patriarch or father for the family. I think we all hope for, wish that we have families where somebody always really has your back and somebody’s there, and so that’s why we really wanted to kind of end with everybody out on the street.

DEADLINE: Watching the fancy car burn, baby, burn why?

WELLS: Because, there’s still all of their disagreements and unhappiness with each other and siblings rivalries and the injuries they’ve done to each other. Despite that, the love they have for each other and the history they have of taking care of each other is far more important than anything else. So, it was a very conscious decision to have Lip realize that he’s a grownup now and that that was a huge journey for that character throughout the series, that he would get to that point.

DEADLINE: Talking about a huge journey, in a career full of a mountain range of highs that alone would make up many successful careers, what has 11 seasons of Shameless meant to you?

WELLS: Dominic, I’m really going to miss it, because, as you said earlier, we’re able to kind of Trojan horse into a lot of satirical conversations about what’s really going on in the country.

You know, over the years, the writers rooms have been very lively. Certainly, we’re looking for outrageous things to do, but we’re also trying to comment on this notion that there isn’t really a meritocracy in this country about income and equality and how difficult it is to live just hovering around the poverty line. I’ll miss being able to go into a room with only the writers and talk about those issues, and we’d, you know, go over the newspapers and talk to social services experts and you know, all of those things that make up making the show. I’m going to really miss that and talking to those people, and feeling as if we had a way to get our messages across while you were still laughing.

DEADLINE: It seems that that conversation has become much more widespread and integral on the small screen since the US version of Shameless started in 2011?

WELLS: There are certainly more opportunities for more shows to be on the air who are trying to deal with the issues of other parts of the population than we used to see – , which is great. Hope that keeps up. The streamers, the numbers of shows that are out there has really helped because there are so many more opportunity to do things, but at the same time, those audiences are a little smaller, so that’s the tradeoff. But, look, it’s been great to be able to make this show, our show and that we could get 11 years out of it. When we started, we couldn’t get anybody to make it for almost seven years. So, our run has been very gratifying.

DEADLINE: With all that time, all that work, how is it saying goodbye, Frank dying, the kids scattering and moving on with their lives, for better and worse?

WELLS: You know, you’re dealing with all different kinds of feelings. Honestly, I’ve been writing these characters for a long time. Love the people you’re saying goodbye to. You’re know you’re saying goodbye to a lot of friends when you’re writing it, and so it’s hard not to get emotionally involved. Especially, when you’re not going to be writing anymore for them, and living with the lives of these characters.

DEADLINE: Is that why you parsed out the resolutions, besides Frank’s death, didn’t wrap it all up? Do they sell the house? Is Tami really pregnant with a second child with Lip? Will Ian and Micky become parents? Will the Alibi be sold? Will Debs move to the Lone Star state with her new girlfriend and that long rap sheet?

WELLS: Partially. We’re trying to give some hints about what could be next for the characters, but without resolving anything. We just wanted people to feel that if you were in Chicago and made a wrong turn, you might end up on the same street, and run into one of the Gallaghers. We really didn’t want to do anything where they win the lottery and they’re all going to live in Florida or something.

You’re trying to be true to the fans and give them some sort of wonderful ending, and at the same time, stay true to the world that you’ve been writing and keep it honest and straightforward.

DEADLINE: So, one last shot – do you think you did that with the Shameless series finale?

WELLS: Yeah, I think so, I hope so.

It’s been a great run. I’m going to miss everybody. Going to miss writing the show. Really thankful to Showtime for all of their support all these years when nobody else wanted to make the show when we started, and you know, just it’s been a great experience.

I’ll miss it.

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