When “Weeds” premiered on Showtime, it seemed the quintessential suburban satire: Widowed stay-at-home mom accidentally becomes pot dealer and finds her inner gangsta amid the manicured lawns and granite-countered hypocrisy of a Southern California planned community.
What creator Jenji Kohan may not have counted on was that her cast and characters would so quickly become literally too cool for the ‘burbs. Led by Mary-Louise Parker as pot mom Nancy Botwin, the denizens of “Weeds” were not content with merely shredding those little boxes on the hillside; they burned the darn things to the ground. In last season’s final episode, Nancy took advantage of the wildfires that raged around the fictional Agrestic/Majestic by dousing her house with gasoline, and then she took her show on the road.
Uprooting location is not the standard move for a show still very much mid-stride, but the pathos of suburbia is a bit one-note, and “Weeds” has become less about hypocrisy and more about borders: Personal and social, real and delusional, those that must be honored and those that will stretch when pushed.
In early episodes of the new season, Nancy, along with brother-in-law Andy (Justin Kirk) and sons Silas (Hunter Parrish) and Shane (Alexander Gould), heads south to the beach town of Ren Mar, hoping to take refuge with her bubby-in-law, who never forgave her for not being Jewish. But Bubby isn’t doing so well, and she is now in the care of Nancy’s father-in-law, Len, a man so torn by bitterness, pain and great comic timing he could be played only by Albert Brooks.
Fortunately, he is played by Albert Brooks, and so we are treated to kvetchy needling scenes between Brooks and Parker, and Brooks and Kirk, which really make you wonder if you have died and gone to television heaven.
But if Nancy has changed venues, she hasn’t changed professions. One of the borders explored in this new season runs between California and Mexico; under the tutelage of Guillermo (Guillermo Diaz), Nancy must learn to navigate it for career purposes. (Although it may be too early to talk about next year’s Emmys, the scene in which Nancy relieves herself into a Starbucks cup while trapped in Tijuana border traffic is a masterpiece of physical and tonal gymnastics.)
Things are a bit grittier here at the beach. Bubby’s house is jammed with memories and faded tchotchkes. Guillermo and his thugs are real live drug dealers, sweaty and ominous compared with the sassy Heylia (Tonye Patano) or soulful Conrad (Romany Malco) of previous seasons (tell us they are not gone forever, Jenji Kohan!). Gone are those girlish dreams of a boutique dealership. Remember the adorable little pot bakery? The designer medical dope? Forget them. Nancy’s in the big leagues now.
Mercifully, she hasn’t ditched the farm team, which is a very good thing, since it is one of the best comedic ensembles around. Celia (Elizabeth Perkins) is still up in Nancy’s business, possibly because she is taking the rap for the abandoned pot house, while Doug (Kevin Nealon) and Dean (Andy Milder) seem on the verge of making their way south as well. Meanwhile, Silas has grown suddenly surfer studly, and Shane, the only family member Len seems to like, has grown a foot and a half, and not just in height.
Parker is as creamy-skinned and liquid-eyed as ever, though her Nancy seems a bit more focused, while Kirk’s Andy is given a chance to explore the root of his delightful ne’er-do-wellness. Layered with story and character, saturated with drama, humor and no small amount of social commentary, “Weeds” has always been a delectable trifle of a show. And as anyone who has ever made really good trifle knows, it’s a lot harder than it looks. But if you have a steady hand and a good eye, you can build a confection that is delicious, filling and packs a heck of a punch.
And, apparently, this one’s portable too.
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