Though it was a failed scam by his father that got him into “cancer” camp, Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) still thinks he really is sick when he takes off for Camp Happy Hopes in the “Helpful Gallaghers” episode of the Showtime comedy Shameless that aired on Sunday, Feb. 10. To keep up his despicable ruse, Frank (William H. Macy) sends a bottle of antacid with Carl and tells him they are magic pills that will help cure his cancer while imploring him to still keep quiet about his “catching” cancer from his grandmother.
Considering the set up, I didn’t have great expectations for where the show would take the storyline but I did find myself feeling sorry for Carl when he hugged his dad and told him he loved him before getting on the bus. Alcoholism is a disease that leads parents to do horrible things to their kids, but tell them they have cancer when they really don’t? Can it get any lower?
It turns out the sympathy you feel for Carl is short-lived. Once at camp, Carl finds out there is no longer a rifle range and pitches a fit, the first of many that leads to a mini revolt among the campers who start to question why a camp for dying kids has so many rules. Far from being gracious or thankful for the opportunity, Carl and his sense of entitlement quickly become the thorn in the side of one of the counselors, an attractive college-aged redhead named Wendy (played by Galadriel Stineman, who you might recognize as Axl’s girlfriend in The Middle).
Carl acts like such a incorrigible brat – questioning everything from the food served in the dining hall to the lack of sprinkles on the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream served for snack – you end up feeling more sorry for Wendy than you do for the kid whose dad told him he had cancer because he thought it might get him an autographed Bulls basketball he could sell on eBay.
Wendy’s mistake is she’s too eager to please and rather than enforce the rules when she catches Carl breaking into the glass medicine cabinet (something you won’t find at a real summer camp) she allows herself to be manipulated into a plot that ultimately sends her home in tears on the bus as the credits begin to roll. To Carl’s credit, he was trying to be “helpful” by granting a wish to Henry, a friend he makes who is really dying of cancer. It’s just that the wish he helped make come true and the fact that Wendy would ever go along with it is, like so much about this show, wrong on so many levels.
As summer camp references go, there isn’t a whole lot redeeming (though visually the camp scenes look great) about this two-episode storyline, thus proving that not every pop culture reference of summer camp is worth endorsing or celebrating.