Meet the Gallaghers, the TV family that brings new meaning to the word ‘dysfunctional’ (also, to the phrase ‘white trash’, if you want to be mean about it):

Frank, the father, is mostly absent. Not because he’s off trying to make a living to support his family, of course. He’s either coming off a bender, or wasted on drugs and booze, and on the rare occasions he actually shows up, it spells trouble for his kids, and what little money they have. When the money runs out, he will come up with elaborate schemes to con it out of anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path. Yet for all his abysmal parenting skills, William H. Macy’s Frank somehow manages to have us root for the success of his plotting, often at the expense of his children.

Monica, the mother, split a long time ago. Bipolar and refusing to take her meds, she reappears from time to time to wreak havoc on her family (alone or accompanied by her lesbian partner).

Lip, the oldest son, is street smart and with the potential to be not just book smart, but a bright young mind, if only he had the inclination to dedicate his wit to school instead of pot, hooking up with the hot classmate, and various illegal activities.

Ian is gay, in love with the (lovable beneath the tough exterior) neighborhood bully, but that’s the least of his problems. While all the Gallagher children have inherited Frank’s talent for screwing up, he has also inherited Monica’s manic-depressive tendencies. Not exactly keen on taking his meds either, he inevitably goes looking for trouble, and he doesn’t have to look very far.

Debbie, initially a nice, dilligent student who genuinely tried to help her older sister take care of her family, can’t help but follow in her sister’s footsteps. With a track record of promiscuity and agression, big sis’ heart might be in the right place, but a role model she is not.

Carl is a budding criminal mastermind. Clearly on his way to blossoming into a full-blown sociopath and intent on making just about any situation worse for himself, he is the black sheep of the family; and in a family of delinquent teens and awful parent figures, that’s quite a feat.

Toddler Liam, who despite looking clearly african-american, is actually Frank’s own son, hasn’t yet had time to explore his wild Gallagher side. Yet somehow he manages to land himself in the emergency room after a cocaine overdose, so clearly his parents have passed on their penchant for mischief to each and every one of their children.

Which brings me to waitress Fiona, the eldest of the siblings. Poor Fi does her best to take care of her dysfunctional family, but all her good intentions can’t prevent the endless blunders. Whether she falls for a shady grifter instead of the nice, wholesome cop who’s had a crush on her forever, or decides to marry a perfectly nice guy she barely knows only to cheat on him soon after with the aforementioned shady ex of hers, her love life is in ruins and that’s not even the worst of her problems. Try as she might to provide for her family and be the mother figure their own mom deprived them of, it’s obvious she can’t even really take care of herself, let alone five difficult siblings.

A group of misfits surrounds our main cast, elevating the weirdness factor and providing comic relief. Kevin and Veronica, the Gallagher’s next door neighbours, who supplement their legitimate income by shooting home porn and growing weed; the Milkovich family, rivaling the Gallaghers’ own dysfunction, with a bit more violent outbursts thrown in for good measure; Sheila Jackson and her crazy, slutty daughter; Frank’s illegitimate daughter and her slightly retarded son (when discussing a show that gives new meaning to the term ‘politically incorrect‘, I will damn well call the boy retarded); Fiona’s on-and-off boyfriend Steve, a top notch scam artist.

We are not supposed to actually like all these people. They are not just horrible role models, they are the kind of people who want to avoid at all cost. They are the cautionary tales you use as examples when you want to feel better about your own life, when you want your screw-ups to seem minor and insignificant.

shameless But somehow you end up rooting for them. That’s the brilliance of this show. When every situation becomes too dark and depressing to qualify as entertaining TV, it will invariably and effortlessly switch the mood and make you crack up at a silly joke, a perfect dead-pan delivery of a funny line or just a predicament too comically tragic. Whether dealing with death, drugs, disease, cheating, poverty or any given truly unfortunate situation, the show somehow manages to not leave you feeling bleak, pessimistic or depressed.

Through five seasons, the Gallaghers have been through the wringer. It’s hard to imagine what new shenanigans they will employ next for our viewing pleasure. Whatever new and unbelievable antics they come up with this season, one thing’s for sure: starting tonight, we will be watching, and thanking our lucky stars we are not members of the Gallagher clan.