Hey, Weeds-keteers and welcome to recaps for the pitch-black comedy’s fifth season. I’m taking over for Genevieve Koski, whose shoes will be hard to fill, but we’ll do what we can, won’t we?
Anyway! Weeds is a show I’ve always held at arm’s-length. For everything I’ve enjoyed about the show over the years, there’s something that equally irks me about it. The plots will often take twists that make little-to-no sense just in the interest of having a twisty plot, the characters are unlikable (and not in a way that would be a virtue), and the satirical overtones long since got old, though that’s just as much a function of ten zillion shows being set in the suburbs in the last five years as it is of Weeds not having that ol’ satiric edge. It also doesn’t help that Breaking Bad is now doing this exact same story but taking it seriously enough to give its characters a fair shake in the moral sense while still offering up moments that are screamingly funny.
Last season, Weeds decamped to the U.S.-Mexican border to tell lots of long, meandering plots about Nancy Botwin attempting to play both sides of the border with her ever-growing operation. Showtime, always fond of the lengthy previously-on promo, essentially boils down the entirety of season four’s major plot points (save one or two) in the previously-on (it lasts almost two minutes!), so I suppose it’s not necessary to revisit season four too much.
If there’s one thing that keeps me coming back to Weeds, though, it’s the performances. Pretty much everyone on the show offers up unconventional line readings and a dry, dry tone that makes for fun viewing. Kevin Nealon, Justin Kirk and Elizabeth Perkins manage this feat as well as anyone, but the undisputed master is Mary-Louise Parker, who often holds together weaker episodes of the show with her oft-indiscernible wide brown eyes.
Parker keeps the character Nancy from being too easily readable, in a way that makes her fascinating to watch. Because the show is sometimes clumsily plotted, you usually have a pretty good idea of what Nancy’s going to do next, but you almost never know how she’s going to feel about it, and Parker only lets a few cracks appear in that façade. It’s one of the better TV performances of the decade, and it’s fairly unheralded just because the show it’s on has a bad habit of falling apart.
Anyway, the premiere deals mostly with the fallout from Nancy announcing to Mexican drug kingpin Esteban that she’s carrying his child (last season’s big cliffhanger). Esteban’s seeming obsession with having a male child feels like a bit of stereotyping dressed up as a character quirk (a frequent problem with Weeds’ non-white characters), but watching Nancy try to figure out how to play this card to keep herself alive is fascinating enough that even some of the stupider turns in the plot work because you can see the wheels turning but can’t quite figure out just how far ahead of everyone (including the audience) Nancy is at any given moment.
At the same time, Nancy telling Andy that she’s pregnant felt a little out-of-character. I know she’s fond of blurting things out every so often, but this is clearly something she’s breaking the news about in a very specific way, and telling the guy who’s clearly going to tell everyone else doesn’t seem like it makes a lot of sense. (Also bad: That weird scene where Nancy picked up the hot pan seemingly straight out of the oven. It seemed unlikely that she would just overlook the heat, and I’m not even sure the plot point was symbolically or thematically necessary.) Still, getting Nancy back to Ren-Mar and all the people she left behind for too much of last season was nice to see, and the tension growing between her two sons seems likely to spawn some good stuff.
Silas and Shane are being shipped off to live with Nancy’s sister Jill (special guest star Jennifer Jason Leigh, showing up next week), which is pretty much the entire point of why they show up in this episode and squabble about mom’s pregnancy. Also, Shane continues to sell pot, a plot point that still seems like something no one really cares about.
Celia, meanwhile, a character the show feels obligated to keep around but one it also rarely seems to know what to do with, continued her long, irritating confinement at the hands of her daughter, Quinn, and her boyfriend (yet another vaguely stereotyped Latino hoodlum). As mentioned above, Elizabeth Perkins knows her way around this character, and she’s able to keep this stuff mostly compelling, but this whole premise is shot through with false drama. Because we barely know Quinn, we’re not interested in finding out how she and mom bond, and we know the show isn’t going to kill Celia, so there’s not really something to get us worked up either.
Because this is a season premiere, the main goal of the episode is to get us introduced to the storylines that will be sweeping the show along this season. To that end, the episode was mostly a success. Seeing how Nancy’s going to use her pregnancy to get out of the scrape she’s in with the Mexicans is still pretty compelling and both the show and Parker seem likely to find every interesting corner of this storyline and exploit it. That’s saying a lot for a show that often felt shiftless last season and for a plot device that often seems overused (a surprise pregnancy). But I’m willing to go with this for a while at least. The other storylines aren’t as compelling yet, but all I ask of Weeds is that it give Mary-Louise Parker something to do, so, there you go.
The episode ended with Nancy sitting at an outdoor mall, sipping away at her drink, when she suddenly stumbled into one of those T-Mobile viral Web videos (OK, Drew from Everybody Hates Chris said it was a flash mob, but we all know the truth, right?). It was a sequence that was sort of quintessentially Weeds, in that it seemed like it was pointing toward some higher purpose or some obscure symbolism that seemed just out of reach (though, yeah, this series really likes its musical interludes, so I could be trying too hard). And then it all ended with a nice bit of menace, as Nancy realized that she wasn’t as safe as she’d like to be, baby or no baby. Still, I’d just like to know what the hell it all means. Which sort of describes the series as a whole.
- Only one tonight: I sort of like how Weeds has just given up on writing traditional jokes, counting on its cast to wring the laughs out of the wry dialogue and just overloading on character quirk.