How COVID Upended the Final Season of the Showtime Hit

First half of Showtime’s 11th season Shameless already written and the John Wells play is just three days away from filming its final season when the world changes in March.

As the novel coronavirus pandemic forced movie and television productions to close around the world, many moviegoers – including Wells – used the time as an opportunity to imagine the impact COVID-19 would have. to their characters. For Wells, that meant turning the lens on the working-class Gallagher family and their friends as they struggled to rise. It also means rewriting the first six or seven episodes and changing things up at once to keep the Chicago-set series as timely as possible when it comes to the impact of the pandemic.

Below, Wells talks to The Hollywood Reporter about how COVID-19 changed the final season (on screen and outdoors), explores racial injustice and how Frank (William H. Macy) “can’t last forever without any consequences. any”.

Over the past few years we’ve talked about how, over the last few seasons, you’ve made a season finale that can double as a series finale because you’re not sure if Shameless has returned. How has knowing this is the last season impacted the kind of series ending you’ve created – and how has the pandemic changed that?

We’re only three days away from filming when things go to hell in March. We rewrote the entire section via Zoom. To be honest, I haven’t written the finale yet because we adjusted the show as we went to the events on the ground because we thought it was important to Shameless deal with the problems of the pandemic and its economic and health consequences for a community such as Shameless happen in.

We rewrote all of the first six or seven volumes, all of which have already been written. We try to be specific about when we shoot, even though we know we’ll have to take a few months off. But the impacts on all of us – especially on the working class and poor communities – are significant and we are trying to address those issues in a satirical but also somewhat cynical way. Take an honest and dry look at what really happened to these communities and our characters in particular.


Are there any storylines from last season that you missed? How did you do about redoing those things? I mean, you’ve rewritten half the season.

On the practical side, we wouldn’t be able, per COVID working protocol, to do some of the larger scenes that we wanted to do – especially the plot with Liam. [Christian Isaiah]Debbie [Emma Kenney] and her daughter, Franny, will have lots of additional kids. We had to move more shows back to our existing sets [in L.A.] and we’re not sure we can shoot anything in Chicago.

In the end, we didn’t completely eliminate any of the storylines, but we did tweak them to suit what was going on. The biggest person who really changed is Kevin [Steve Howey] and Veronica [Shanola Hampton] and the financial circumstances of small businesses, like bar owners, through the pandemic. That has had to keep changing – the openings and endings and the question of how you’re going to survive and try to get federal or state help and that’s virtually impossible for most small businesses. Then it impacts the edges of things. Tami [Kate Miner] and Lip [Jeremy Allen White] and their precarious financial situation because of their hard work. They are one of a group of people that made headlines last year with 40% of the population not having $400 to deal with any kind of crisis, and a pandemic is certainly a crisis. Ian [Cameron Monaghan] and Mickey’s [Noel Fisher] stories about trying to get a job and keep working are also affected. Does it force you back into crime if you’re trying to stay away from it?

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Are there people you want to bring back — like Elizabeth Rodriguez, who played Frank’s freewheeling nemesis last season — that you can’t?

No, it’s really not what we did. Partly because we didn’t give up stories, but we didn’t pursue them when we realized that attracting people from other parts of the country to Los Angeles for work and with all How difficult will the quarantine process be? . It makes the finale focus more on our characters and how they relate to each other as they grow up, move on with their lives, move out of their family homes and have to build relationships with each other. their new family because they’re married and have children of their own. As a family already so dependent on each other for survival, how do they navigate now that they need to live their own lives? I’d say the show is more specifically about family for those reasons, and that’s driven by the realities of shooting during the pandemic.


It forces you to go back to your core cast – this should be the focus of the final installment, anyway.

Oh, I doubt so! (Laughter.) The longer you’re on the air, the more tempting it is to shift the stories out to include other characters and expand the world you’re dealing with. And you really have to fight that, especially in the final season. You want to tell stories about the people you’ve bonded with over the years and that’s what the audience is looking forward to because we’re going to say goodbye to some of the people we made a part of. my life for a long time.

Knowing that you have to focus on the kernel, how has that changed the way you envision the ending, as you get ready to write it? Before the pandemic, you always maintained that Shameless is a show where the camera pans down the street and the audience has a feeling that life goes on for this family. Is it still the same, given how much our world has changed this year?

You want to feel that you’ve just walked out of it and if you actually accidentally turned down that street two years from now, you’d still find some of the same people there. This isn’t about multiple characters dying or some big, dramatic event like that. It’s about how we move from being a family that depends on each other on a daily basis, living in the same space, to having relationships. How do you change that when you become an adult and move on with your own life but don’t want to give it up? That’s the core of the show: a family that loves and depends on each other and looks out for each other. So we want to maintain that theme to the end. I think that’s where we’ll end up.

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What was the hardest part about filming during the pandemic?

We will be filming until February. The hardest part is doing this during a time of very high anxiety, whether it’s about your health, the fear of going back to work and being around others during these dangerous times, or changed the way we actually filmed the show. The hope is that when you watch the show you don’t notice any of it.

After watching the first episode, there’s definitely a feeling that COVID-19 has impacted these characters. Tami says she had it; Debbie in a scene wearing a mask under her nose. You get no anxiety from the cast; it feels so Shameless that you don’t have to wear a regular mask.

(Laughing.) I’m glad you noticed that! This show is about people who are having to figure out how to survive in the best of times, much less in the moment. Tried. I think we’re mostly working on it, but until we’re done it’s hard to say.

When we spoke in January, you noted that Frank needed to have some support for his years… just being someone around Frank. Is that still the case?

Frank absolutely cannot go on forever without any consequences for all this bad behavior, especially given that behavior has been allowed in so many ways by the fact that his family has stuck around. For all their complaints, there was still a roof over his head and food he could steal. And as everyone is moving on, what will happen to Frank? Who will take care of Frank? Who will take care of Frank? Everyone is ready to go and have their own lives. Carl’s [Ethan Cutkosky] a police officer, has a check and wants to have his own apartment; he didn’t take Frank with him. Tami and Lip, Tami won’t put up with it and Lip doesn’t want to either. Ian and Mickey don’t want Frank. Debbie is defaulted but it’s just gender expectations that girls will take care of him –

Especially considering Debbie saw what caring Frank did for Fiona.

Right! So part of it was like, “Uh oh, who’s going to take care of dad? Oh, he’s still here? Why isn’t he dead? Why can’t he just die and help people get out? ?” But you don’t want that to actually happen if it’s your father. All of that is part of what happens at the end of the season.

Now you mentioned that Carl is a cop. How has the Black Lives Matter movement impacted the story you’re trying to tell that character?

We are trying to use Carl to solve problems of what should do policy. My personal opinion is that no one really believes that we should bring down the police; No one wants to have absolutely no one to react to things happening. But we must rethink what the police function is: What do we depend on the police for? What should their function be and how should they react in the community? Carl, who is very tough, has to deal with the different types of policing he comes in contact with his training officers, who all have very different attitudes about how to be a police officer. The whole sense of racial injustice and what happened, we kept playing those stories with Liam and with Veronica, [and explore the] frustrated about so little progress and conversations about it. I want to say this without controversy because I don’t really want to be a controversial figure on any of these issues, but there is a big difference between how to converse with people living in these areas. mixed-race community and more challenging there is a lot of poverty and everything, the whole conversation about safety is very different from the conversation in a rich community or a complete community. are all white. If you go into neighborhoods like the South Side and ask people if they want to beat the police, [the answer is] are not. But what they want is not race records; They want responsiveness and they want it not to be like every time someone shows up, like a SWAT team shows up. They want compassion, understanding and recognizing what the community really needs. We’re trying to work through those issues through Carl but also through Veronica and some of what Liam is going through.

With the finale still to be written, will Emmy Rossum’s Fiona return?

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We have no opinion. I really want her back. We talked and she was eager to try and could do it. The fact that they had to stop production on Angelyne and don’t know when they’ll be back. As we get closer to it, if they haven’t gone into production yet and if she’s on the West Coast, then there’s a good chance we’ll put her in work on something. It won’t be a big deal because of all her other obligations. There’s a lot in the air trying to sort things out during the pandemic. As I write it, I’ll talk to her again, hopefully we can work something out, but it may not happen. And it won’t be because she doesn’t want to do it. That would be because logistically we just can’t figure out how to do it. Everything is a nightmare from the point of logistical scheduling to keeping everyone safe. It’s all being done for the right reasons, but it can make what used to be easy – flying out on Saturday, shooting on Monday and leaving on Monday night – no more. what happens again.

Shameless back Sunday on Showtime. The edited interview is long and clear.

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