Representation | Class in American TV Dramas

Shameless – Season 2, Episode 10 (click here to watch the extract)

The scene begins with Fiona storming into the room, while the father is sitting on an armchair that is flipped over, snorting what looks like cocaine and grunting. This is a long, handheld shot, that moves from the father to the young woman, as she walks in. A conversation between Fiona and her brother unfolds, both being angry. Over-the-shoulder handheld shots are used all throughout the conversation, some shots being wider to include the father, who is sitting beside the two. During their conversation, a few working class stereotypes are presented: the brother said he had to bail one of their siblings out of jail – frequent encounters with the police are thought to be common amongst lower/working class people. It is obvious that the father has drug problems, but he says he’s late to a meeting – the way he says it while walking out is condescending, showing that he feels he is king of his house. They also have money problems, the young man telling Fiona that Monica (their mother) had spent all the money they saved. When the yelling becomes more intense, showing feelings of despair or fear, the camera sometimes closes up on the face of the person who is talking. As the two walk into the kitchen, with the brother following Fiona, still shouting, the camera follows them, being out of focus for a second. The handheld technique used shows authenticity and, in a way, chaos. The kitchen is extremely messy, with dishes and various objects scattered all over the counter; the brother actually says, with great emphasis, that “the sofa is in the kitchen!”

When she finds out their mother tried to make Ian (their brother) enlist in the army, she runs upstairs to the mother’s room, with tears in her eyes. As soon as the dialogue between Fiona and her brother comes to an end, gloomy guitar music starts playing. When the woman enters her mother’s room, she starts shouting and blames her for what she had done. The mother rolls over in bed, not willing to get up, and starts crying. Fiona goes downstairs quietly and walks back into the kitchen. Right as she exits her mother’s room, a bird’s-eye-view shot is used to show both the mother in bed and Fiona walking out the door. When Fiona enters the kitchen, an establishing shot is used to show her walk in while also showing the clutter and the mess in the room. There are dirty clothes on the sofa, a newspaper, a laundry basket and some clothes thrown on the floor. The counters are again filled with dishes. A worm’s-eye-view shot is used to show Fiona walk towards the middle of the kitchen. A few cuts in rapid succession switch from this shot, to a couple of medium shots and then to a bird’s-eye-view shot. These shots appear to be a bit slowed down, conveying the fact that time is no longer of essence. Fiona starts kicking a washing machine while also crying and grunting, while another quick succession of worm’s-eye-view, bird’s-eye-view and slow-motion medium shots is shown. The kicking ends with a close-up shot of her shoes – fancy high-heeled shoes, another sign of her no longer being a working class woman. She cries while leaning against the washing machine. The music is no longer solo guitar, with a violin being introduced as the scene calms down. Fiona then takes off her jacket and starts cleaning up the kitchen, putting the dishes back into the cupboard. Again, slow-motion shots are used to show the fact that she has a lot of tedious work to do, which will take a lot of time. The camera slowly backs out of the kitchen, showing the entire setting from another room, ending in an establishing shot showing the living room in which the extract started. Once again, the armchair is flipped over, there are chairs on the table and a lot of junk thrown around. This shows the family’s instability and lack of control over their living environment.

The entire house has very warm, but low-key lighting, so it looks dark, eerie and perhaps sad. This, together with the sad music, ties in perfectly with Fiona’s display of emotions and with the family’s situation: a distant father who has a drug problem and always has something better to do than help his relatives, an angry brother who does whatever he can to keep the house together, a depressed mother who finds retreat in the loneliness of her bed, crying and not helping in any way, only making the situation worse (“she tried to convince Ian to enlist”, “you could’ve killed Carl”, “you promised me…”; she had to be bailed out of jail).

Fiona appears to be better dressed than her brother and father and she seems to not know what had been going on around the house, so she must have been away for a while, possibly to try to get our of the life they were all living. In this extract, she acts like the guardian angel of the family, having ascended from the lower class to gain a slightly higher social status.