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No Little Boxes Here: Why “Weeds” is Worth Watching

By Sarah Carlson | TV | June 23, 2011 |

By Sarah Carlson | TV | June 23, 2011 |

Showtime’s “Weeds” has had its share of detractors during its first six seasons. Cries of “It’s not funny!” seem to be the most prevalent — I seem to remember arguing with our very own TV Whore and Agent Bedhead on this subject years ago. But the Mary Louise-Parker-led show is funny, I say, and still one of the strongest comedies on TV. Season Seven begins Monday, and here are three reasons why you shouldn’t give up on the show or, for beginners, should start adding the DVDs to your Netflix queue.

The writers know how to regroup.

Much has happened to Nancy Botwin (Parker) and her family as she delved into the weed-distributing business to support her suburban California lifestyle when her husband died. She went from dealer to grower with the help of brother-in-law, Andy (Justin Kirk), and soon, she learned she couldn’t hide the businesses from sons Silas (Hunter Parrish) and Shane (Alexander Gould). But creator Jenji Kohan and writers made a smart choice at the end of Season Three by realizing the narrative needed to change, and they transplanted the Botwins from their Agrestic subdivision and sent them on a journey that would, by Season Six, have them running for their lives. Even the title sequence and theme song, “Little Boxes,” were out. The deeper Nancy got with the drug trade, the more consequences came down on her head — and she knows it’s her fault. The storyline has evolved along with the family, and Kohan definitely took a risk by breaking the formula that had drawn readers in at the beginning. And this isn’t just bad writing with a claim of “skewing the formula,” a la “The Killing,” which yes, I’m still mad about. It’s a genuine evolution. Season Six was almost bare-bones “Weeds,” with just the four key family members (plus Nancy’s baby, Stevie) in most episodes as well as their pot-loving former neighbor, Doug (Kevin Nealon), in tow. And now the story has shifted again, taking Nancy out of the equation, sending the rest of the family out of the country and skipping ahead three years to start Season Seven. It keeps us on our toes.

It’s funny.

This, of course, is the hardest point to prove depending on a one’s sense of humor, and as soon as you have to say “It’s funny! I swear,” you plant doubts in viewers’ minds. But it’s hard to understand why fans think the show has lost its funny (though I’m sure some of you will tell me about it in the comments), especially considering the ever-present hilarity brought on by Andy. Kirk is gifted with timing and routinely delivers lines so good I have to pause to write them down. “Weeds” isn’t funny like “Community” is funny — it’s much, much darker, finding humor in, say, Shane being a borderline sociopath and killing a political leader with a croquet mallet. Doug provides just as much comic relief, though unfortunately with the changing narrative, we lost one of the show’s funniest characters in Celia (Elizabeth Perkins). The Botwin clan — now going by the name Newman — is all we need, though, and the banter and character dynamics are what make the show great.

It’s real.

“The Newmans will succeed where the Botwins failed. They will live a normal life. They will find jobs. They will go to school. They will have hobbies and a quiet under the radar life. The Newmans will be a family.” At least, that was Nancy’s hope in Episode Two of Season Six. And the Botwins-as-Newmans did stick together as long as possible. Taking it back to the core characters and focusing on the family made Season Six one of the show’s better seasons — funnier, more concise and more believable. Because even though they were on the run from the FBI, donning fake personalities, escaping kidnappings and pretending to be itinerant pastors out to save others, the drama was believable. The very presence of drama mixed in with the comedy is what makes “Weeds” convincing, and the lack of that mixture is what shows such as, say, “The Killing,” get so wrong. Life isn’t all bleak or all sunny, and “The Killing’s” morose worldview is tiresome for viewers, not because we don’t understand grief or because we forget the difference between our time frame and that of the show, but because we realize that jokes happen, laughter happens, even in the direst of circumstances. To pretend otherwise is to be dishonest, and “Weeds” is anything but. Nancy, at times despicable, knows this, and even through her attempts at humor you can see her understanding of just how much she has screwed up her family. She’s nuanced, and so is her platform.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Season Seven wraps up “Weeds,” arguably one of Showtime’s better series, though how I can’t predict. Regardless, it has been a unique trip, and I know the journey will have been worth it in the end. I’m sticking with the Botwins.

Sarah Carlson has a front-row seat to the decline of the newspaper industry and lives in Alabama with her overly excitable Pembroke Welsh Corgi.