I’m not a dealer. I’m a mother, who happens to distribute illegal products through a sham bakery set up by my ethically questionable CPA.
–Nancy Otwin (Mary-Louise Parker)
The first season of Weeds closed on a decidedly non-comedic note. Suburban mom and fulltime marijuana dealer Nancy Otwin (Mary-Louise Parker) woke up in the darkened bedroom of her new maybe-or-maybe-not boyfriend, Peter (Martin Donovan). Fumbling her way to the bathroom, she put on his jacket. Only then, composing herself in the mirror, did she notice the three devastating letters emblazoned on it: “DEA.” Suddenly Nancy’s life of planned-community comfort became much more complicated.
As Season Two opened on 14 August, Nancy is still struggling. Not quite adapted to her role as family head after the death of her husband, she’s trying to balance raising her children with “growing” the drug business that provides them a home, a pool, and a housekeeper. Her older son, Silas (Hunter Parrish), resents her attempts to fill Dad’s shoes, but is too insecure to become the man of the house. Shane (Alexander Gould), her younger son, spent the first season acting out in increasingly imaginative ways. While her brother-in-law Andy (Justin Kirk) is trying to get into rabbinical school to avoid being sent to Iraq, Nancy tries to hold the unit together.
Previously a somewhat flighty, naïve mom fiercely devoted to her family, Nancy is now more visibly stressed. Unsure how to reach her increasingly distant sons, she takes advice from her supplier, Heylia (Tonye Patano), who bills herself as one of “the original NPR — Negroes Preachin’ Right.” When Heylia recommends sitting the entire family down for one meal a day, no matter what, Nancy’s attempts culminate in a strained gathering. At last she screams, “We’re going to be a family if I have to kill all of you!”
Split between two roles, mother and “the Godmother” of Agrestic, California, Nancy embodies a too-typical single-mother dilemma. She feels compelled to provide materially and emotionally for her children but realizes there’s not enough time to do both as well as she wants. If family is “about” compromise, Nancy’s compromise is to break the law in order to keep her children in the manner to which they are accustomed. That she even has this option is a function of her status as a member of a largely white, affluent community. Were she dealing to survive at subsistence level, Weeds wouldn’t be much of a comedy. Nancy would probably end up as a minor character on HBO’s The Wire.
But the community of Agrestic is quite fertile ground for a marijuana business: the drug isn’t even titillating anymore, just common. Weeds takes the suburban weed economy as a given, not a point of crisis. It’s difficult to imagine a heroin dealer comedy, but Weeds isn’t the only sitcom with a marijuana business at its center: the British series Ideal follows Moz (Johnny Vegas), a smalltime dealer who rarely leaves his apartment. Viewers can laugh with and at such figures, rather than expect a hellish cost for their criminality. City councilman Doug (Kevin Nealon) joins Nancy’s drug business without much hand-wringing, as does lawyer Dean Hodes (Andy Milder). These are adults who, in a cultural atmosphere full of overblown rhetoric about the war on drugs, have made their own decisions.
Though Nancy often seems oblivious to the darker aspects of her trade, Agrestic’s well-kept houses offer little protection from the consequences of drug dealing. She’s had turf wars, been ripped off by cops, and almost landed in jail. Such repercussions add a dramatic element to Weeds, keeping it from becoming a situation comedy that just happens to be about a drug dealer (an apt description of Ideal).
At the beginning of Season Two, those repercussions become more complicated, as Nancy tries to figure out what to do about Peter. Staying with him means giving up her dealing, her badge of independence. Leaving him means another sacrifice of her personal life to her family responsibilities. Her split personality, mother and “Godmother,” is increasingly difficult to maintain. When she tells Heylia’s son, Conrad (Romany Malco), about her dalliance with a DEA agent, he cuts her off. She’s “stepped in shit,” he says, and warns her not to drag it into his house. Drug-based relationships, no matter how close, evaporate quickly in the face of legal consequences.
The “Godmother’s” family, it seems, is built on connections even more fragile than Nancy’s. Conrad’s the only member of her extended “Godmother” family with any expertise in the business. The rest are suburban dilettantes. Without a steady supply of weed, Nancy might have to find a job, or let go of her housekeeper, not options in Agrestic. So once more, Mom slips into her “Godmother” persona, wades into the tall weeds of moral ambiguity, ready to make one more gamble, one more compromise, one more sacrifice. What else is a single, white, affluent mother to do?