Jesus of Cool: “Weeds” Goes to Pot

Written by Jesus of Cool, Television

sit•com n. Informal
A situation comedy; a television comedy series involving a group of regular characters in everyday situations, often set in the home and/or workplace

For three seasons, Weeds was the very model of a modern pay-cable sitcom. Set in the fictional, cookie-cutter L.A. suburb Agrestic, it centered on widowed housewife-turned-pot dealer Nancy Botwin (played by goddess of stage and screen Mary Louise Parker) and her expansive circle of friends, family and…um…business associates, from her best customer Doug (Kevin Nealon) to her ambitious supplier/grower Conrad (Romany Malco). Neatly balancing Nancy’s dual roles as suburban soccer mom and dabbler in the seedy (no pun intended) world of illicit substances, Weeds was hilarious, sexy, sometimes even moving, and always good for a contact high. It also was (seemingly) confident in the one element that must, by definition, ground any situation comedy: its situation.

Nancy gives the product a bathBeginning with last fall’s Season-Three closer, however, Weeds has audaciously – and, so far at least, disastrously – loosed itself from its sitcom moorings. Creator Jenji Kohan didn’t just shift the show’s setting; she burned the motherfucker down, destroying all of Agrestic’s “Little Boxes” in an inferno neatly tied to last year’s horrific California wildfires. Unfortunately, while most of the major characters survived the blaze, Kohan and the show’s writers seem to have left the funny behind along with the “MILFweed” in Nancy’s growhouse; as a result, Weeds has gone sadly (and with all apologies to Cheech & Chong) up in smoke.

Agrestic was a delightfully screwed-up suburb, and Weeds got a lot of mileage out of the hypocrisy that lurks behind the green door of many a conservative McMansion. While exploring, in ever-widening concentric circles, the by-turns goofy and vicious drug trade in the greater L.A. area, Nancy remained tethered to her children and struggled to maintain her social stature. Meanwhile, Nancy’s frenemy and unwitting accomplice, Celia Hodes (played ferociously by Elizabeth Perkins), was an archetypal exurban wife: bitter and judgmental and universally despised, yet also vulnerable and stepped-on and ultimately kinda sympathetic.

Nancy at gunpointEarly last season the wheels seemed ready to come off, beginning with a Mexican standoff among rival dealers that resulted in the murder of Nancy’s DEA-agent boyfriend. From that point Nancy got mixed up with ever-nastier drug kingpins, from the violent homeboy U-Turn to a group of bikers who threaten to expose her unless she pushes their inferior product. Still, Agrestic remained the springboard for the proceedings, as its leaders (including Doug and Celia) negotiated the town’s annexation by a new “Christian community” called Majestic; the faith-based dirty dealings between the two towns brought a welcome new level of social commentary to the show.

That all ended when the bikers’ weed farm was set ablaze by Nancy’s newest patron, the Hispanic-gang leader Guillermo, and the resulting wildfire consumed Agrestic.

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Having scattered their cast of characters to the Santa Ana winds, Kohan & Co. now seem to have no idea what to do with them – at least no humorous idea. Nancy’s new position as Guillermo’s trainee drug-smuggler has sent her to Tijuana and back, but the best gag the writers could come up with was forcing her to pee into a frappuccino cup while waiting to pass through U.S. customs. Meanwhile, Albert Brooks has been thoroughly wasted as Nancy’s father-in-law, a misanthropic gambling addict waiting impatiently for his mother to pass from vegetable to corpse – a passage that Nancy eventually, and repugnantly, facilitated last week (under coercion from the family’s black sheep, the now-overused Justin Kirk).

Since Agrestic’s demise, Celia has received a comeuppance that has felt like cruel and unusual punishment, even for her – framed for Nancy’s drug business, thrown in the slammer and given a prison makeover complete with cornrows, painted-on eyebrows and a shiner. Worst of all, Nancy’s original suppliers, Conrad and his delightfully downhome aunt Heylia (Tonye Patano), have disappeared completely – just as the long-festering mutual attraction between Nancy and Conrad seemed about to burst into a flame of its own. Hell, they don’t even play those wicked cover versions of “Little Boxes” over the credits anymore! (Though, living in a suburb myself that is way too Agresticalicious, I’ve always had decidedly mixed feelings about “Little Boxes” and its commentary on the lifestyle my family has settled into.)

Elizabeth Perkins as Celia HodesBut I digress. More to the point, here’s a memo to the writers of Weeds: Growing MILFweed in a suburban tract home – funny. Stuffing the door panels of an SUV with drugs for smuggling across the border – not funny. A suburban-mom drug dealer bumbling her way into a relationship with a DEA agent – funny. A framed suburban mom becoming a prison matron’s bitch – not funny. A widow maintaining a suburban lifestyle by dealing pot – funny! A son euthanizing his mother, cursing his way through seven days of Shiva, then raiding her kitchen cash stash for a poker tournament stake – not funny. (Though Nancy’s line Monday night about why it didn’t take too long for the pillow to finish off grandma – “It was Tempur-Pedic…it conformed to her face” – that was funny.)

Most of all, it’s difficult to see how Weeds’ new “situation” – displaced single mom as dope-runner for an unsympathetic kingpin, with family and friends flitting off in all directions and the cops forever closing in – will ever take on the charm, wit and zeitgeist-surfing of the show’s Agrestic origins. Apparently Nancy will take the mayor of Tijuana as a lover later this season, and multi-culti hijinks will no doubt ensue. But it’s going to take more than a few more characters relocating to the greater San Diego area to put this half-baked Humpty Dumpty together again.

It’s a bit early, only four episodes into Season Four, to declare that Weeds has irretrievably Jumped the Shark. Who knows – maybe by the end of the season the FEMA trailers will arrive from New Orleans and the cast can return home, sift through the ashes, and find several kilos of MILFweed nicely dried and ready for rolling. Until then, I’ll be holding my inhaled breath for Conrad and Heylia’s return, and ruing the day that Weeds transformed itself into Traffic with jokes.