Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gaining Some Traction, Weeds Season Five Has Some Funny Moments, But Still Falls Flat.

The Good: Humor, Guest appearances, Moments of character
The Bad: Primary protagonist is weak, Repetitive sense of plot, Ultimate sense of a lack of purpose, Only thirteen episodes.
The Basics: While the fifth season of Weeds might not be as lackluster as some of the prior seasons, it still is below average television as revealed by the DVD set.

I have taken some heat from others for not enjoying Weeds of late. Oddly, there seem to be more people griping over the fact that I continue to give the show a try and see where it is going - and turn out to not like it - than people who actually have a problem with the fact that I think the show is well past the shark. As a reviewer, I do feel some desire to try things I am unfamiliar with and Weeds is a show I've never seen in the first run, so I've been going through the DVD sets of. I am caught up with what is on the market (season six drops on DVD very soon, though) with my viewing of Weeds Season Five. While it might seem strange for me to keep going, I keep watching the DVD sets of Weeds with a fascination of one watching a train wreck happening.

Only the fifth season is not a train wreck. Instead, in the fifth season of Weeds, the show has moments that are funny, clever and surprisingly interesting. Unfortunately, the show has a case of "too little, too late" and those who have watched the series from the beginning are far less likely to enjoy the fifth season than those picking up the show now. Indeed, if one has to watch any of the show, they might as well go with season one and then leap right to season five, as far as I am concerned. Why? Doing that leaves the viewer feeling much less like they have seen all of the good parts of Weeds Season Five before this viewing. Unfortunately, as one who has watched the prior four seasons of the show, even the moments I enjoyed most about the fifth season seem familiar and repeating the best aspects of the show's prior years. Indeed, in the finale of Season Five, Weeds actually becomes a parody of itself with Celia repeating the first season finale's ending for Nancy in an almost shot by shot recreation.

Even so, Season Five did manage to get some laughs from me, which is more than the prior two seasons evoked. It is impossible to discuss the fifth season without revealing some of the details that only come up late in the Season Four finale, so consider that a spoiler alert for those looking for a fresh viewing of the entire series. The opening to Weeds Season Five was actually humorous enough that I had to share the scene with my wife and it got her laughing, too. But even that feels like something familiar. Weeds has a tendency to put characters in remarkably dire positions and leave the viewers hanging only to return them the next season with such simple reconciliations of the conflicts that one may only feel cheated by them. In this case, Nancy enabling herself to survive turning in Esteban and Guillermo with her revelation at the end of fourth season finale, leads to even less of a sense of consequence than Celia's capture by her long-neglected daughter.

The fifth season of Weeds finds Nancy Botwin saving her life and the lives of her family members by revealing to Esteban that she is pregnant. As soon as Esteban confirms that the child is his and it is male, he moves to insure that the baby will be born healthy. Unfortunately for Nancy, that means that Esteban is becoming increasingly possessive and Andy has the reasonable fear that Esteban will have Nancy killed the moment the baby is born. Esteban's political director soon asserts her influence by creating an adverse condition for Esteban to run for governor in Mexico. While Nancy works through her baby drama, Celia discovers there is not a single person in the world who will pay the ransom her daughter and her daughter's revolutionary boyfriend demand. When they learn she cannot be killed and have her organs harvested, she is released and eventually is sent back to the States.

After a brief stint of resisting the forces attempting to act upon her, Nancy moves in with Esteban after Shane is wounded with a shot meant for her. Six months later, Nancy realizes Esteban is still planning to have her killed and she induces labor with the help of a doctor that Andy has a crush on. With the birth of the baby, Andy is put in the uncomfortable position of acting like the baby's father, which makes it difficult for him to distance himself from his feelings for Nancy. When Esteban agrees to marry her, Nancy sets her sights on eliminating the competition, Esteban's political puppeteer.

The fifth season of Weeds "reads" like a soap opera for much of the season, or like the gangster equivalent of one. The show stays mired in keeping Nancy in a position where her life is constantly threatened and in this season, she is only peripherally involved in anything drug-related. So, at this point, the main premise of the series has been mortgaged to deal with the fallout of Nancy's bad decisions in prior seasons. As a result, those who enjoy Weeds for the drug culture and references are likely to be far less entertained by it than in prior seasons. Ironically, Weeds Season Five does a decent job of illustrating the problematic relationship between drug use/dispensing and violent crime as those around Nancy experience escalations in violence and sadistic behavior. And, it comes as little surprise that Esteban's daughter - who might have only been a pothead at some prior point - is now a heroin addict.

So, while Nancy might be on maternity leave from selling or cultivating marijuana, those around her suffer. Shane is shot, Doug has his penis fractured and Andy has his heart stomped on. Whatever satire Weeds started out with, whatever social commentary that initially tried to sell viewers on the idea that there were no negative side effects to weed use or distribution is now gone. The drug running business - even for something as natural and usually nonthreatening as weed - is a dangerous one and if Nancy goes down now, she is taking more than just Celia with her. The result is a season that has comedy, but the commentary it makes is not nearly as funny.

When Weeds Season Five is not being funny, it is uncomfortable and dangerous. A lot of the discomfort for viewers comes from Andy, who is lovelorn for Nancy and is told to grow up by a doctor he is interested in (played ably by Alanis Morissette). Andy does what viewers must have wanted him to do for years; he tells Nancy off and vows not to keep bailing her out. Unfortunately, he does not stick to that sense of resolution and he is soon traipsing around in an emotionally and physically vulnerable state again. Other serious discomforts come in the form of Shane having to deal with a potential STD from the two girls he had sex with (Shane being a young teenager at this point) and even more discomfort from realizing how very long it would have been since he initially was exposed to their clemydia.

Good television is about characters and Weeds has marginally interesting characters, most of whom do no real growing in this season. The principle characters at this point are:

Nancy Botwin - Pregnant with Esteban's child, she tries to avoid Andy's unrequited love for her and occasionally reasserts herself as a parent to Shane and Silas. Her protective instinct encourages her to move in with Esteban and then to induce labor for her new son, Steven. She tries to make her marriage work by promoting Esteban's ambitions while protecting her life and the lives of her sons,

Andy Botwin - Having wrestled with his feelings for Nancy, he has sex with her sister and does his best to move on. This is complicated by suddenly finding himself sharing a bed with her as they raise Stevie together as Andy, unlikely as it is, becomes the One Who Shows Up. He falls for Audra Kitson,

Shane Botwin - With a surprisingly strong role, he becomes more edgy as his life is increasingly threatened. After he is shot, he happily moves into Esteban’s estate, where he has some issues with alcohol before becoming an unlikely savior,

Silas Botwin – He finds purpose not fleeing Ren Mar, but instead opening a legal medical marijuana store. Unfortunately, he discovers paying the bribe to local law enforcement is stifling his business,

Esteban Reyes РHis secrets begin to come out at he runs for governor, reveals his daughter and juggles Nancy and his political attach̩,

Doug – He pals around with Silas and tries to make himself useful. As an act of revenge, Dean slams his penis in a desk drawer,

Dean – Returns with the desire to get back into business doing more than just his work as a lawyer, putting him at odds with Dean, but in an unlikely friendship with his ex-wife, Celia,

And Celia Hodes – She evolves into the new Nancy after her abduction. She discovers selling drugs through a beauty company offers her a chance to regain her prior status in society.

Weeds Season Five features no superlative performances, though Elizabeth Perkins’ parody of Mary-Louise Parker’s performances is hilarious near the climax of the season. While Justin Kirk is good as Andy, he does not give viewers anything we haven’t seen before.

On DVD, Weeds Season Five features commentary tracks and featurettes on the evolution of the season. They are all right and seeing some of the performers out of character is enjoyable. But largely, Weeds Season Five is just a recast of Season 1, putting Nancy Botwin in less vital positions, but returning the show to an odd mix of edgy and funny.

For prior seasons of Weeds, please check out my reviews of:
Weeds Season 1
Weeds Season 2
Weeds Season 3
Weeds Season 4


© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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