Lionsgate // 2009 // 360 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // January 19th, 2010
The Hemptress Returns!
Showtime's hit show Weeds returns with a new crop of episodes, and audience expectations are now higher than ever before. Let's take a toke, shall we?
The previous season finale was, as always, punctuated by plenty of portents. Once the local marijuana dealer in a suburb full of ticky-tacky, Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker, The Spiderwick Chronicles) was about to be put to death by a powerful drug lord named Esteban Reyes (Demian Bechir, Che) after reporting to the DEA the existence of a transport tunnel between Mexico and the border-town of Ren Mar, California. Lucky for her, Nancy is now carrying Esteban's child, buying her some time. However, she also finds herself under constant surveillance by his bodyguards.
Fearing for her family's safety, Nancy sends her youngest Shane (Alexander Gould, How To Eat Fried Worms) to live with her sister Jill (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Margot At The Wedding), while funding Silas (Hunter Parrish, 17 Again) to start a medical marijuana business. Silas asks weed enthusiast Doug Wilson (Kevin Nealon, You Don't Mess With The Zohan) to be his partner, but both must deal with a corrupt pig who wants his cut of the business. As for Nancy's brother-in-law Andy (Justin Kirk, Jack & Jill), he has just acquired a large fortune and quickly resumes his lazy way-of-life.
Then there's our favorite profane-spouting bitch Celia Hodes (Elizabeth Perkins, Big). When we last left her, she was being held hostage in some Mexican villa by her eldest daughter, who planned on chopping up her body up and selling the parts for profit (no, really)! Even worse, because she had burned all her bridges with her Agrestic friends, nobody was willing to pay the ransom. Still, Celia is somehow able to escape and get back to the U.S., where she stows away in Nancy's garage to figure out what she's going to do. Oh, yes, she must also continue to deal with her moron of an ex-husband Dean (Andy Milder, G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra) and lesbian daughter Isabelle (Allie Grant, Fanboys).
Who would have guessed a show about a pot-selling soccer mom would reach its fifth season? I honestly couldn't tell you why, except for the fact it's been a juicy journey thus far for Ms. Botwin and her family. I got sucked into the show by the sheer word-of-mouth and, oh yeah, the record-breaking rentals and DVD sales. The first season of creator Jenji Kohan's strain was one of the most original, flat-out hilarious excursions I've ever witnessed -- so much so I got a contact high while watching each and every episode. For a medium which has been congested with reality slop (American Idol) and animated shows way past their prime (Family Guy), here comes along a superlative satire full of delicious vernacular and colorful characters. True, they may be doing something illegal, but that doesn't mean we don't care about them as human beings.
It's also refreshing to toke on something which, for once, doesn't treat its characters as pothead stereotypes. The stoner genre has always been plagued by movies which automatically assume cannabis makes you stupid when in reality you become mentally stimulated. Sure, you may not be able to register things as clearly and end up repeating yourself, but all pot smokers know full well the herb makes us pacifists, not pinheads. So, why do movies like Half Baked and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle think they are funny simply because they make the characters say and do stupid shite? It only makes them, err, stupid. Kohan travels a more unorthodox route by realistically portraying pot dealers and how they conduct business in the conservative comfort of suburbia. It's supremely compelling stuff, especially for viewers who've never ventured into the whispered union of dime-bags and bong lighters.
Amidst all the smoke is a woman who got into the drug trade for one reason and one reason only: to support her family. She never smokes the product, but distributes it, while her two sons remain in the dark. Nancy not only gets experience, but her image as a grieving widow and devoted mother is a perfect cover. Over the course of four seasons, she put up with rival drug dealers, DEA agents, Hispanic gang members, medicinal marijuana clinics, and a supine brother-in-law. Eventually, the Agrestic family nest is burned and the family starts fresh in Ren Mar, a change which irked some viewers. Despite some regrets, I actually love the change as it gives the writers new, unexplored territory to munch on; the last thing we wanted was the show to wear out its welcome. The characters move on and, thankfully, Weeds avoids putting them in the same traps with the same problems and complications. They develop and grow along with the plot threads.
In fact, I found Season Five much more rewarding in its storytelling than the fourth season, primarily because it took some time to digest the move. By the end, the show had hit its stride again, as Nancy and Celia found themselves knee-deep in FUBAR situations. The spontaneous insanity continues, the unrelenting suspense rises, and eventually emotions are brought into full force. Rarely has Weeds been uplifting, but there are plenty of moving moments here to absorb, especially ones involving both Nancy and Andy. If that isn't enough, there's a terrifying twist in episode 7 ("Where the Sidewalk Ends"). Without giving anything away, let's just say it includes a disturbing homage to Rosemary's Baby. On that note, movie buffs will scream over clever references to Perfect, Zorro, The Gay Blade, and other obscure gems.
Mary-Louise Parker, a character actress who once seemed destined to only appear in supporting roles, was given the role of a lifetime. Her Nancy Botwin is fearless, saucy, intense and funny; amazingly, she remains believable even in the most offbeat of circumstances. She deserves another Golden Globe somewhere along the way (or at the least the honor of being High Times Woman Of The Year). The supporting cast remains as delightful as ever, and all are given ample and equal time to exercise quirks and expand personalities. Nealon remains a comic force to be reckoned with, and it doesn't matter if his character is stoned or not. Perkins is still a marvel to behold, with her acid tongue and nasty behavior. I'm not trying to curry favor here, however, as the entire cast explodes. Bonus: rocker Alanis Morissette appears in about half of the episodes as the doctor who becomes Andy's latest conquest. She truly lights the screen on fire, certainly a welcome guest after such grating turns by Mary-Kate Olsen and Matthew Modine.
Lionsgate has delivered yet another rock-solid package. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image is crystal clear, rich in color and detail in every frame. Flesh tones are sharp, black levels are deep, and grain is completely absent. In other words, you couldn't ask for a better presentation. On the audio front, we have another Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, with dialogue never compromised and the delicious songs/music delicately balanced between all the speakers. A 2.0 Stereo track is also provided, along with subtitles in English and Spanish. Kudos also to Lionsgate for the packaging itself. The cover art is striking, and they have again created it out of post-consumer recycled paper and plastic. One particularly nice touch, the discs themselves are held in place by some tiny, clear, round stickers. It's about time we got these things!
Special features are once again plentiful and entertaining. First up, we have seven audio commentaries by various members of the cast and crew, with Kohan going solo on the premiere and finale. She provides some interesting remarks, particularly on where the show is going and how she feels about it, but her tracks suffer from occasional gaps and "describing-what's-on-screen" moments. The other commentaries are much more cheerful and engaging, with my favorite being the one on "Ducks & Tigers" with Justin Kirk & Alanis Morissette. Other writers contribute a great deal to two episodes, while the Hodes clan joins together for another; unfortunately, Parker decides to sit out on not only the commentaries, but also the rest of the bonus features.
The rest of the extras are spread out over the three discs. On disc 1, we only have 11 minutes of bloopers, which admittedly run hot-and-cold. Disc 2 begins with "Really Backstage," (11:05) a BTS segment with Kevin Nealon; "Yes, We Cannabis" (2:00) is nothing more than a promotional clip with Justin Kirk imitating Prez Obama and his famous speech; "University of Andy," (33:15) has Kirk providing a series of faux lectures on everything from how to survive a bear attack to dating foreign chicks; finally, "Little Titles" (3:00) has Kohan providing commentary on the clever new title cards. As for Disc 3, we have "Crazy Love" (12:13), a featurette with Kohan and half of the cast talking about the various dysfunctional relationships. Lastly, we have "History of Weed," a timeline regarding the evolution of hemp and marijuana, ending with a notice to catch Season 6 in the summer of 2010.
The change in location was truly a tough pill to swallow for many fans. The brilliant social satire generated out of the ticky-tacky boxes of Agrestic was abandoned, and I think it was a mistake to dump Conrad and Heylia, who both had very strong presences in the first three seasons. I didn't think Season 4 offered any adequate replacements, either. Yet, with Alanis added to the already eclectic mix, along with a banquet of black comedy dishes and another shocking finale, things are looking green again.
The irreplaceable cast, sharp writers, and weed queen Kohan keep the outlandish twists coming and the character development riveting. Most shows seem to peter out and run out of ideas by the fifth season, but Showtime's addictive bud remains far from cashed. Bring on Season 6!
Guilty of being the hottest, craziest, sexiest, and funniest show currently on tv, cable or otherwise! And, no, this is not the weed talkin'...
Review content copyright © 2010 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 360 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Official Site