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Weeds: Season Three

Showtime’s Weeds, a comedy about a likeable suburban widow trying to raise her two oddball sons by selling marijuana, never made all that much sense. For all of its inspired writing, impressive acting, and witty skewering of middle class conventionality (and hypocrisy), it was always already based on a premise that didn’t work. Why would this intelligent, capable, and reasonably well-adjusted mother in her mid-40s dive headlong into something dangerous, illegal, and unnecessary?


While the show tried to offer need as an excuse – her husband had died suddenly, leaving her saddled with both debt and heartache – it still forced the audience to make a rather lofty leap into Imaginationland. Still, many of us went along with glee, if only for the opportunity to visit with these quirky characters for a while, and to have a laugh at the expense of those poor fools inhabiting the cookie-cutter “little boxes” from the show’s theme song.


But, as (the luminous and milky and doe-eyed and, let’s face it, all-around dreamy) Mary-Louise Parker’s character Nancy Botwin drifted further into the criminal underworld that feeds America’s insatiable hunger for narcotics, the careful satiric focus of the early episodes slipped into the background, and a kind of absurdist inanity began to take hold.  For viewers to follow along, Nancy needed to remain desperate, yes, but also at least nominally virtuous – the reason the satire made sense was the very fact of the innocuousness of her crime. Marijuana, we were all expected to agree, is no big deal. She was servicing bored housewives, bored officeworkers, bored college kids, bored public officials. The suburbs were the show’s metaphor for the emptiness and existential longing of the contemporary big box world – and marijuana was a metaphor for our societal desire for escape, however illusory (and fleeting, and, ultimately, unhelpful).


By the end of the second season, however, Nancy had fallen in with gun-toting gangsters, had become accessory to the murder of a Drug Enforcement Agency agent, had inadvertently pushed her eldest son into the crimeworld, and had lost whatever moral sway she might have had with her audience. She was in over her head, and the walls around her were crumbling and tumbling and caving, and as we began season three, there looked to be no way out. It was a hell of a cliffhanger, but it was also a fatal writers’ pool mistake – there was no way out, period. Sure, she would escape this immediate situation (however zanily and improbably), but in order to not die she had now become, completely and fully, a criminal and a gangster.


Can anyone explain to me why I should continue to cheer for her now? She allows her teenage son to deal drugs (and to get beaten to a pulp by some bikers whom she crosses, brazenly, because they sell an inferior product), she neglects her youngest child who is still clearly reeling with grief over his father’s death, she manages to justify to herself the murders and other horrific crimes that are perpetrated in the support of her endeavors, and she fails to get out of the business at least once per episode – when there is now no possible reason for us to agree that she should just stick it out.


More frustrating by a longshot is this season’s unaccountable lack of imagination in the writing department. The episodes are shorter than they had been in previous seasons (down to less than 20 minutes sometimes, not including the bloated “last time on Weeds” intros), and what happens in them tends to be one-note plot developments rather than anything more compellingly complex.


Nancy’s ne’er-do-well brother-in-law, everyone’s favourite comedic foil, spends virtually the entire season doing what amount to skits that we cut to for an aside from the main Nancy storylines. He joins the army (which is painted to be murderous, homophobic, evil, hateful, ignorant, pathetic, and, well, you name the unsubtle adjective and they’ll try to push it on you – I mean, really, how juvenile?), he is chased by government agents, and he becomes a porn star who – wait for it – sticks his foot in women’s vaginas. In almost every way, all of the main action this season could have taken place without him, a major writing problem to say the very least.


While earlier seasons had fun with myriad racial, gender, sexual, and class issues stemming from white, middle class Nancy’s need to associate with working class minority groups, what had been mostly incisive before has become merely cliché. Her gay associate goes around telling everyone that he is GAY, and wearing ridiculous GAY outfits. A poor black woman gets pregnant by a suburban man so that she can get at his money. Black gangsters abound, Hispanic gangs rear their heads, Eastern European immigrants appear as murderous Mafioso-types, and poor white bikers show up only to be violent and surly. All four groups make jokes (jokes!) about raping Nancy. L-O-L?


While a scene from early in the first season (where Nancy is lying in bed, trying to masturbate to the memory of her dead husband amid all of the horrific stress she has taken on herself) could bring me to empathetic tears, little in these recent episodes even pretends to approach such emotional depth. When, late in the season, Nancy’s youngest son begins to hallucinate conversations with his dead father, her response is to beg him to stop because “it makes Mommy very sad”. And there’s the problem – it’s all about her for some reason, when everyone else around her is falling apart.


This isn’t clever satire anymore, but something like an unintentionally Bergmanesque study of moral self-destruction. However, since this horror is punctuated by scenes in which Kevin Nealon makes fart jokes and says “cunt” over and over again, Elizabeth Perkins vamps around being a one-note bitch, and guest star Mary-Kate Olsen tries (and fails resoundingly) to not look like a Hobbit, it’s pretty tough to think this stuff is very deeply considered. 


Why does this happen to good shows?

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Stuart Henderson is a culture critic and historian. He is the author of Making the Scene: Yorkville and Hip Toronto in the 1960s (University of Toronto Press, 2011). All of this is fun, but he'd rather be camping. Twitter: @henderstu


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