Last season of Showtime's drama "Shameless" was the best in the series so far. It's odd the show's producers decided to categorize it as a comedy for the most recent awards season category because besides being the best season, it was also by far the darkest.

There were a lot of dark moments, in fact: Fiona (a powerhouse Emmy Rossum) realizing she’s just as capable of her father Frank’s (William H. Macy) self-destructive behavior, Lip (Jeremy Allen White) struggling at college and with his role in the Gallagher family, Ian’s (Cameron Monaghan) manic-depression coming to a head, and most harrowingly, a toddler ingesting cocaine.

There were also a number of feel-good moments — highlighted by Ian and Mickey (Noel Fisher) coming out about their relationship — but the overall feeling was bleak. “Shameless” has never shied away from the disheartening aspect of the Gallaghers having two estranged and/or deadbeat parents, and having to fight and scrape just to get by. But there’d always been levity, and a slight sense of optimism balancing everything out.

Through the first four episodes, Season 5 feels more like the first four outings than the last, which is a deserved respite from the despair of last season but also highlights the flaws of “Shameless.” The most obvious flaw so far — only a minor one — is inconsistency.

As things are looking up for the Gallaghers — Fiona finding a new life on probation, Lip finishing his first year of school, Ian and Mickey making a life with each other — “Shameless” feels more fun and upbeat. But it also has many diversionary shenanigans of Frank and supporting characters that take away from the compelling narrative of the central characters, i.e. the Gallagher kids.

A few episodes in, there are some interesting developments that have potential for import later in the season, but also a Frank-centric episode that goes too over-the-top. I find Macy’s performance good, but his character isn’t what I’m invested in on “Shameless.” Give me more of Fiona, Lip, Ian and the kids.

[photo courtesy of Showtime]