Television

Tis the Season... Ranking 'Weeds'; Eight Seasons from Worst to Best

Contrary to what some of my friends think, a knowledge of or interest in smoking pot is simply not necessary for one to enjoy Weeds.


Weeds

Cast: Mary-Louise Parker, Justin Kirk, Alexander Gould,Hunter Parish, Elizabeth Perkins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Alanis Morisette
Network: Showtime
Amazon

Weeds recently wrapped its eight seasons on Showtime. While it certainly hung around longer than most of us may have wished (or were aware of), it actually retained most of its ratings which, for Showtime, broke records at several points during its eight-year run. We can certainly point to it as the series that defined the network and paved the way for Dexter, Homeland, and whatever is coming next down the pipeline.

I'm a bit obsessed with those websites that rate beers and give them grades or whatever, and one of my favorite terms from those sites is “sessionable”. A beer is sessionable if you can drink it over the course of a lengthy drinking “session”, and so more intense beers might be better, but don’t score well in terms of sessionability (which is not a word they use on those sites, hey, it's funny). The point is that Weeds is a highly sessionable television series. You can watch an entire season in roughly 5-7 hours, depending on the number of episodes in that particular season. And even the later seasons, which are diminished in quality, believability (never the show’s strong suit), and genuine drama, remain entirely watchable and enjoyable enough to keep watching.

The series oddly and consistently mixed a variety of tones, from screwball comedy to romantic drama to serious violence. At its center was Mary Louise Parker’s portrayal of Nancy Botwin, which was soulful and fascinating and often disturbing. Creator and showrunner Jenji Kohan didn’t pull any punches in her writing of Nancy Botwin, a mother whose maternal instincts were... warped, to say the least.

I’ve pitched this show to a number of friends who have declined on account of “not really caring that much about pot”. The show is fundamentally a satire, and while it shifts its targets throughout its run (suburbia generally, the US/Mexico border, Christianity, the commercial pot industry), a knowledge of or interest in smoking pot is simply not necessary to enjoy Weeds.

#8: Season 7: The One in New York

As promised, the series will be divided precisely between the first and second halves, with the second four seasons bringing up the rear. In its later seasons, people kept expecting the show to call it a day, and it just wouldn’t. Season 7 felt the most extraneous, the most like the-one-before-which-they-should-have-announced-it-was-the-final-season. Though the seasons are relatively self-contained, character and narrative arcs spread across multiple seasons -- the first three seasons show the Botwins lives in Agrestic, with seasons four-through-six chronicling Nancy’s dangerous relationship with Esteban (portrayed enjoyably by Demian Bichir), and the final two showing the consequences (prison, an assassination attempt) of Nancy’s lifestyle and actions.

Season 7 begins after Nancy serves a three-year prison sentence as a result of the events of the Season 6 finalé. It starts off strong and has a lot of promise, as the family has moved on and away; soon enough, though, they are all living together in New York and behaving unrealistically and negotiating unfunny storylines.

#7: Season 8: The Last One

Nancy goes straight in the final season, and the result is mostly kind of boring. The best moments in the series are when she gets a gleam in her eye just before doing something dangerous. As a character, Nancy Botwin’s high points are when she risks her family, her children, and her own life just because she’s kind of bored with suburban life. That is when this show gets really interesting, and it just doesn’t really happen much, if at all, in the final season.

In the final episodes, Kohan brings back a number of characters from earlier seasons, which is nice... but the finalé takes a big, time-jump-y swing and almost completely misses. Smartly, the final scene pretty much abandons whatever they were trying to do with that final episode and instead presents a lovely, disturbing image of the Botwin clan sitting together, facing the camera, with a terrific Rilo Kiley song playing in the background. Given the dialogue in the rest of the episode, a silent final scene seems about right.

#6: Season 5: The One Where Nancy’s Pregnant

This season features a six-month time jump, which just really breaks up any sort of flow. Season 4 ended with Nancy’s surprise, life-saving announcement that she is pregnant. Seasons 5 and 6 chronicle Esteban’s complicated pursuit of Nancy and their baby. This season feels unfocused for a variety of reasons, and it is the last featuring Elizabeth Perkins as Celia Hodes, one of the original cast/characters who had, by that point, been increasingly irrelevant.

#5: Season 6: The Best of the Worst

This season finds the Botwin family on the run after Shane commits murder to protect his mother (and, because, you know, he’s basically crazy). This season is perhaps the most representative of how Weeds works in the seasons after they leave Agrestic. Wandering around, the Botwins drift from place to place and storyline to storyline, with little seeming to stick to them (apart from the annual ‘big event’ taking place in the season finalé).

As such, tracking these seasons from “where did they start” to “how did they end” is probably the best way to rank them. This one had a memorable start (post-murder) and and an equally memorable finish (Nancy saving her family by getting arrested); this was the one where they holed up with hilarious-creeper-Richard-Dreyfuss, in a how-did-they-convince-him-to-do-this performance.

#4: Season 1: We All Watched It on DVD

I began watching Weeds on television regularly during its third season, so I watched the first two initially on DVD, where, as mentioned earlier, this show really shines. Season 1 is light in tone, and it lays the groundwork for many of the themes and issues that the series explores in later seasons. The recent death of Nancy’s husband lends some emotional weight to the episodes, though they lack the real sense of dangerous that permeates proceedings beginning in Season 2. Like many other series, Weeds uses its first season to work the kinks out, and set up the tone and pacing for its best years, Seasons 2-4.

#3: Season 4: When They Ran Out of Bands to Sing the Theme Song

This is the season where Nancy and her family are running drugs back and forth across the Mexico border. It Weeds’s most successful season away from Agrestic, the suburban town in which the first three seasons are set and from which the Botwins must flee at the beginning of the season after Nancy burns down their house. It’s funny throughout, and most of the major storylines click.

#2: Season 3: Lots of Drug Deals

Seasons 2 and 3 chronicle the increasingly violent (though still funny!) ramifications of Nancy’s involvement in the drug business. Romany Malco’s performance as Conrad is a high point, and he has terrific chemistry with Parker, which would be sorely missed in later seasons. Tropes which would later be overused (Nancy is reckless, men will do whatever she wants, her kids are obsessed with her) are at their best here.

#1: Season 2: The One Where She Dates the DEA Agent

This is the most memorable and most successful season of Weeds. Before characters like Elizabeth Perkins’s Celia Hodes and Kevin Nealon’s Doug Wilson felt extraneous, and after the growing pains of the first season, Weeds here explored its essential storyline. In her relationship with a DEA agent investigating the drug business in Agrestic, Nancy best explores the tension that fuels her character. The finalé is filled with double-and-triple crosses that probably make sense to somebody, but it really is all about the success in tone, the execution of various plots, and the surfeit of enjoyable characters, most of whom would be written out of later seasons.

For anyone who has slogged through piece this without ever watching Weeds... first, congratulations! Second, I would encourage it for Netflix-or-something-else marathon viewing. Weeds no way an essential series, but it does many of the things that you want a comedy to do. It's not as funny or as smart as the best of comedies, but, like Nancy Botwin, there is something about the show that you just can't quite shake.



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