Warning: Some broad spoilers for SPOILERS for all nine seasons of Shameless to follow!
Shameless: characterized by or showing a lack of shame: immodest; audacious; insensible to disgrace. There is no better adjective than that to describe the characters of Showtime’s appropriately titled series Shameless. Based on a British series of the same name, John Wells’ long-running dramedy features some of the most despicable, selfish and lovable characters on television.
Over the course of 9 seasons and more than 100 episodes, the Shameless characters have behaved abhorrently, committed more crimes than you could count, self-destructed in spectacular fashion, hurt those closest to them and innocent bystanders in equal measure and generally sucked at life, all while feeling little to no shame for their actions.
They say one bad apple spoils the bunch, but the Shameless characters are all bad apples. That said, some of those bad apples are more rotten and exhibit less shame than the rest. This is not necessarily who deserves the most jail time, who has hurt the most people or who has caused the most damage measured in dollars and cents, although that may overlap, this is about the degrees to which the Shameless characters live up to the show’s title by being completely and utterly shameless.
Here are the Shameless characters, ranked from least to most shameless.
Liam Gallagher (Christian Isaiah)
It makes sense the least shameless character on Shameless is the character that has done the fewest shameful things. The majority of the series, the youngest Gallagher was a near-mute toddler played by twins Brendon and Brandon Sims. He usually just suffered from or was an accomplice to the screw-ups and schemes of his family members. Once Liam Gallagher was recast with actor Christian Isaiah in Season 8, the character took on a bigger role and followed in his family’s footsteps, to a point.
The highly intelligent Liam bribes a classmate to protect him from a bully by doing his schoolwork for him. Liam also gets a kick out of some of his siblings’ and father’s shenanigans, but he does sometimes feel shame and embarrassment over their actions. When Frank wants to use Liam’s private school connections to rob his friends’ families, Liam feels embarrassed and ultimately tricks Frank, almost resulting in Frank’s arrest.
Veronica “V” Fisher (Shanola Hampton)
Shanola Hampton’s Veronica Fisher is easily one of the most levelheaded characters on Shameless and probably the one with the most common sense. Like the rest of the Shameless characters though, V is not above engaging in behavior most people would be ashamed of. She helped the Gallaghers temporarily steal an old lady from a nursing home, she passed off her two children as one at a prestigious preschool and used her dominatrix talents to help Carl get a West Point recommendation. Oh yeah, and she had Kevin have sex with her mom in a drastic surrogacy measure.
Although V is generally very confident in her actions, she does feel shame. She truly cares about Kevin; however, he is the source of frequent embarrassment for her. Because she cares, she feels shame when there are problems at The Alibi Room and when she makes real mistakes, like trusting Svetlana, or when she is having trouble taking care of her family.
Phillip “Lip” Gallagher (Jeremy Allen White)
Lip Gallagher is simultaneously one of the most likable and most frustrating of the Shameless characters. Easily the smartest of the Gallagher clan, Jeremy Allen White’s Lip is a constant screw-up who has done some truly shameful stuff over the years. Lip Gallagher truly doesn’t care what people think about him and he wears that ‘I don’t give a shit’ attitude like a badge of honor.
This pessimist has slept with his professor and gotten kicked out of college and often uses his smarts to make a quick buck through questionable means. Lip often gets into trouble, including physical altercations, in a seeming desire to self-destruct. But Phillip Gallagher sometimes does give a shit and his sensitivity and pain is what has driven this alcoholic to the bottle so many times. He does feel shame at some of his decisions and how his life has turned out, making him far from the most shameless character in Shameless.
Fiona Gallagher (Emmy Rossum)
Emmy Rossum’s Fiona Gallagher is, along with William H. Macy’s Frank, the main character on Shameless, at least before her exit from the series at the end of Season 9. She is a tough character to rank because she vacillates from being devastated, embarrassed and ashamed at her actions and their consequences, like letting Liam get into her coke, to basically not giving a damn. She is often the glue that holds the Gallagher family together and more than any other character in the series, she has tried to improve herself and work toward a better life.
However, her tough South Side upbringing has made her a fighter and as such she is fairly shameless when she screws up, which happens often. When Fiona is irresponsible, cheats in her relationships or goes on one of many benders, she is often unwilling to accept help or criticism from those around her. In that way, she shares some of the same shamelessness as her father Frank.
Kevin Ball (Steve Howey)
Kevin Ball is an odd character on Shameless because, unlike so many of the other characters, he generally doesn’t ever do anything particularly awful. So you might think that would put him further down the list with someone like Liam Gallagher, but shamelessness is the key on this list and Kevin Ball feels almost no shame for anything he does, whether he should or not.
That’s part of the beauty of Steve Howey’s Kevin, he’s lovable and clueless, a big-hearted family man who always tries to do the right thing. He is shameless though in things others would be red in the face over. This is a guy who sold weed out of an ice cream truck, slept with his mother-in-law and started a topless maid service with graphic depictions of his wife and girlfriend on the broad side of a van. And he felt no shame for any of it. Kevin Ball did, however, feel quite bad for throwing Frank off a bridge.
Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan)
Whether it’s Gotham or Shameless, Cameron Monaghan often plays particularly troubled characters. His Ian Gallagher is quite difficult to place because a lot of his behavior stems from the fact that he suffers from Bipolar Disorder. Regardless, of the reasoning behind it, Ian Gallagher is fairly shameless in many of his actions. Near the beginning of the series, he used Lip’s name to enlist in the military, only to later go AWOL.
Ian has plenty of public sex, using his body as a cash machine in reckless fashion. Later in the series, Ian becomes a gay rights advocate called ‘Gay Jesus’ and he advances his message through dangerous and criminal means, resulting in his imprisonment. A lot of the time Ian isn’t particularly aware of the consequences or optics of his actions and is pretty shameless about them, often seeming to feel bad about himself generally than about what he actually does. When he does realize what he’s doing, it hits him hard.
Carl Gallagher (Ethan Cutkosky)
Ethan Cutkosky’s Carl Gallagher is the Bart Simpson of the Shameless universe, the kid in your neighborhood growing up who was always in trouble and always the most fun to hang out with. Although he possesses real kindness and love for his family, even saving their home at one point, for the most part Carl is a troublemaker and a thug with no shame in his game.
A lot of Carl Gallagher’s shamelessness stems from the fact that he is kind of an idiot. So, when he deals drugs from a young age and enlists his slow nephew Chuckie to help him, or when he sells guns in school, or almost murders someone or goes to juvie on purpose, he is too dumb and full of adolescent bravado to feel any shame. Ethan Cutkosky’s character has turned over a new leaf in recent seasons, but Carl Gallagher’s shamelessness is a big part of what makes him one of the most entertaining characters on Shameless.
Debbie Gallagher (Emma Kenney)
Debbie Gallagher is often considered the most dislikable of the main Shameless characters and that has a lot to do with her complete lack of self-awareness and how utterly shameless she is about her reprehensible actions. Emma Kenney’s character date raped a guy to lose her virginity, tricked another dude into getting her pregnant to trap him and took advantage of a disabled man, using him for his money and as a babysitter.
Debbie Gallagher has also stolen strollers, stolen a baby, dropped her own and generally been an entitled brat. She is one of the most shameless characters on Shameless because she always thinks she is right, refusing to acknowledge her own mistakes and rarely showing any remorse for her actions. Debbie Gallagher has started to evolve into a more responsible character in the most recent season, but she still lives up to the show’s title and is the heir apparent to the most shameless character on Shameless.
Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy)
The rest of these rankings are debatable, but of this there could be no doubt, William H. Macy’s Frank Gallagher is the most shameless Shameless character and perhaps the most shameless character on television and maybe in all of fiction. There are no depths Frank Gallagher won’t stoop to and nothing he won’t do and he will never feel bad or ashamed about any of it. Frank Gallagher is a narcissist, a charlatan, a deadbeat and a scumbag, concerned only with his own self-interest -- which primarily extends to where and how he is going to get his next drink.
It is only through the brilliance of William H. Macy’s performance that this lowlife is entertaining and not infuriating to watch. His crimes are too myriad to enumerate entirely, but this is a character that has faked disabilities, supported a pedophile for local office, leveraged his kid in a gambling debt, ruined his daughter’s wedding, participated in a demeaning hobo competition, failed to support his children in any way and has destroyed one liver and is working on his second. Because he is purely driven by his own self-interest, Frank Gallagher felt no shame for any of that. Shame, embarrassment and remorse simply aren’t in his nature as shamelessness is his defining trait, making him the most shameless character on Shameless.
There you have it, the shameless characters of Showtime’s Shameless, largely bad people distinguished only by their varying degrees of insufficient shame. Reading out all their crimes you might not want to hang out with them in real life, but the show does a remarkable job of investing you in the struggle and journey’s of these deeply flawed characters as they do their best to get by.