Sunday, May 25, 2014

Rapidly Diminishing Returns: Why Weeds Isn’t Worth It!

The Good: Moments of character, Moments of humor
The Bad: Repetitive, Terrible protagonist, Ridiculous plot
The Basics: In a story that does little more than prove that enough is never enough, Weeds (the complete series) wears out its welcome long before all eight seasons are viewed.

There are few television series’s that I continued with based on inertia alone the way I did with Weeds. Weeds is a 102 episode (roughly a half hour each) television series that has an immediately original concept that is quickly milked to death and then extended for about six more seasons. The show, which aired on Showtime, won awards for the acting of Mary-Louise Parker (for no discernable reason that I can find given how poorly she acts and differentiates her character of Nancy Botwin from, for example, her character of Amy Gardner on The West Wing, reviewed here!) and writing (from series creator Jenji Kohan), but otherwise was a frequently-nominated strike out for comedy on the awards circuit. The thing is, outside the premium cable amount of drugs and nudity presented, Weeds has shockingly little going for it and that is never more clear than when one sits down and watches Weeds The Complete Series.

The full-series boxed set has all of the content of the previously released DVD (or Blu-Ray) sets of:
Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4
Season 5
Season 6
Season 7
and Season 8.

While I usually do an intensive analysis of a television series’s plot and characters, I find that with Weeds, I am unable to muster up the enthusiasm. What is the show about? Nancy Botwin and her family and the people she uses. Who is Nancy Botwin? Nancy Botwin is a high-functioning sociopath whose husband dies in the series premiere. Botwin and her two children live in Agrestic, a gated community for the wealthy and privileged. When her husband dies, Nancy is forced to acknowledge that she has no marketable skills and so in order to maintain her standard of living, she becomes a pot dealer in the suburbs.

What follows is the story of Nancy Botwin and her descent into crime. Nancy, accompanied by her brother-in-law who lusts after her, her two children and various sidekicks dimwitted (Doug and Dean) and treacherous (Heylia and Celia) gets into trouble with rival dealers and suppliers, local law enforcement and the DEA. She gets out of her troubles by lying to, having sex with or marrying her adversaries when simply setting her enemies against one another or burning a place to the ground does not work. And then she runs away. Dragging her family, Doug, and whichever other lackey is around at the time with her, Nancy relocates to San Diego, Dearborn (Michigan), New York City and Connecticut over the course of the series. So, Weeds is a simple idea relocated repeatedly in an attempt to stay fresh, but utterly failing after its first two seasons to engage the viewers sufficiently to be worth the investment of time and money.

What is so bad about Nancy Botwin? Nancy shows no real regard for anyone in her life. She uses her children as an excuse to do horrible things and she is willing to turn on even her kids when the situation calls for it. In fact, outside protecting her son Shane from a murder charge after he kills a woman in defense of Nancy, Nancy shows no real regard for even her children (whom she claims to be doing everything for). Moreover, Nancy drags Andy around and constantly uses him, even after she learns that he is hopelessly in love with her. She has no qualms about using his love for her to get what she wants from him and then abandoning or betraying him. She is, literally, a sociopath the way she betrays everyone with her single-minded focus on her own survival. As a result, she is neither an empathetic character, nor one who is particularly enjoyable to watch.

What is so bad about Weeds then? In addition to having a pretty lousy protagonist, Weeds has a disturbingly limited concept that makes no real sense. Nancy Botwin is faced with a big financial crisis, like millions of Americans are every day. She makes a bad initial choice, which is to stay in Agrestic and become a pot dealer. The thing is, America is huge and there are plenty of places she could move (one garage sale would have given her more than enough money to move to a place with a lower cost-of-living) and get a job to make ends meet. So, the show starts off with a lousy decision . . .

. . . and then it just keeps making the same bad decision over and over again. There are several times in the course of Weeds where Nancy Botwin gets ahead: she is not just scraping by, she has more than enough to keep her and her family provided for for the foreseeable future. And she never quits while she is ahead. Instead, she gets into increasingly preposterous situations that force her and her family into worse (usually life-threatening) situations. And she never learns. Weeds sucks because Nancy Botwin is horrible, short-sighted, and remarkably stupid for a drug-peddling mother and she is surrounded by idiots who continue to let her use them over and over again. And the ones who manage to escape the dark cloud of Nancy’s influence . . . invariably return to her, even after they can acknowledge how abysmal she actually is!

Outside Mary-Louise Parker, the acting in Weeds is good. Justin Kirk, especially, is impressive with an uncommon amount of range and depth as Andy Botwin. Young actors Hunter Parrish (Silas Botwin), Alexander Gould (Shane Botwin) and Allie Grant (Isabelle Hodes) all grow up over the course of the eight-season series and illustrate an incredible amount of talent and performance ability, even when their characters are emotionally stunted. Like Mary-Louise Parker consistently hitting on only one note, Kevin Nealon plays Doug Wilson with a constant goofy quality one expects from anyone who saw him perform on Saturday Night Live in the 1980s or 1990s.

The end result is a simple analysis for a simple show: Weeds is not clever, not particularly original after the set-up and not enduringly great in any way, shape, or form. That makes it easy to pass up and not worth adding to one’s permanent library.

For other shows that premiered on Showtime, please visit my reviews of:
Dexter - Season 1
The L Word
Dead Like Me
Jeremiah - Season 1
An American Crime


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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