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TV Review: Weeds

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Weeds has never really been about a widowed suburbanite who deals pot to her friends and neighbors to make ends meet. That’s merely a metaphor. In fact, almost every aspect of Weeds works as metaphor. First, there’s the name of the LA suburb “Agrestic”, which is an Old English word meaning “characteristic of the fields”, but also means “crude and lacking in sophistication.” The characters in the series all represent some degree of disenfranchisement within their political and social strata. Marijuana is actually the most minor component of Weeds, serving as a crude capitalist icon from which everything else emanates.

Or maybe I get high just watching Weeds.

It’s addictive that way. Season one was an enjoyable romp through some of suburbia’s darker boulevards. While Mary-Louise Parker’s portrayal of small time suburban pot dealer Nancy Botwin was the force that kept it cohesive, the interplay between her and the characters surrounding her made the show pop. Kevin Nealon, as Doug Hunter, and Elizabeth Perkins, as Celia Hodes, in particular, were outstanding symbols of middle class extremes. Both pointed to the dirty little secrets that lurked beneath the veneer of the pristine gated community. Doug was the city councilman who was perpetually stoned, but maintained his CPA business, and Celia was the PTA president whose obsession with image didn’t preclude her extramarital activities. And, of course, both were close to Nancy.

With season two, Weeds expands on its suburban satire, and wisely takes the storyline into more logical, often darker realms. What we get as a result is a series that weaves seamlessly between broad comedy and scalpel sharp drama, and never misses a beat between transitions. Plot points introduced in the first season flow effortlessly into the second, progressing in a way that unfolds much like life does.

Alliances have shifted. Nancy and Conrad have decided to expand their operation, and grow their own. Heylia, Conrad’s aunt and Nancy’s supplier, isn’t happy about this, for obvious reasons. When Nancy’s bakery burns down (perhaps aided by Sanjay), it presents a perfect opportunity for Nancy and Conrad to eliminate the middle man, however.

As rosy as all that may sound, the growing business is not without complications. After all, Nancy is trying to raise her two sons, Silas and Shane, who are in separate stages of pubescent male hormone pinball. Silas is exerting his male dominance factor, usually not very well. And Shane is torn between the newfound joys of masturbation and realizing that joining the debate team is a good way to make certain chicks notice him. Uncle Andy isn’t the best role model for them, but there may be hope in the Israeli ex-commando who teaches him that she can be more man than he’ll ever be (long story, that one).

As if that weren’t complicated enough, Nancy has entered into a marriage of convenience with DEA agent Peter—the mutual reasoning being that he can’t ever testify against her. And after Celia defeats Doug in the city council election, they enter into a torrid affair. There’s more, but this should be enough to make your head spin.

Of course, it could all lapse into silly comedy, but series creator Jenji Kohan and her team of writers hone each episode with such surgical precision that you barely notice the precise instants when the storyline veers into darkly dramatic territory. The characters don’t seem to realize it, either. By and large, they go blithely through their day to day routine, mostly oblivious to all but their most immediate concerns. In fact, only the characters most involved with pot, from dealers to users to Feds, are even remotely aware of the forces transpiring around them.

Even then, the principals in Weeds amplify the mundane aspects of their lives to the point that the larger issues don’t register with them until they’re potentially beyond their control. It all culminates as the season unfolds, with the Armenian mafia in a Mexican standoff with a couple of gangsta hustlers. Both sides want Nancy’s and Conrad’s stash. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have it, since her son Silas has already jacked it. It’s a cliffhanger that surpasses Tarantino in terms of tension. Season three debuts on Showtime 13 August. I have a feeling that life in the suburbs is going to get a lot more complicated.

In the meantime, season one (ten episodes) and season two (twelve episodes) are available on DVD, and as downloads directly from Showtime. This is groundbreaking comedy that balances outrageous humor with provocative social commentary. The beauty of it is that it never gets heavy-handed on either end of the spectrum. And even though it has moments of taut drama, Weeds never strays far from being, well… mellow.

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About Ray Ellis

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  • I wish I had Showtime!!!

    Nice piece Ray!