Judge Katie Herrell thinks the latest season of this stoner drama has seen better high times.
Our reviews of Weeds: Season One (published July 19th, 2006), Weeds: Season Two (published August 1st, 2007), Weeds: Season Four (published June 10th, 2009), Weeds: Season Four (Blu-Ray) (published June 25th, 2009), Weeds: Season Five (published January 19th, 2010), Weeds: Season Five (Blu-Ray) (published January 21st, 2010), Weeds: Season Six (Blu-Ray) (published March 2nd, 2011), and Weeds: Season Seven (Blu-ray) (published February 17th, 2012) are also available.
The Neighborhood Has Gone Green
Showtime must be a nice master. With seemingly no censors, no limit on spending, and no shortage of cultural fodder to base a series around, Weeds is a strapping example of television freedom.
Facts of the Case
Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) finds herself ensconced in the suburbs with two kids, a dwindling bank account and a dead husband. Not one for the cubicle life, Botwin starts pedaling dime bags to the privileged—a job that brings her a ridiculous amount of success and further hardship.
The third season of Weeds lacks the strong attention to personal relationships that drives the first two series of the show. The first two seasons are committed to showcasing Nancy as a (more-or-less) normal person who is dealt a bad hand and responds non-traditionally. In the first season, Nancy has recently lost her husband and leans on a fellow unhappy suburban wife and mother, Celia Hodes played by Elizabeth Perkins. It is a season of soccer games and bottomless glasses of wine swirling around Nancy's seemingly silly anytime job. In the second season, Nancy turns the corner on her grief by beginning to date again, although her paramour happens to be a drug cop. DEA agent Peter Scottson (Martin Donovan) uncovers Nancy's tricks and they decide to wed—for the sake of business. This turns out to be an unhealthy union for both partners, especially when Scottson (Spoiler Alert) finds himself dead.
By the third season of Weeds there is little normal left in Nancy's world. Her friendships are fractured, her children see dead people, and a trunk of heroin appears in her garage. The season is on a slippery slope of chaos, but it shines in its craziness by a strong, strong cast of characters and actors, a more-or-less consistent feeling of place, and an amazing soundtrack always preluded by the title track "Little Boxes."
In season three, "Little Boxes," the post-war, anti-suburban cry written by Malvina Reynolds, is performed by a new artist on every episode. Musicians as divergent as Randy Newman and Linkin Park offer their take on an iconic song that, although about conformity, is easily made unique and fresh with a few tweaks of the beat or accompanying instrument. For those who love the repeat button, a soundtrack of the various "Little Boxes" interpretations would be addicting.
The "Little Boxes" opening sequence leads into a suburban drama that is centered in suburban houses. Thankfully, for camera angle purposes, these are really mansions, with the Botwin household reminiscent of Gabrielle's house in Desperate Housewives, as least as far as the master bedroom is concerned. Season three branches into less affluent neighborhoods as Nancy becomes more "friendly" with neighboring drug players, but these slummin' scenes are a washed-out version of the real Nancy and the real Weeds—the trellised, Tutor teeming, pool-side world of high-end suburbia. It is in suburbia, particularly in Nancy's or Celia's houses, that the show feels the most rooted and, even, believable. Send Nancy out in her towering heels and strappy dresses to the streets and the whole ruse begins to feel overtly ridiculous.
And ridiculous is where season three leans. There's a ridiculous drug scene in the opening episode where Doug Wilson (Kevin Nealon) and Dean Hodes (Andy Milder) ingest a suburban medicine cabinet and then compare packages. The bathroom is horribly staged with party-favor like accessories tossed everywhere in various shades of purple. Perhaps the setting is a comment on the ridiculousness of a television series devoted to drugs that never, really, showcases the negative ramifications of using drugs or showcases any drug addicts. Or perhaps it is just bad stage-work.
Nealon and Mr. Hodes are co-conspirators with Nancy (season three also brings Mrs. Hodes into the fold), and are basically adult fuck-ups, but they add some adult testosterone to the Nancy-and-her-two-boys-and-their-non-manly-uncle-driven show. The excellent ensemble cast includes Nancy's black partners in crime, Vaneeta (Indigo), Heylia James (Tonye Patano), and Conrad Shepard (Romany Malco) plus a small band of loyal yet unorthodox dealers, including the Jesus-loving toker Tara Lindman played by Mary-Kate Olsen in season three.
While Parker is Nancy Botwin and Elizabeth Perkins is Celia Hodes, perhaps the best and most surprising actor in the entire series is Kevin Nealon. The long-time former Saturday Night Live member riffs in every scene, using heavy sarcasm to poke fun at both the state of suburbia and the state of America. He seems entirely half-baked the entire season, but embodies one of those forced-into-adulthood stoners who maintains an exoskeleton of empathy and the heart of a child. In the final episode of season three, as a wildfire rages through Weeds-land, Nealon plays the troubadour/minstrel as he wades around an impromptu shelter. He sings about the Superdome and Hurricane Katrina, prodding the human/political/class condition in ways other shows wouldn't dare, all the while strumming a beat and looking for a hit.
It is the concluding scenes and season-ending episodes that Weeds masters. Even when the half hour climbs into fantasy land and Nancy becomes more and more loopy and seemingly without pupils (literally), the show crashes into the conclusion with dramatic, yet simple, cinematic effects and powerful plot cliffhangers. In one closing scene Nancy throws her car keys directly at the camera, a shot that when shown from the side on the next episode has none of the impact of the concluding head-on toss. Another episode features Nancy and Conrad having sex while a shooting ray of white light squeaks through a crack in the background. For a show that is sometime-over-the-top—a 60-foot cross as a grow lamp!—these simple ending antics, followed by a revelatory and foreshadowing, yet easy on the ears, concluding song forces the viewer to keep coming back again and again.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Agh, the Special Features. After a binge of five episodes in a row (thankfully the episodes are only a half hour) I postponed my Special Features viewing for the next morning. Even at an hour when blended news/entertainment shows are allowable, even necessary to ease one into their day, the "Good Morning Agrestic" spots that fill the third discs are horrible. The lighting is bad, the staging is bad, the acting is bad…the list goes on. I could understand one shot at G.M.A., but the sequential episodes are offensive. Disc two started out with "Uncle Awol," a bit with Uncle Andy Botwin (Justin Kirk) detailing his escape from the military followed by a "Mary-Kate Olsen Bio" with the twin discussing her inspirations in life. By this point, no amount of coffee was going to make me pop disc one back in to see what that disc had to offer for Special Features.
See my Opening Statement. Then watch Weeds. Unless you're easily offended.
Green, and Red, and Purple, and Blue. The neighborhood as you know it has exploded.
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Scales of Justice
• G.M.A. -- Good Morning Agrestic
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