Showtime series is offering up the most radical portrait of homosexuality on small or big screens
Mickey Milkovich, the temperamental gay thug played brilliantly by Noel Fisher, came out of the closet in foul-mouthed, violent fashion on Sunday's “Shameless,” shattering stereotypes along with shot glasses in a brutal bar room fight.
“I just want everybody here to know I'm f–king gay,” Mickey announces to a watering hole filled with family members after his son's christening. “Big old mo.”
Instead of a receiving a welcoming embrace, Mickey is pummeled by his father, inspiring a bloody brawl that nearly lands him in jail. It's the kind of four-letter fun — “no hugging, no learning” — that “Shameless offers up at its best.
“Shameless” has been barreling toward Mickey's confession for much of its fourth season, as the self-loathing pimp and petty crook has slowly become more comfortable in his own skin and in his relationship with “out” boyfriend Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan). Yet Fisher's portrayal of Mickey still has the shock of fresh and is helping to toss out certain preconceptions about gay Americans that are way past their expiration date.
For one thing, Mickey and Ian do not live among the one percent. They hail from the wrong side of the tracks in Chicago and never seem to certain about paying for their next meal or bar tab. There has been a pernicious and absurd belief that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens are largely affluent and upwardly mobile, a trait that has been popularized by shows and movies such as “Will & Grace” and “The Kids Are All Right.” Aside from Omar on “The Wire,” the original small screen gay thug, it's as if being homosexual comes hand in hand with having oodles of expendable income.
The reality is different. Studies, such as 2012 and 2013 reports by the Williams Institute, reveal that same-sex couples suffer higher rates of poverty than heterosexual ones and are more economically insecure.
Moreover, although the majority of Americans endorse gay marriage, broad swaths of the country side with the Milkovich clan in their distain for homosexuality. A hatred that can indeed turn violent. Sexual orientation is the third largest motivator for hate crimes, according to a 2009 study by the Human Rights Campaign.
Mickey and Ian are radical in another important respect. They defy stereotypes and do not signal their sexuality with limp wrists or theatrical gestures. Both revel in their masculinity and seem more interested in throwing a punch than picking out flower arrangements. It's to Fisher and Monaghan's credit that they stubbornly refuse to resort to stereotype, showing us that gay, like straight, comes in many shades.
Best of all neither Ian, on the run from the military for crashing a helicopter, nor Mickey, a brutal enforcer who is tough with the Russian prostitutes he oversees, are saints. There is an evolution in Hollywood when it comes to portrayals of certain minorities. As society becomes more accepting of a particular group, the movie and television business resorts to canonization in its portrayals of minorities, think Sidney Poitier in “Lilies of the Field” or Tom Hanks in “Philadelphia.” This array of saints grows more banal and boring, their pulses barely detectible.
In the case of Mickey, “Shameless” dares us to love him, even as he threatens his wife physically and largely abandons his new baby to live with Ian. He's a gay man, warts and all, defiantly alive.