Televisual Skunk

With years of steadfast viewership and unabashed couch potato-ing to boast of, I’d consider us a generation of educated consumers. These credentials should not be taken lightly, so I partake of my license to critique as a discerning, slightly whiny viewer: I find it sad to say that it’s been a while since a TV show that was not a rerun has made me laugh out loud. I had been feeling the void of “good television” for some time, and this emptiness brought on a quest for a new series that could prove genuinely addictive.

I like a show where dark comedy and gritty drama converge, where the prime cast, in the spirit of cinematic artistry, is reasonably attractive (no, 30 Rock, physical appearance is not negotiable) and where characters show me a range of emotions which I can actually relate to. I guess after over a decade of suffering poorly-written scripts, unoriginal acting, slap-stick comedy and spin-offs, I’m a bit of a nit-picker.

Then along came the pilot episode of Weeds. You should have seen my monkey grin. ‘SOLD OUT’ signs on the Ben & Jerry’s discount shelf couldn’t rain on my parade.

Weeds is an American comedy-drama created by Jenji Kohan for the Showtime network. Fresh, unapologetic, politically incorrect and incredibly entertaining, it first aired in the USA in August 2005.

Season one introduces leading lady, Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise Parker), an all-American PTA soccer mom, having just about shrugged off her ‘widow’s weeds’ – pun intended – after the untimely death of her husband, Judah (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Faced with the task of putting two young, hormonal sons through school and paying the upkeep of their home in the affluent suburb of Agrestic, Nancy finds herself in need of a ‘job’.

Luckily, the friendly neighbours are all closet potheads. Nancy becomes Agrestic’s personal peddler, selling her own brand of ‘MILFweed’ under the guise of a bakery, an enterprise her accountant swears is impossible to run without drug money. The success of Grandma’s brownies may be dependant on a ‘secret ingredient’…

While the premise of a morally depraved suburbia unfolds, the viewer warms to the cast of lovable characters.

As well as complex Nancy, the show has some exceptionally well-drawn characters, namely best ‘frenemy’ Celia Hodes (Elizabeth Perkins), daughter Isabelle (Allie Grant), and Nancy’s brother-in-law Andy Botwin (Justin Kirk). Celia is a seemingly soulless, alcoholic mother whose frustrations, besides a cheating husband and cancer, include her daughter’s lesbianism and unwillingness to lose weight. Andy, Judah’s brother, is a cavorting, flighty drifter. An exceptionally imperfect substitute father-figure full of terrible advice and destructive antics, Andy is the archetypal Shakespearean fool, though not without a heart of gold. An example of his goodwill can be seen when he fashions himself as a new-age Moses helping Mexican immigrants across the American border. Enough said.

Also worth mentioning is city councilman Doug Wilson (Kevin Nealon). His emotional capacity is, well, atrocious, but he undeniably produces some killer lines. Commonplace musings include, “I think Jesus wore Birkenstocks” and, “My life’s a toiletbowl.”

In response to the conservative outrage that is likely building up in you right now, I should mention that the show does more to discourage drug-use than to promote it. The characters crumbling lives are hardly role-model material. But you’d be right to assume that Weeds is for an audience with liberal sensibilities.

In fact, over five seasons spanning three years, as Nancy’s entrepreneurial flair truly kicks in and she moves from neighbourhood pot dealer to international drug mule, her always questionable moral choices become increasingly hard to defend. And not unlike the wayward fate that befalls plenty of shows in their fourth season, over-the-top plot twists and developments have not escaped Weeds. At some point you will probably wonder whether you’re watching the same show. You may yearn for the familiar manicured landscape, where hypocrisy bloomed and irony smiled on kindly to serve as a droll commentary on suburban America.

However, if you are anything like me, and have been searching for a well-written TV show which provides a happy trip, you will quite easily forgive the increasingly incredulous storyline of later seasons. Ultimately, I think the Weeds writers have managed to maintain a gripping quality that makes up for all the outrageousness. They have never lost that touch for masterfully blending dark humour with moments of high drama. Indicative of the poor quality of British television, Weeds didn’t make it past three seasons over here. Trust me when I say it’s worth it to catch up before the next season is available this August. I wish the sixth season would hurry up; I’ve been dry for way too long.


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