First time I watched Shameless, I hated all the Carl scenes. I figured they were a waste of time, pulling focus from Lip and Fiona and all interesting characters. Well, fuck me, because Carl Gallagher, especially in seasons 3 and 4, is one of the most interesting characters.
In the pilot, Debbie tells Carl he’s ‘almost nine [and] has to start pulling his weight soon’ and all he does is grin evilly, make some unnerving references to skinning cats and burning shit down. At one point, though, this changes, and we get to see Cutkosky be brilliant.
“He had a fantastic look. He looked like he was slightly stoned, and we thought, oh, the kid will never have to do any acting, and he’s got this great face.” (x)
Carl goes off to his dad a lot — and really, to him it’s ‘dad’, not Frank. He’s the youngest, so he’s been hurt least by him. In the gorgeous scene at the very end of season four, when Frank offers the 12-year-old the bottle, it’s no problem for Carl to take a sip, if only it impresses his dad. Cutkosky really has this stoned face and it’s hard to read him, but small looks and slight changes in tone never leave a doubt in how much Carl looks up to Frank.
In The Legend of Bonnie and Carl, Cutkosky gets his first individual storyline with the incredibly talented and ridiculously beautiful Morgan Lily. He meets her in detention and falls for her fast and hard. It’s Carl’s first chance to really go off on his own — “it’s my house too”, Carl defies Lip when he’s asked to send away Bonnie’s herd of siblings camping in their living room. It’s such a small thing, but so impressive, because while Debbie’s become more rebellious (beating Frank with a bag of soap, right?) all we’ve see until then is Carl being pissed at Lip and Fiona and Ian for not caring about and not giving his liver to Frank but nothing else. From sociopath kid, he undergoes a change over the seasons that is easy to disregard because of the monumental changes in other characters, like with Mickey, but Carl’s development is just as significant. There’s this one scene where Carl shows such understanding, chivalry and maturity so naturally that it leaves you breathless. The introduction of Bonnie marks independence of some sort. From season 5 promos, it sure looks like he’s branching off on his own.
The effortless(-looking) hilarity Carl has with his one-liners is unparalleled and this show has Kevin Ball’s magic dick. The way he interacts with Bonnie, how he conveyed heartbreak in Lazarus as well as another boy did with one syllable in the finale before that one, and still manages to be full out Carl, be the person he’s been developing to — these things are nothing short of wonderful. Carl’s character might have just the most consistency, save for Frank’s, in the show. His arsonist and sociopathic tendencies aside, he’s made a shiv for Debbie when she’s been in trouble, has looked up to Fiona, accepted Ian being gay (and with Mickey) without questioning anything. Not to say that Carl’s moral compass isn’t miles off, but he’s a Gallagher. And his heart is in the right place.
“Carl’s increased airtime is a direct result of Ethan’s blossoming talent,” said Mark Mylod, an executive producer on Shameless. (x)
I’ll rest my case here and just say that if you watch Shameless and don’t like Carl, look closer. Cutkosky has crafted what is probably the best 12-year-old on screen right now.