Monday, January 10, 2011

Even More Of A Loser: Weeds - Season Two Disappoints Anyone Not In The Drug Culture.

The Good: Moments of shocking humor.
The Bad: DVD bonuses are almost all for stoners, Unlikable characters, Dull and predictable plots
The Basics: With twelve ridiculously short episodes that are pretty much over before they begin, Weeds Season Two follows the unsympathetic exploits of a suburban drug dealer.

It is a very rare thing that I give a program that did not grab me the first time around a second chance. As I've finished trudging through Homicide: Life On The Street, a series I am discovering I care for less and less as it progresses, I've been thinking of how highly it was initially recommended to me and how far from those expectations it fell. The only series that has disappointed me more given the praise heaped upon it would have to be Weeds. When I sat down and watched Weeds - Season 1 (reviewed here!) I was completely unimpressed.

The concept is rather simple: Nancy Botwin is a widow whose dead husband left her with nothing. Living in the secure community of Agrestic, Nancy is determined to keep all that she has, so she begins selling pot in the suburbs. Soon, she has a bustling business and has to navigate the pitfalls of being a businesswoman running an illegal business. It is impossible to discuss season two of Weeds - which I am still trying to figure out why I picked this DVD set up when I disliked the first season so very much - without referencing the climax to the first season. So, anyone who does not want the cliffhanger surprise of the first season ruined, now is the time to stop reading.

In the second season of Weeds, Nancy - who had fallen in love with a new man - wakes up next to him and discovers that he is a DEA agent. Horrified that Peter could destroy her business, Nancy tries to break things off with him, only to discover that he knows what she does for a living. Peter comes up with a solution he can live with; rushing Nancy off to Las Vegas, where they marry. Unafraid now to pursue her business - which gets a cash influx when Sanjay burns down the bakery for the insurance money - Nancy and Peter set to clearing a neighborhood out of the competition for her.

While Nancy and Peter struggle with their issues, Conrad freaks out that Nancy is in bed with a DEA agent and he bolts. Celia, angered over Doug's inaction on the city council, decides to run for his seat. While her daughter becomes a spokesperson for a clothing line for larger girls, Celia campaigns and wins the seat, which leads her to try to make Agrestic a drug free community. Meanwhile, Nancy's children get into trouble involving love, sex and their Uncle Andy, who is avoiding the draft by training to become a rabbi.

From the first episode of "Season Two," Weeds loses all of its charm - whatever it had going in - because it turns from the story of a woman living in desperation to the story of a corrupt businesswoman. That is to say that in "Season One," Nancy Botwin had moments where her character was sympathetic. Sure, I'd argue that she could have moved pretty much anywhere in the United States and found work, but her determination to stay in Agrestic limited her options, and that she was not "forced" to become a drug dealer. I suppose there wouldn't be a series then, though. The thing is, clinging to the lifestyle is one thing, especially when death or divorce is involved. But with the business burning down and Nancy getting a big, fat insurance check, her character suddenly has options. She could have used that money to: take a course to get a marketable skill to enter the job market, live well for a while anywhere outside California ($90,000 goes a long way outside California!), rebuild the bakery as a legitimate business, or at least a thousand other things.

So, in "Season 2" Nancy chooses to be a drug dealer, not because she has to, but because she wants to. And given the world of trouble that follows her as a result of that choice, it's a lousy choice. I would say I had hope that the series illustrated that as it went on, but as I write this it is in its fourth season and I'm virtually certain she is still dealing drugs. Without the need, Botwin become just another skell and expecting an audience to accept her just because she is: a woman, a mother or good looking is ridiculous. Nancy grows a new strain of marijuana, which comes to be known as MILF weed, a product that gets its own theme song and spokesman care of Snoop Doggy Dogg.

Virtually every "surprise" that comes up in this season is anything but a surprise to anyone who is a fan of television . . . or just awake and not stoned. Things like the "shocking" revelation at the end of the second episode that Peter knows what Nancy does are not surprising to anyone who has any faith in characters playing agents of our government.

This is just a dumb show by this point; it glorifies drug culture and justifies itself this time around by "at least it's not crack." Wow, that makes it so much better; it's weed, not cocaine, so it's fine that Nancy Botwin is selling drugs in the suburbs. What is more insulting in this case are the bonus features on the DVD. The DVD bonus features - unlike those of the first season that tiptoed around the drug references in the show and focused more on character issues - are almost all weed-centered. Yes, marijuana grower Craig X. Rubin pops up to talk about how to grow marijuana, how to harvest it and what the best strains are out there. Any pretense of not endorsing the usage of illegal drugs is tossed and the erosion from necessity to choice begins to illustrate nothing positive or profound, save that it subtly shows why this is a gateway drug and how the moral distinctions erode when one lives on the other side of the law.

Despite their inherent unlikability of the characters, making a choice on whether Weeds - Season Two is for you can only be enhanced by knowing who the characters are. In the second season, the principle characters are:

Nancy Botwin - Following getting into a relationship with the DEA agent, Peter, she finds herself growing her business and she chooses to be a drug dealer in the suburbs. She finds herself in one dangerous situation after another, often neglecting her children and her friendships, save her friendship with Conrad,

Celia Hodes - Upset at Doug's lack of responsiveness to a local issue, she runs for city council and wins. Soon thereafter, she begins a crusade to clean up Agrestic and ends up having sex with Doug,

Conrad - Irked by Nancy's relationship with Peter and ostracized by Heylia, he tries to make a business of his own. Finding himself unable to go it alone, he and Nancy renew their friendship,

Dean Hodes - Upset by Celia, he neglects to file Doug's papers. While he focuses on Nancy's business, he loses his job and becomes his daughter's accountant in order to survive,

Doug - After losing in the election - because he did not appear on the ballot - he becomes Nancy's "taste tester" for the business and has an affair with Celia,

Andy - Nancy's slacker brother, he avoids military service first by trying to become a rabbi, then by having his toe bit off by a dog. He corrupts Nancy's youngest son and a woman from his past arrives to complicate his life even more,

Silas - Obsessed with his girlfriend, he tries to keep their relationship together by getting her pregnant. He soon develops a protective instinct for his mother and works to thwart Celia's plans on her behalf,

Shane - The eleven year-old clogs up the plumbing from flushing socks he's used for masturbating, so Uncle Andy takes him to a massage parlor to lose his virginity,

and Heylia - Burned by Nancy in order to keep her business alive, she cuts a deal with the DEA and becomes a crossing guard.

The thing about the characters in Season Two of Weeds is that - outside the inherent unlikability of characters who choose to be lawless and escalate into dangerous and stupid decisions - some of them have to be entirely reworked to make the plots work. Most notable of these is Peter. In the first season, Peter is a suave, decent guy. In this season he becomes darker, a racist and just plain mean. It doesn't jive with who he was before and that is irksome.

Similarly, the acting is wildly erratic. The superlative performance of the season comes from Justin Kirk, who plays Andy. The scene wherein he basically provides masturbatory education to the grossly underage Shane is absolutely hilarious. Kirk gets through the scene without ever cracking a smile and that is a testament to his abilities as an actor.

But it falls upon Mary-Louise Parker to sell the series and she utterly fails in this season. The spacy looks, the dumfounded expressions that come whenever anyone is on to her character, they all add up to creating a character who is so narcissistic as to believe she cannot be caught and it is ridiculous. Parker plays Botwin virtually identically to her character from the third season of The West Wing (reviewed here!), save that subtracts out the sense that the character is actually intelligent. Unforced to deliver lines of intelligent dialogue, Parker plays Botwin as hapless and that is hardly entertaining.

Ultimately, I'm disappointed by the direction of this series and I'm shocked to learn it has found an audience. On DVD, it is chock full of bonus features including commentary tracks and featurettes about drugs, growing weed and how to get around the legal problems associated with using marijuana. Anyone who is not into drug culture will find very little to like about this season or the bonus features.

This is a problematic and forgettable season of disappointing television and one suspects that once the novelty of the concept wears off for the audience, this boxed set will fall out of print. It cannot happen soon enough for me.

For other comedies, please check out my reviews of:
30 Rock Season 3
The Big Bang Theory Season 3


For other television boxed set reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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