Saturday, June 18, 2011

One Protracted Run Away From Anything We Care About, Weeds Season Six Roams Away From Likability.

The Good: The show develops, Decent character development for Andy and Silas, Good acting
The Bad: Predictable arcs, Light on DVD bonus features, Nancy becomes utterly unlikable, Doug's presence is largely pointless.
The Basics: With Weeds Season Six, Nancy Botwin mortgages any likability and the show fails to land as the Botwin family goes on the run.

It is either some form of twisted optimism or blind faith that keeps me coming back to Weeds. It is certainly not that I like the show and there is even less of a chance that it is because I either like the lead protagonist, Nancy Botwin, or the performance of Mary-Louise Parker. The ship sailed on those two aspects early on and never, respectively. I think there is the good chance that I keep getting Weeds out of the library when it comes in simply because I've gone this far with the show and I want to be able to write authoritatively about how it ends or some such nonsense. Needless to say, if I were not a reviewer, I would have given up on Weeds after the second season. Yet, when Weeds Season Six became available to me from my local library, I got it out and my wife and I did a Weeds marathon.

Cramming the thirteen episodes (averaging about twenty-five minutes per episode) into the course of twenty-four hours allows me to compliment the sixth season of Weeds thusly: it goes fast. In the sixth season, I grew from an antipathy for Nancy Botwin to outright hating her, but the episodes flow exceptionally well from one into another and the season moves quickly toward its resolution, though my wife and I called where it ended (close enough) by the second episode. For those not yet invested in the show, season six puts the Botwin family on the run from Esteban, Nancy's current husband and from the outset, I bet my wife that the season would end with Esteban catching up with Nancy. My wife bet it would be the FBI that caught her in the season finale. Either way, Weeds Season Six is all about the journey, not the destination and it almost ekes its way up to "charming" status, though it doesn't quite get there. In fact, the sixth season of Weeds is only charming for a handful of lines spread out through the thirteen episodes and it bears no real resemblance to the show as it had been, save that the least likable character, Nancy Botwin, continues to ruin the lives of those around her.

Weeds began as a show about a soccer mom dealing marijuana in the suburbs after her husband died and left her to raise two children alone. Desperate, she struggles to pay bills and get ahead of the game, while keeping her kids on the straight and narrow. But at this point, Nancy Botwin is so far from actually having to deal drugs to keep her family alive that her choice to deal at every opportunity seems more and more contrived and, frankly, idiotic. Following the events of the fifth season's finale, though, Nancy feels she must flee with her family or Esteban will kill them all. Rather sensibly, Esteban only hunts for Nancy because she fled; the cause (that's a spoiler alert because the sixth season cannot be discussed plainly without mentioning the important detail of how the fifth season ended) is tolerable for Esteban and his goons, the fleeing is not.

With Shane having murdered Pilar, Esteban's political director and rival of Nancy, to defend the family, Nancy Botwin panics and packs Shane, Stevie and Silas in the car to flee Ren Mar. Collecting Andy from Audra's house, where he has chickened out on saving her from an anti-choice protester, the Botwins flee the scene of the crime. Wandering north, Andy quickly becomes useful in getting the quintet off the grid by getting supplies and cash and an alternate ride. They shed their past identities, take new aliases as the Newman family and the gang lands in Seattle where Randy (Andy), Mike (Silas), and Nahtalie (Nancy) Newman all take up working at the same hotel. As Randy begins to thrive as a chef, Mike explores college life and even Sean finds some happiness trying to fit in with a group of mothers in the park.

But, Nahtalie is restless and sees an opportunity to make fast money, getting involved with a medicinal marijuana grower, acquiring the trimmings and making hash. Doug unwittingly leads Cesar and Esteban's other goons to the Newmans and they have to flee again. Having survived another near-fatal encounter, the Newmans buy a mobile home, end up in the wastes of Montana and when they are forced to flee there, they find their way to Dearborn. In Dearborn, Nancy's home town, the group moves in with a former teacher Nancy once hooked up with and they plan to make a big score to escape once and for all . . . to Copenhagen!

While the sixth season of Weeds might have its moments, it is more often agonizing to watch, both for its graphic nature - the severed penis in the penultimate episode was pretty gross - and for its characters who continue to make ridiculously bad choices (why Silas and Andy do not cut their losses and ditch Nancy and Shane makes no sense!). Whatever sense of pathos the audience might have once had for Nancy, it is gone now. It is so far gone, in fact that when the arguably psychopathic Shane suggests to Nancy that they leave the others to their own fate, it seems reasonable. And Nancy seems even more the monster for not going along with it.

What the sixth season of Weeds does well is develop from the little niggling ideas. Early in the season, the comment is made about how Silas does not look like Nancy or his dead father, Judah. What seems like an offhanded remark plays out with real consequences when the family arrives in Dearborn and it offers Silas a chance to truly grow as a character. And yet . . .

While that kind of character detail works and sees to conclusion any problem one might have had with the initial casting of Hunter Parrish since the beginning of the show, Weeds is not as tightly constructed as we might hope. Celia Hodes is gone, as is her daughter, and yet Doug finds his way back into the narrative. Doug is an utterly pointless character at this point and he serves only two niches: 1. To move the plot reasonably toward Esteban's people tracking the Newman family and 2. To keep Kevin Nealon on television. As one who liked a lot of Nealon's early work, it is disappointing to watch him flail through this season of Weeds. The show does not need his star power to keep going and so when he reappears it feels as unnecessary as it actually is. Moreover, Nealon is not given much in the way of opportunities to shine and play to his comedic strengths, so Doug is more annoying than funny in this season of the show.

Unfortunately, while most great television is about great characters, the sixth season of Weeds is heavily plot-based, as opposed to ripe with character growth moments. In the sixth season, this is what happens to the principle characters:

Nancy Botwin (Nahtalie) – Determined to keep Shane from going to prison for murder, she freaks out and flees Esteban. That move puts her on the road, wearing a bad wig and assuming the name Nahtalie (“French spelling”) and having anonymous sex (which feels more like contractually-obligated nudity for Mary-Louise Parker than anything organic for the show) in the middle of nowhere. Despite fearing that Shane might actually be a psychopath, she lets him play to his strengths, outside the perfect day they share in Montana. Upon returning home to Dearborn, she discovers an unlikely person following her and a resource in a crazy old, former lover,

Silas Botwin (Mike Newman) – Reluctantly running with the family, his life is turned upside down in Seattle where he discovers the joys of college and college women. He becomes determined to stay on the straight and narrow and succeeds, save for his obsession with sticking with his family. But even that changes in Dearborn when he learns a truth others only suspected about him,

Shane Botwin (Sean) – Cold and calculating, Shane shows no remorse for killing to try to save the family. He takes care of the baby Stevie more than anyone else and in Seattle, that leads him to hand out with a bunch of mothers who quickly suspect his child is being maltreated. Shane stops trying to fight his instincts and he goes toe to toe with Esteban’s goons, making him even more of a liability than before! Getting him out of the country becomes more of a priority as the chase accelerates and others suspect Shane, not Nancy, killed Esteban’s aide,

Doug – Wanders back to the Andy’s house and is captured by Cesar and is kept alive only because he believes he can lead the goons to the Botwins. Arguably saved by god, he goes in another direction after Montana and ends up fighting for a family he doesn’t even truly care about,

and Andy Botwin (Randy) – Guilt-stricken by running out on Audra when she is held hostage, he is pushed back into the house by Nancy and the fight that ensues leaves him heartbroken. With nowhere else to go, Andy helps Nancy and her family escape Ren Mar and get off the grid. In Seattle, he finds true happiness fighting an arrogant chef at the hotel for a cooking position (he is hired as a dishwasher) and no sooner does he wow the chef than the family has to run again. As Randy, he becomes a priest in the Montana wilderness to make the RV the family acquires blend and he comes up with the plan to escape the country.

While not much happens in terms of character, the acting in the sixth season of Weeds is largely wonderful. The stand-outs in this season are Hunter Parrish and Justin Kirk. While Alexander Gould does an awesome job playing Shane as a psychopath, he had that nailed in the prior season. Parrish makes Silas tortured and hurt and as the season goes on, the strength he infuses into Silas is gone and he plays vulnerability masterfully. When Silas encounters someone from Nancy’s past, Parrish acts expertly with his eyes. Justin Kirk also balances the comedic and dramatic awesomely and has a real presence when he is playing Andy seriously in the Seattle arc.

But Mary-Louise Parker brings nothing new to the role of Nancy Botwin and at this point, Nancy is utterly unlikable. Those waiting for Parker to learn to act with her mouth closed (since her performances on The West Wing, it seems directors or the actress wants everyone to see her teeth constantly and there’s something ridiculous about the look) will be disappointed as she hasn’t kicked that habit yet.

On DVD, Weeds Season six comes with minimal bonus features. The featurette on how the Botwins change their names is fairly ridiculous considering how they do not truly stick with the changed names and there is another featurette on the evolution of the season. The commentary track is not particularly enlightening, either.

Ultimately, Weeds Season Six is a season of transition, but it is virtually impossible to care about the characters and where they are going.

For prior seasons of Weeds, please check out my reviews of:
Weeds Season 1
Weeds Season 2
Weeds Season 3
Weeds Season 4
Weeds Season 5


For other television season reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

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

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  1. I have to agree with you 100%. I was going to watch the 7th season if it was going to be the last, but they never confirmed that it was so I decided to just skip it and watch repeats of the first three and try and wipe the last three out of my mind and pretend they didn't happen.

  2. Glad you liked the review! Thanks! The seventh will be tough to not make contrived, given the way the sixth ended. I'll probably review the DVD when it comes out, though!