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2012 Emmy Longshots: ‘Shameless’ Star Emmy Rossum, The 20-Something Matriarch

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Jul 03, 2012 | 7:18am EDT

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You love them, we love them, and it's high time Emmy recognized them. We're talking about the TV actors and actresses who have yet to be recognized by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, despite drawing us in week in and week out with their awe-inspiring ability to make us laugh, cry, or a weird combination of both. So every day here at Hollywood.com, we're going to be saluting those on the small screen who deserve an Emmy nomination, longshot status be damned. Today, we cast our ballot for Shameless star Emmy Rossum.

There seems to be an unspoken rule in the Emmy-nominating community that age is somehow a component of one’s eligibility for a winged trophy. Most winners, especially women, are folks who’ve been working in the business for years, finally getting their due praise years after they hit their original stride. It’s for this reason – and a few others – that 25-year-old Emmy Rossum faces some steep competition to nab even a nomination. And that’s a crying shame.

While it’s unlikely the tragic heroine of Showtime’s dingy family drama Shameless will earn her rightful praise, her journey on the series has earned her the prerequisite age. As 21-year-old Fiona Gallagher, Rossum leads an entire brood of South Side Chicago children – her brothers and sisters ranging from toddler age to age 17 – in the absence of their addict mother and their present, but drunken father, Frank (William H. Macy). She packs the lunches, checks homework, plays housekeeper and fatherly-advice-dispenser, holds down multiple jobs, shimmies her way through tough, penniless winters, and still manages to have a love life on the side (because it’s Showtime, we can’t have drama without a little sex on the kitchen floor). Fiona may be just a few years out of high school, but she’s got more life experience than most 60-year-olds.

But that’s simply the circumstance of the series, and Emmys aren’t handed out for playing a character under duress – if they were, every victim on Law & Order: SVU would have a rack of awards. It's the internal struggle that comes with Fiona’s place as the de facto Gallagher matriarch that brings out the best in Rossum. Especially after what happened during the most recent season.

Though she’s clearly one of the most stout-hearted characters in a world of petty thieves, town drunks, and teenage delinquents, Fiona struggles with keeping to the straight and narrow. She can only keep up with raising a large family of rambunctious children abandoned by their parents, while struggling with sacrificing her own future and dreams to scrape pennies to keep the family afloat, for so long before she cracks. After all, she’s still under 25.

In Season 2, she’s given up the love of her life, and in her frazzled loneliness, turns to questionable, Frank Gallagher-esque behaviors. We find her running around with her new, promiscuous (and shady) gal pal Jasmine (Amy Smart), getting her jollies off of wealthy men (like the under-used James Polk) and having actual sex on the beach. But wealthy business men have a habit of always leaving town, so when Fiona gets even lonelier, she gets lower. She gets as low as returning a single mother’s purse after stealing the $500 in cash right out of it and lying to her face, later sleeping with her old, now-married flame from high school, and running from his surprisingly violent wife throughout Chicago’s Canaryville neighborhood. She quickly begins to realize that while she’s not about to abandon her family like Frank did, there are certain familial traits she can’t manage to escape. The season sees her struggle with the question: Can she stop herself from truly being her father’s daughter?

But it gets worse. When Fiona’s mother Monica returns to the house, promising to take back the motherly duties so Fiona can regain a little of her life, our heroine enjoys a brief respite and even starts pursuing her own curtailed goals. And it’s this break that earns her such ire from her older siblings, who’ve come of age with her as their motherly figure and expect her to put everyone else before her own needs... always. When Monica jumps off the deep end again, and eventually tries to commit suicide, Fiona is left in the wake, wrestling with her own emotions about her mother's behavior and the blame emanating from her teenage brothers.

Fiona’s load of issues is too much for one person, and taking on such a character is a feat for only the most talented, nimble actress. Rossum is just that. She tackles the mile-a-minute, inconsistent road of the Gallagher family rock with ease, switching from hot-and-heavy romance to motherly affection to stern, familial protector to losing her mind in the span of a single episode. She struggles with the feminist issue of being the eldest daughter and therefore being charged with the duty of taking her mother’s duty while her brothers frolic with their teenage tryst-mates. Rossum juggles the actress’ equivalent of her character’s harrowing load and she does so flawlessly.

With her at the helm of the Gallagher brood, we’re not just watching the young girl struggle and oohing and ahhing at the shocking events of her life. We’re there with her. We’re in it. With Rossum, we live in that broken-down South Side house with the smudgy windows and frayed curtains. We were weighing the pros and cons of eating Carl’s slain bald eagle for Thanksgiving dinner. We’re in the family instead of looking through the dingy window making judgements, so when Fiona is broken, so are we.

Rossum is carrying a load worthy of the most seasoned actress without giving us any sign of breaking a sweat. So, she may be a “baby” in the acting game, but she’s more than earned the battle wounds to bump her up to the Emmy-worthy faze of her career. Come on, voters. Emmy needs an Emmy.

Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler.

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