This article continues mentions of sexual assault, drug use, and violence.
At the start of Showtime’s popular comedy-drama Shameless, Debbie Gallagher was an incredibly sweet and intelligent young girl who seemed nothing like her derelict and morally-corrupt father, Frank; but over time, Debbie from Shameless changed. Even as a child, Debbie did everything she could to help support her siblings as they attempted to survive life on the South Side of Chicago, without any emotional or financial assistance from their neglectful parents. The one bizarre trait that Debbie had is that she admittedly wanted to have a baby very early on in life, and sought out specifically to do that.
As the series continued, the Gallagher children, including Debbie Gallagher, inadvertently became more like the parents they swore to never emulate. The once-innocent Debbie from Shameless was sadly no exception. Debbie adopted Frank’s manipulative nature and questionable moral code, using others to get what she wanted. The final season did little to redeem Debbie, and she quickly became one of the show’s worst characters. Debbie may have lost her status as an audience favorite, but she still has a significant number of viewers willing to ignore the glaring issues with her character.
Stealing Baby Casey — Season 1, Episode 4, “Casey Casden”
Debbie Gallagher grew up watching her older sister Fiona raise a house full of kids. Fiona wasn’t necessarily the ideal mother figure, but since she managed to keep a roof over the family’s heads and food on their plates, Debbie incorrectly assumed that it was easy to be a teenage mother. Debbie made it clear early on that she wanted to be a mom, and in the Shameless season 1 installment “Casey Casden,” she took her first shot at the endeavor by kidnapping a child one day while walking around her neighborhood.
Debbie spotted a toddler at a birthday party, and decided to take him home. Her siblings immediately expressed their disapproval and concocted a plan to see that the child was safely returned home while avoiding the police officers that were searching for the missing boy. Debbie never got over her desire to become a mom by any means necessary as she proved in later seasons. What’s worse is that Debbie shows little remorse for taking Casey and is even angered by the prospect that he has to go back to his regular family. It speaks to Debbie Gallagher’s single-mindedness in getting what she wants at an early age.
Concealing Steve’s True Identity — Season 1, Episode 9, “But at Last Came a Knock”
While trying to see if Fiona’s new boyfriend was having a secret relationship with another woman, Debbie from Shameless discovered that “Steve Wilton” was actually Jimmy Lishman, the son of incredibly rich parents who believed he was away at medical school and had no idea he was back in Chicago stealing cars under a different name. Jimmy pleaded with Debbie to keep his secret, and even bribed her with extravagant gifts, so she’d keep her mouth shut. When Debbie realizes that Steve bought the house next door to them, she decides to keep his secret.
Debbie knew that it was wrong to hide something so significant from Fiona, but she hid the truth from her sister for weeks because she enjoyed the special treatment and seemed to also have fun tormenting Jimmy. Debbie Gallagher doesn’t admit to Fiona that Steve’s real name is actually Jimmy until season 2, and seems to have no problem in taking Steve’s gifts. The concealment points to two issues with Debbie from Shameless. First, she’s willing to break her sister’s trust to keep getting material things. Second, she’s willing to break her sister’s trust to keep peace in the household.
Her Ignorance About HIV — Season 11, Episode 9, “Survivors”
As Shameless came to a close with season 11, Debbie struggled to let go of her childhood home and began acting recklessly, leading to several problematic Debbie moments in Shameless. Using Sandy as a babysitter for Franny, Debbie Gallagher went out to bars and clubs, sleeping with strange women while her girlfriend watched her daughter. Debbie from Shameless hooked up with a gay man on one occasion, waking up in an alley the next day with little to no memory of the night before. Sharing her experience with Ian the next day, Debbie dramatically claims she “probably has AIDS.”
Her ignorance on the topic is surprising given her brother’s identity as a gay man as well as the recent acceptance of her sexuality as a lesbian. It’s certainly one of the more glaring problems with Debbie in Shameless, as she’s simultaneously gay but making homophobic comments. The arc that was Debbie’s sexuality on Shameless has received its fair share of criticisms and Debbie’s insensitive comment ignores the reality of HIV transmission and instead contributes to the unnecessary stigma of positive gay men.
Forcing Frank Off The Wagon — Season 1, Episode 8, “It’s Time to Kill the Turtle”
In order to make $3,000 in a medical study, Frank briefly attempted to try sobriety out for a change. He and Debbie from Shameless became closer than ever, as he started spending time with her instead of wasting his day away at the town bar, and the duo bonded over Frank’s newfound love for sugar as a primary replacement for alcohol. The Gallagher children grew tired of sober Frank very quickly and couldn’t trust that wouldn’t return to the quotable yet bad parent they’ve come to know. The decision came when he announced his plan to slam holes in the roof of the family house, so it could have skylights.
Debbie decided Frank was better off inebriated and decided to force him to start again. Frank’s alcoholism is one of the biggest reasons he’s a terrible father and an even worse human being. His alcoholism is so extreme he gets dementia by the end of Shameless and dies alone due to COVID. Even if Frank was being reckless, Debbie and the other Gallagher kids shouldn’t have messed with his sobriety. What’s worse is that earlier in the same episode Lip recounts that Frank was sober on a bet once and how sad he was when he started drinking again. Imagine how differently Shameless would’ve gone had Frank stayed sober.
Her Violent Tendencies — Season 3, Episode 2, “The American Dream”
Debbie from Shameless doesn’t typically share her siblings’ violent tendencies, but when she gets really angry she can be every bit as destructive. When Frank insulted and broke a school project in which she recreated Abraham Lincoln’s house out of Popsicle sticks, she filled a pillowcase with bars of soap and attacked her father. However, this isn’t the last time that Debbie Gallagher chooses to solve problems with violence. After a group of girls bullied her at the local pool in Shameless season 3, episode 5, “The Sins of My Caretakers,” Debbie once again took action, bringing sandbags and attempting to drown the girl in retaliation.
Debbie’s high school experience brings more drama as she sucker punches a girl who insults her in Shameless season 5, episode 5, “Rite of Passage.” After dropping out in one of Shameless’ most controversial storylines, she continues to go completely off the rails to solve her problems by fighting a stranger in a parking lot as her infant daughter watches from the side. During her custody battle with Derek’s family, Debbie even tackles Peppa to serve her with child support paperwork in Shameless season 10, episode 5, “Sparky.” Something snaps in Debbie from Shameless after Frank breaks her school project, and she becomes increasingly violent as the show progresses.
Paying A Child To Impersonate Franny — Season 10, Episode 6, “Adios Gringos”
When Derek’s family began fighting for partial custody of Franny, Debbie had to get creative to prevent them from taking her daughter away from her. Debbie made some questionable parenting decisions over the course of her time on Shameless, one of which was bribing a child to impersonate Franny. Pretending to be a potential foster parent, Debbie approached the child and her older brother who demanded payment in candy and toys.
Young Bella, notorious as a troublemaker, was then dressed like Franny and sent to Peppa for visitation. After Bella traumatized Peppa’s own kids and ruined the house, Peppa decided she didn’t want partial custody of “Franny” after all. The incident speaks to an almost Frank-like streak in behavior that isn’t becoming for Debbie Gallagher. To use a child as a participant in an illegal custody scheme speaks volumes about Debbie’s character and the lengths to which she’s willing to go to get what she wants.
Neglecting Her Baby — Season 6, Episode 11, “Sleep No More”
One of the most problematic Debbie moments in Shameless sees her nearly kill her newborn after ignoring advice from her older sister. After Franny is born, Debbie struggles with the reality of juggling school and a newborn baby. Refusing advice from Fiona, Debbie falls asleep while feeding Franny and drops her to the ground. It was a good four-foot drop, prompting a lot of audience members to question if Franny would live after something like that. However, Debbie’s neglect didn’t stop there. As Franny got older, Debbie began pawning her off on whoever was willing to watch her, often a partner she was dating at the time.
While it’s understandable that Debbie would need help with childcare while she worked and went back to school, she regularly berated her siblings if they were unwilling or unable to drop their own responsibilities to help her. Growing to resent her role as a mother, Debbie began using her time away from Franny to party and do drugs, following a similar pattern to Monica. The fact that Debbie from Shameless almost becomes the mother she never knew is quite sad, and much like Debbie herself, Franny deserved better.
Her Inappropriate Relationship With Matt — Season 5, Episode 3 “The Two Lisas”
The relationship between Matt and Debbie from Shameless is highly problematic and actually includes rape on her part. Matt initially rejected Debbie in season 4 because she was clearly too young, but agreed to become her friend. Matt made it clear that their relationship would always remain strictly platonic, but Debbie was too determined to gain as much experience as her friends to listen. She was highly jealous of anyone he came into contact with, even putting a snake in Seema’s car when she found out they were seeing each other. It occasionally seemed like Matt was actually developing feelings for Debbie, but since it would be illegal, he never acted on them.
Matt’s resistance to being with her only made Debbie want him more, though, so she resorted to an incredibly horrible tactic to take their relationship to the next level. Debbie invited Matt to a party where she spiked his drink. Once he was too inebriated to resist, Debbie forced herself on him and loses her virginity in an act of rape. Since Matt feared the legal ramifications of being with someone several years younger than him, he never reported the assault and simply ended their friendship. Debbie never really seemed to care about what she did either, remarking on the size of his genitals later on in season 9.
Her Manipulation Of Derek — Season 5, Episode 10 “South Side Rules”
Debbie and Derek Delgado actually had a great relationship until Debbie messed everything up by trying to trick her new boyfriend into getting her pregnant. Debbie from Shameless was single-minded about having a baby, to the point of obsession. Based on her actions, it’s clear she didn’t care who would get her pregnant or what would happen afterward, as long as she got a baby. After only a few days of dating, Debbie planned on spending a night with Derek and asked Fiona to take her to a clinic to get birth control. The nurse told her that it’d take a few days for the pill’s effects to kick in.
However, when Derek asked if he should wear protection mere hours later, Debbie assured him they wouldn’t need it. Debbie was fully aware of what could happen if Derek didn’t wear protection but hid the truth from him. Debbie’s desire to become a mother at a young age led to her assault on Derek. She also hoped that starting a family with Derek without his permission would force him to stay with her forever. Unfortunately, Derek figured out her plan and moved across the country, so he wouldn’t have to help raise the child that he understandably wasn’t ready for.
Her Relationship With Claudia & Julia — Season 10, Episode 9, “Oh Captain, My Captain”
One of the most shameless things Debbie ever did was continue her relationship with mother and daughter, Claudia and Julia Nicolo, at the same time. Debbie from Shameless showed just how cruel and calculated she could be during this season 10 arc, and while Julia is partially to blame, Debbie was the real villain in the situation. Enticed by Claudia’s offer to take care of Debbie in exchange for her company and some minor assistant duties, Debbie readily accepted and was soon tasked with driving Claudia’s teenage daughter around.
Julia, determined to make her mother mad, kissed Debbie at a pizza place and then apologizes for her actions — but Debbie kisses her back. Soon after, the pair began sleeping together behind Claudia’s back. Debbie tried juggling both relationships before the truth inevitably came out along with the reality that Julia lied about her age and was not yet eighteen. Claudia reported Debbie to the cops, resulting in her arrest and permanent status as a sex offender.
She Tried To Exploit A Cancer Patient — Season 6, Episode 2, “Abortion Rules”
Another way that Debbie from Shameless mirrored her father Frank was when she exploited a cancer patient for shelter and income. When Debbie revealed to Fiona that she was pregnant and planned on keeping the baby, she told Debbie that she would have to raise Franny alone. Fiona already had too many responsibilities to deal with and didn’t want to add raising or paying for a newborn to the list. To make some money and get some much-needed parenting experience, Debbie became a live-in nanny to a family in which the mother was in the process of passing away.
Frank advised her to trick the husband into desiring her, so she could have a permanent home and a source of income once his wife passed away. Debbie agreed to conduct her father’s scheme, a decision that launched her toward becoming one of the most shameless characters right alongside Frank. When Debbie’s attempts to be with the married man who employed her didn’t work out, she turned her attention toward his wife. Frank learned that the woman used to think she was a lesbian and suggested that Debbie try hitting on her to secure housing.
Her Relationship With Heidi — Season 11, Episode 11, “The Fickle Lady Is Calling It Quits”
Viewers hoped that by the final season of Shameless, Debbie Gallagher would’ve cooled down. Unfortunately, Debbie from Shameless proves why the show is titled that way when she hooks up with a woman who threatened to kill her and her baby. Debbie’s sudden break-up with Sandy Milkovich led to more poor choices for herself and Franny. While walking down the street, Debbie and Franny were corralled by recently released ex-con, Heidi. Pinned against the building to hide from the cops, Heidi holds a gun on them both and threatens to shoot Franny if they don’t help hide her.
Despite Heidi threatening the life of her daughter, Debbie takes Heidi back home and sleeps with her. After only knowing one another for a day, Debbie agrees to run away with Heidi and even brings Franny along for the ride. Debbie’s character arc on Shameless ends with a cliffhanger, in which she can either build a steady life for her daughter or follow in the chaotic footsteps of her mother. Heidi was an unwelcome addition to Shameless, as many were hoping that Debbie would see the error of her ways and look for a more stable future for the sake of Franny.
Her Luxury Fashion Scam — Season 10, Episode 1, “We Few, We Lucky Few, We Band Of Gallaghers!”
No one was happy when Fiona left Shameless in season 9, but she did leave an inheritance sum of $50,000 in Debbie’s hands to take care of the family. Naturally, Debbie from Shameless wanted to take care of Debbie first. While taking Franny out for a walk in the park one day, she noticed that several other mothers simply leave their expensive empty strollers sitting around and decided to start a business stealing and re-selling the strollers. Debbie’s scams gradually begin to go against her personality, becoming less about providing for her baby and more for selfish reasons.
Getting a taste for finer things, Debbie starts buying luxury clothing and accessories with her inheritance money from Fiona. Debbie purchases the expensive items in order to wear them for a short time before returning them for cash. The plan soon unravels as Debbie begins wearing the items past the point of being returnable, tipping off the store clerks to her suspicious buying habits. All in all, the action serves to paint a contrast between Debbie and Fiona as maternal figures. Even with all of her flaws, Fiona would never go so far as to do what Debbie did.
Charging Liam Rent — Season 9, Episode 8, “The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Alibi”
Debbie from Shameless has done a lot of questionable things, but making her 10-year-old brother pay rent was certainly one of the worst. When Fiona lost her investments and apartment complex and turned to alcohol, Debbie stepped in as the de facto leader of the Gallagher household. Debbie reinstated the squirrel fund and demanded regular rent payments from each of the Gallagher siblings, including 10-year-old, Liam. While the Gallagher kids grew up scamming and scraping together money to help with bills, Fiona never made their contributions a requirement.
However, Debbie and Fiona are markedly different caretakers, as some of the problematic Debbie moments in Shameless have proven. As Liam struggles to find a job and meet the payments (because he’s 10 years old), Debbie continues to put pressure on him to earn his place in the house. Debbie locks Liam out of the house and refuses to allow him to sleep inside until he can pay his share. Fiona, suddenly in the same boat and unable to pay Debbie as well, comforts her younger brother and gets them back inside. Problems with Debbie in Shameless tend to crop up whenever she’s put in charge.
Her Selective Love For Frank — Season 6, Episode 12, “Familia Supra Gallegorious Omnia!”
While Debbie from Shameless and Frank have an understandably tumultuous relationship, she’s the Gallagher kid that picked up the most of her father’s scheming nature. Regardless, Debbie’s hot and cold love for her father didn’t do either of them any favors. Debbie was once Frank’s most loyal and devoted child, putting up missing person signs and praying for his safe return, but years of being disappointed by her father hardened her young heart. When Frank ruined Fiona’s wedding to Sean and was subsequently thrown off a bridge by the Gallaghers and their friends, Debbie decided she wanted nothing to do with her father anymore.
Though Debbie often sat on the fence between hating Frank and wanting to earn his love and attention, his betrayal of Fiona pushed Debbie to distance herself from Frank. Debbie began having her Franny go by her middle name of Harriette, calling her “Harry” to remove any trace of Frank from his granddaughter’s name. This is ironic, considering Debbie was wrestling with showing up to Fiona’s wedding in the first place. However, Debbie Gallagher ultimately proves that she’s willing to let people back into her life if they’re needed. This cold shoulder treatment didn’t last long as Debbie later used Frank for childcare and let him back into their lives.
Manipulating Neil — Season 7, Episode 6, “The Defenestration of Frank”
Poor Neil didn’t deserve the treatment that Debbie from Shameless put him through. Debbie’s failed relationships with Matty and Derek seemingly caused her to give up on finding true love, so in season 7, she contented herself with the idea of marrying someone she didn’t actually care about if it meant she’d have a partner who could provide for her and Franny. She wasn’t attracted to Neil at all when they first met at Fiona’s diner, but once she learned that he had an apartment and money, Debbie immediately got engaged to him.
Neil suffered from brain damage which caused him to say the first thing that comes to his mind. His lack of a filter and bizarre appearance was off-putting to Debbie Gallagher, but she did her best to convince Neil that she loved him, so she could spend his money and live in his home. She started spending more and more time away from him and her daughter. She went out every night to drink and hang out with friends, and found herself flirting with other guys, all while Neil was back at home babysitting. Thankfully, Neil falls for someone else in season 8 and breaks up with Debbie.
Judging Sandy’s Parenting Choices — Season 11, Episode 7, “Two At A Biker Bar, One In The Lake”
Debbie’s relationship with Sandy seemed to be going fairly well until someone from Sandy’s past showed up unexpectedly, leading to more problematic Debbie moments in Shameless. In the final season of the series, Sandy’s ex, Royal, showed up at the Gallagher house needing Sandy to look after their son, Prince, while he went to work. Though Sandy explained to Debbie that she had Prince when she was only 15 and never intended to be a mother, Debbie from Shameless ignored her wishes and told Prince that she’d work on getting Sandy custody anyway. Debbie’s decision to butt into Sandy’s past sparked a fight between the couple.
Debbie accused Sandy of abandoning her child despite both Royal and Prince explaining that they were comfortable with the arrangement. Unwilling to be berated by Debbie over her life choices, Sandy pointed out that Debbie was projecting her own insecurities from Monica leaving her, onto Sandy. The couple broke up and Sandy made her exit from the show. Debbie Gallagher, out of everyone, had no right to judge anyone’s parenting arrangements. Everything for Sandy when it came to her relationship with her ex and son was working out fine for all parties involved. If Debbie had just stayed in her lane things wouldn’t have worked out the way they did.
Ignoring Her Daughter’s Wishes — Season 11, Episode 2, “Go Home, Gentrifier!”
Debbie from Shameless was obsessed with having a baby but didn’t necessarily think about what would happen when that baby grew into a child and developed their own personality. When Franny became old enough to form her own opinions and develop her personality, Debbie refused to let go of her preconceived idea of the little girl she’d always dreamt of. While out with Frank, Franny mentioned that she felt more like a boy than a girl, something she also tried to convey to her mother. In response to this, Debbie forced Franny to wear dresses and play with baby dolls instead of lightsabers, completely ignoring her daughter’s own desires.
Things came to a head when Debbie Gallagher planned Franny’s birthday part in season 10 and it turned out a Milkovich was a more accepting presence than she was. While planning Franny’s birthday party, Debbie pushed for a princess-themed party and nearly had a breakdown when the wrong bounce house was sent, leaving them with a pirate bounce house instead of the princess castle. Franny, on the other hand, was thrilled with the pirate bounce house as well as the guns gifted to her by her favorite uncle, Mickey. It was a satisfying moment as it seemed like karma had at least gotten the better of Debbie in this instance.
Using Franny To Make Money — Season 7, Episode 5, “Own Your Shit”
There are a ton of problems with Debbie in Shameless, but how she exploits her daughter is usually top of the list. After dropping out of high school in season 7 to focus on taking care of Franny and earning money, Debbie started taking Franny out to shopping centers to beg for money. Refusing to accept help from Fiona, Debbie was determined to earn her own money and used some of Frank’s most despicable schemes to do so. Complete with a dirt-covered Franny and a cardboard sign asking for help, Debbie pleaded with passersby claiming to be homeless.
Debbie’s plan backfired and nearly cost her custody of Franny when Derek’s sister discovered a video of Debbie from Shameless fighting another woman while Franny cried. Though she tried to declare her independence from her family early on, Debbie often found herself requiring their help to get out of her messes. It was this failed coup that brought Debbie to Neil, proving that getting caught fighting on camera while holding her daughter didn’t teach her any lessons about selfishness. While it seemed like Debbie Gallagher wanted to be a mother, in actuality, Debbie wanted a small clone that she could boss around and use for her benefit.
Her Betrayal Of Fiona — Season 6, Episode 2, “Abortion Rules”
Fiona had her faults, but there’s no question that she was the most stable maternal figure that Debbie from Shameless had and did everything in her power to keep her siblings fed and housed. This is why it was so heartbreaking that Debbie was ultimately so ungrateful. Fiona had become colder and less forgiving of her siblings toward the end of her time on the show, but that doesn’t excuse how unappreciative Debbie was toward her. Fiona spent years prioritizing her duties as a guardian over her own happiness and financial stability, but Debbie resented Fiona’s rules.
Debbie and Fiona’s relationship became strained when Fiona said she didn’t want Debbie to go through with her pregnancy. Even though Fiona always did more for Debbie as her guardian than their parents ever did, Debbie was quicker to criticize her sister over Frank and Monica. She pointed out every relationship blunder and act of selfishness Fiona made while remaining completely ignorant of her own mistakes. Despite becoming a mother herself, Debbie never gave Fiona the credit that she herself demands as Franny’s parent. Debbie assumed that all one had to do to be a mother was to have a baby, completely discounting everything her sister had done for her.