[24 February 2011]
When Weeds first began in 2005, it was a charming enough comedy with a dark dramatic hook: after the death of her husband, an upper class soccer mom turns to slinging dime bags of marijuana in her pre-fab community in order to maintain appearances and keep up the expected social facade. With a strong premise and a cast anchored by Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds was good time. And who thought you’d ever like Kevin Nealon again, or maybe for the first time? The show was full of interesting characters and unique situations that sprang from one of the better concepts in recent television memory.
However, as the seasons progressed, something curious happened. Weeds began going more and more off the deep end. Nancy Botwin (Parker) got herself and her family into ever escalating amounts of trouble, until she found herself married to a Mexican drug lord/politician and running a maternity store in a strip mall as a cover for a tunnel spanning the US-Mexico border. By the end of season five, Nancy’s youngest son, Shane (Alexander Gould) kills a woman with a croquet mallet.
Season six of Weeds picks up just as Shane brings the hammer down, in a manner of speaking. Sure, the woman was going to kill Shane and his brother Silas (Hunter Parrish), and keep Nancy in what is essentially a state of slavery, but the killing does force the Botwin clan to go on the lam, a card already played once in an earlier season. On the way out of town they pick up Andy (Justin Kirk), the boy’s uncle, a perennial slacker with ample experience running away from sticky situations and “living off the grid” as he calls it.
Half the fun of watching Weeds is the frustration of watching Nancy make the absolute worst, most selfish decisions at each opportunity. You love to hate her. While Nancy believes she is doing what she needs to do to keep her family together, it never occurs to her that in reality she is continually ruining the lives of everyone she claims to love. For once in his life Andy is on the right path. He is about to marry the woman of his dreams (Alanis Morissette) when Nancy comes calling, and passive aggressively implores him to join their flight. And just when Shane decides it is time for him to stop running and finally go to college, Nancy manipulates everyone into pulling up their new, admittedly shallow roots, and moving on.
As the clan of newly minted outlaws flees up the West Coast, away from a powerful Mexican drug cartel as well as the FBI, they stumble through a series of misadventures and botched plans. Unable to cross the border into Canada, the Botwins establish fake identities, and Andy, Shane, and Nancy cross a picket line and get jobs as a dishwasher, bellhop, and maid respectively, in a Seattle hotel. Before long Nancy realizes that she no longer has any power over the people around her, and returns to the old family business, slinging weed.
The Seattle episode is the longest in the season, and the rest takes place on the road and various places along the way. Highlights include a state fair in Montana where Silas eats a 30 pound butter sculpture, Andy pretending to be a holy-roller style preacher at an outlaw RV camp in the middle of the American heartland, and the whole crew selling joints to eager parents in the parking lot of a children’s concert.
Kevin Nealon reprises his role as Doug, the childish stoner/disgraced accountant/family friend who gets kidnapped by two Mexican assassins that think he can lead them to the Botwins. Doug’s presence in the story is completely forced, and he is a blatant attempt to add some comic levity when you’re sick and tired of Nancy’s nonsense. Though he is completely extraneous to the actual story, you’re glad he’s there, because he does exactly what he is supposed to do. When you’ve just about had it with Nancy, and are seriously considering abandoning Weeds forever to save yourself the emotional stress, the show cuts to Doug eating a stale, lint-covered French fry off of the floor of an abandoned minivan, or swallowing packets of artificial sweetener at a roadside diner because that’s all his captors will allow him to consume, and suddenly you once again find the strength to soldier on.
Weeds may occasionally be maddening to watch, and it is certainly completely ridiculous, but at the same time it is one of the most fun, consistently entertaining shows on television. If you didn’t actually care about these characters, it wouldn’t be so trying to see them go through the ringer. Given the way Season Six ends, the situations that the characters find themselves in, Season Seven, which series creator Jenji Kohan says will be the last, may be a difficult thing to orchestrate. But for now you can enjoy this entertaining, road trip of a season as it gets back to the core components of the show, the family.
Season Six is peppered with recognizable faces popping up in small roles, like Linda Hamilton as a hippy-dippy pot dealer, Mark-Paul Gosseler as a nearly mute bartender who has the misfortune to hook up with Nancy, and Richard Dreyfuss as the math teacher Nancy banged in high school who has carried a torch for her ever since. Beyond that, the DVDs come stacked with special features. There is a gag reel, which is by far the weakest extra, and no less than eight commentary tracks that feature perspectives and opinions from a variety of people involved in the show. Producers, directors, writers, the creator, and, of course, the stars, all get their chance to chime in and narrate an episode.
Three featurettes round out the bonus materials. The 10-minute clip where Kevin Nealon and Justin Kirk banter back and forth through an improvised game of 20 questions is a blast, as is the segment where Kirk and three of the shows producers/writers answer fan mail. “Bye-bye Botwins” consists of candid, behind the scenes interviews with the primary cast members. All in all, between the actual show and the extras, this is quite a package, and, if you’re a fan, worth adding to your collection.