In the Tall Grass
Doctors smoke it/ Nurses smoke it/ Judges smoke it/ Even the lawyers too.
So you’ve got to legalize it/ Don’t criticize it/ Legalize it, yeah, yeah/ And I will advertise it.
Weeds is clear about its stance on getting stoned. Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) is incredulous when her friend Celia (Elizabeth Perkins) informs her that their neighbor “Jesus-Loves-You Judy loves her hillbilly heroin.” It’s a gloves-off slap at recovering OxyContin junkie Rush Limbaugh. That’s where we are right now in Anywhere, U.S.A. Everybody’s doing it, and the only question is—who’s fronting?
Nancy has recently lost her husband to a heart attack, suffered while he was out jogging with their youngest son, Shane (Alexander Gould). Watching Shane watch home videos of his dad on the camcorder, we see that Mr. Botwin was a laid back, caring father, and his family misses him. Struggling to maintain their comfort-plus lifestyle, Nancy has become the main supplier of quality herb in the Southern California town of Agrestic. The town is more or less one giant pre-fab subdivision, full of McMansions and drive-through Starbucks. According to the series’ theme song: “And there’s doctors/And there’s lawyers/And business executives/And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky/And they all look just the same.”
Nancy knows something about what goes on below this pretty surface. When her 15-year-old son Silas’ (Hunter Parrish) 15-year-old girlfriend Quinn (Haley Hudson) asks her point blank, “Mrs. Botwin, can we have sex in your house?” she says no. Not because she’s against adolescent sex per se, but because she’s concerned they aren’t ready for the consequences of their actions, and because Celia, Quinn’s mom, doesn’t want to see her daughter become a “teenage slut.” And when Nancy walks in on the high schoolers getting it on, all she can do is blurt out, “Nice. The two of you ditch school to fuck in my guest room.” Quinn doesn’t miss a beat: “Don’t you see? Technically, we’re not under your roof.” Sure enough, they are positioned directly under an open skylight.
Some people think of such dilemmas as the fine print in the hierarchy of needs. Others call it “moral relativism.” Either way, these are the kind of value choices (and rationalizations) we make, and Weeds embraces them. Ostensibly about a weed-selling suburban MILF, Weeds is about societal baggage in the post-Raich era. Nancy, a good mom and resourceful provider, is the show’s delicately balanced center. Not only is she guiding her sons through the post-traumatic stress of their father’s premature death, she also takes pains to insulate them from her professional occupation. That’s not to say that Weeds condemns her illegal activity. Rather, it includes enough references to Ambien and Prozac to underscore the idea that ours is a medicated society, and marijuana is only part of that pattern.
Weeds’ humor is found in its presentation of the day-to-day absurdities of contemporary suburban life. Nancy’s best customer Doug (Kevin Nealon) is also her accountant and city council representative. His oblivious suburban guy banter makes Nancy a little edgy as they fumble through a transaction in the parking lot near the field where her son is playing soccer. When Doug finally catches on and asks, “Are we cool?,” she fires back, “We’re cool when you pay me.” For her, it’s not an adventure, it’s a job.
A slightly older, semi-doppëlganger version of Nancy, Celia is facing her own difficulties. She has daughters instead of sons, and unlike Nancy, she can’t seem to find the right blend of carrot and stick to keep them from hating her guts. She’s still married, to Dean (Andy Milder), but she barely wants him anymore. Celia tells Nancy, “I really want to fuck around on Dean, but the thought of having to put one more cock in my mouth is just too depressing.” Desperate Housewives wishes it had dialogue like this.
For all its progressive intent, Weeds is still subject to blind spots. Nancy’s suburban Odyssey is regularly interrupted by trips to inner city L.A. for re-ups. Her wholesaler is the salty, wisecracking Heylia (Tonye Patano), who doles out street knowledge while weighing and bagging cannabis at her kitchen table: “Bitch, I can eyeball an ounce from outer space with my glasses cracked.” Somewhere to the right of Florida Evans and the left of Condoleezza Rice, Heylia is occasionally cartoonish. Although the comparison of two mothers from two different worlds trying to make it is obvious, Heylia also appears something of a ghetto primer. Her crew includes her son Conrad (Romany Malco), who’s trying to fix up his “hooptie” (translation: jalopy), Vaneeta (Indigo), all about Nancy’s designer shoes, and Keeyon (Tyrone Mitchell), trash-talking his way through a game of dominoes. The show might be trying too hard to be down.
Still, Weeds turns drug dealer stereotypes on their heads. People are getting high in the ‘hood, but they’re also getting high in the ‘burbs. There was a time when suburbanites had to cross the tracks, or the interstate, or take the A train to get to their weed retailer of choice. This seems to have been largely because the typical dealer didn’t fit in with the surroundings of many of his clients. But in the last decade or so, delivery has become the preferred business model for a lot of folks. You’re less likely to ask if your local weed guy is Black or White, and more likely to ask “Is he cool?” Nowadays, if you’re a college student, you buy from another student. If you’re a barfly, you buy from the bartender. And if you’re a stay-at-home mom or a town councilman, you buy from Nancy.
Ambitious and smart, Weeds makes the point that the Bill Mahers and Ricky Williamses of the world have making for some time now—getting high is not just the province of stoners, surfers, and thugs. Nancy embodies the link between Nino Brown and Ray A. Kroc, bringing the supply and the demand closer together, while building something for herself, one satisfied customer at a time. Isn’t that the American dream?