Shameless and the Disappearing Diabetes

A character on the hit show has Type 1 diabetes for all of a few seconds of screen time during Season 5. Why this is a problem.



Commentary

Do you know what’s worse than a character’s Type 1 diabetes being used as an excuse for heroism in an action film? It might be when Type 1 diabetes is brought up once in a television show’s season and then largely ignored for the rest of the episodes.

Shameless is a sprawling and funny show that follows the misadventures of a severely dysfunctional family, the Gallaghers. The show is based off a U.K. show of the same name. One of the central focal points of the show is the fraught love life of Fiona Gallagher, the young and sometimes unwilling matriarch of the family.

Read when a diabetes death advances a plot in “Outlander Makes Diabetes Terminal and Useful.”

At times, there are so many characters that it seems hard for the writers to keep track of all the plot points. That seems to be the case in the most recent season, Season 5, when a character with Type 1 diabetes is introduced as the latest love interest of Fiona. Gus is an earnest musician who helps Fiona save face when she is made a fool of by a member of Gus’s band. The two hit if off, and he spends time hanging around the diner where she works. Fiona is prone to diving into relationships way too quickly, and the two fool around (a lot) and quickly get married in a city hall ceremony.

It is only after this that we learn that Gus has Type 1 diabetes, as Fiona wakes up to find Gus injecting a dose of insulin one morning (poor Fiona is so used to drug abuse in her family that she fears he is doing heroin). The moment is clearly used by the writers to underline how little these two know about each other.

Read about a character with Type 1 appears in one episode of “The Walking Dead.” 

It’s at this point that the writers could begin to incorporate Gus’ diabetes more into the plot, especially since, you know, the two are married and all. Except that they don’t. In fact, Type 1 doesn’t seem to get much of a mention at all. Fiona and Gus begin to, predictably, fall apart, and while they may have 99 problems in their relationship, Type 1 diabetes ain’t one.

And this absence of a discussion about Type 1 causes the viewer, or at least this viewer, to look back and cry foul over its absence in the earlygoing of the courtship. It’s bad enough that Gus hangs out all hours at Fiona’s diner without once having to test his blood sugar or dose for the greasy spoon food that he eats (maybe he just tests and doses in the bathroom a lot?), but then there’s the issue of sex. You see, Gus and Fiona have a lot of it before they are married, a marathon amount actually. It seems to strain credulity that he didn’t need to test his blood sugar or treat a low once all those times. And if there was a pump in use, I think Fiona would have found it before the morning after their wedding day.

Season 6 of Shameless is set to launch in January 2016. My concern is that Gus’ Type 1 will be employed as a plot point, probably involving a hospital, after largely being kept on the shelf during Season 5. It’s not that I want Type 1 diabetes to define Gus, any more than I want it to define anyone who has it; it’s just that it seems annoying that the writers have the ability to take Gus’ diabetes out of a box when needed. If only everyone with Type 1 had the same ability.

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Craig Idlebrook is a past editor for Insulin Nation, Type 2 Nation, and Información Sobre Diabetes. He is now the community engagement and content manager for T1D Exchange.