Along with Dexter, Weeds has established the brand of Showtime in its ambition to match the success of fellow pay cable station HBO with original programming. The show’s success has undoubtedly informed the development of the network’s other comedies, namely The United States of Tara, Nurse Jackie, and the upcoming The Big C, all of which center on strong but flawed female characters (I have no explanation for the thoroughly misogynistic Californication). In season four, Weeds left its sunny California suburb for a small town on the border between San Diego and Tijuana which, while no less sunny, proved a much darker setting for the Botwins. In season five, creator Jenji Kohan expanded on these bleak themes to fashion Weeds into the very blackest of comedies.
For a review of season five of the increasingly polarizing Weeds, hit the break.
Weeds started out pretty high concept: a newly widowed housewife from an affluent California suburb becomes her neighborhood’s marijuana dealer to make ends meet. Nancy (Mary Louise Parker) is indeed still a widow-even moreso after husband #2 was murdered. But she is no longer in California, and no longer deals pot. Hitfix TV critic Daniel Feinberg, who ranked Weeds the 27th best show of the decade, very eloquently addressed whether such seismic shifts violate the social contract between viewer and creator. We wish for the shows we love to evolve and eschew formula, but more than that we want more of the same adventures that we signed up for.
Ultimately, I respect the show for its boldness, and have enjoyed following the characters I’ve come to love down the rabbit hole. It has turned out to be a wonderful showcase for Mary Louise Parker, who stars as former housewife and drug dealer Nancy Botwin. We found out at the end of season four that she is pregnant with the son of Tijuana mayor and drug kingpin Esteban (Demián Bichir). At the beginning of the season, it’s the only thing keeping her alive; Esteban is hesitant to abort his heir, just as Nancy is examines the morality of birthing a child into this destructive environment. Parker is terribly witty as she rattles off acerbic one-liners inspired by her hopeless situation, but supplies enough gravitas to make us hate every reckless, self destructive act Nancy undertakes.
While Parker is the center of the show, Justin Kirk is the heart and soul as Nancy’s brother-in-law, Andy. Not only are his antics (mostly) hilarious, but he may be the only truly likeable character left on the show. Kohan has done well in transforming Andy from comic relief to leading man over the past few seasons. As Shane, Alexander Gould came into his own this season when assigned such heavy material. Only fourteen years old at the time of shooting, Gould really sells the soulless dialogue that sheds light on his character’s understandable descent into psycopathy. Also, kudos to Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is perfectly cast in a guest role as Nancy’s more successful yet still envious sister.
Not every character works, though. Doug (Kevin Nealon) and Celia (Elizabeth Perkins) are by design incredibly obnoxious, and appropriately loathed by all the other characters. They are more tolerable when involved in the episode’s A-story, but that is too rarely the case. Celia spends most of the season anchoring her own storyline trying to sell cosmetics, while Doug partners with (but mostly hinders) Nancy’s son Silas (Hunter Parrish) in trying to grow and sell their own drugs. Speaking of which, the show never seems sure of what to do with Silas. There should be dramatic potential surrounding a teenage character entering adulthood under the guidance of such poor parenting, but the show has never been able to capitalize on it effectively.
I find myself unable to assess whether the show is better now than in its earlier seasons or-even more ambiguously-whether this season five of Weeds is better than that of an alternate universe where Kohan didn’t take the characters on such a dark path. As long as it continues to make me laugh and inject the right amount of pathos into said comedy, I’m on board.
– Audio commentaries on seven episodes by the cast and crew
-11 minutes of bloopers
-“University of Andy”, a series of very funny short films starring Justin Kirk, who instructs the viewers in such useful areas as “How to Survive a Bear Attack” and “Surviving the Apocalypse”
-“Really Backstage with Kevin Nealon”, where Nealon takes his own camera around the set
-“Yes We Cannabis”, a faux political ad released as a promotional tool prior to the season premiere
-“Crazy Love: A Guide to the Dysfunctional Relationships of Weeds“, 12 minutes of interviews with the cast and crew dissecting each main character
-“Little Titles by Jenji Kohan”, a collection of each episode’s distinct non-“Little Boxes” in-show title sequence, featuring commentary by Kohan
-“History of Weed”, a brief, animated review of the history of marijuana