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"WILD YEARS-THE MUSIC & MYTH OF TOM WAITS" BY JAY S. JACOBS

AVAILABLE IN BOOK STORES EVERYWHERE!

 

Weeds

Season One (2005-2006) (Lion's Gate Home Video-2006)

RETURN TO TV SHOWS ON DVD REVIEWS MENU

Copyright 2007   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: June 4, 2007.

The joyless, antiseptic Weeds asks the musical question: is there enough pot in the world to make anyone want to continue to live in the suburbs? The premise, though original enough, feels ultimately all hashed out: newly widowed soccer mom makes ends meet as a pot dealer. 

She becomes, in a strange twist of fate, the "suburban baroness of bud." Her clients are the a-holes who populate the nearby corporate parks, and eventually college students at the state university ("Have a nice day, kids," she sarcastically tells her customers as she hands out the goodies. "Party on. Remember to brush your teeth. Do your homework.").

Her choice of vocation becomes a magnet for life-threatening danger, offbeat misadventures and sexual excitement. 

Mary Louise-Parker does a fine job of portraying a woman trying to keep it all together and, as they once said back in the day, "trying to get over."  

We're not exactly told if she tokes herself (she claims at least once that she doesn't, and that should be good enough for us), but she's surrounded by potheads, from her business manager to her loose-cannon brother-in-law, all of them unbearable jerks. We're asked to wonder why she can't find a nice guy and settle down (again).  

We may feel for her a little more deeply if we knew more about her past. The easy sympathy trigger here is that she is a widow (her husband died while jogging) and she and her boys continue to watch and miss him in family videos, after his death. You can see that the husband represents the strong, morally sound glue that once held them firmly together, now forever dissolved as the family and the world become unglued and unhinged.  

Of course, we have to wonder (though we certainly couldn't blame her) as to why a nice, pretty, smart girl like her doesn't snag an office job in one of the many surrounding corporate centers. We assume that instead she has a taste for wanderlust despite the need to keep the mortgage current.  

We never really find out how she came to deal pot, or how she made her connections and built her business. This backstory seems to be already established as the series begins. We are expected to root for her as she holds down the fort and risks her own life and those of her children, but ultimately she is completely shut down. She acts out in unexpected, un-maternal ways, like an occasional sexual liason with a dangerous character or an emotional freak-out at one of those long and senseless suburban red lights.

Before you type off an angry e-mail to Showtime, know that this mom deals only in marijuana (nothing stronger), and her motto is "don't sell to kids." This is meant to redeem her in our harshly judging eyes.

We are meant to be shocked as only Showtime can shock us, but once the smoke clears, we realize that it's cool, man: it's nothing but a mellowed-out Peyton Place by way of a baked Stepford Wives.

The surburbs as a pretty hell and tender trap has been done to death by now, but the new revelation here seems to be that a serene McMansion community is as much an untamed jungle and requires as many survival skills as the shabby row houses of the inner-city. We see this in everything from the children's karate class to the inner-sanctum itself, which is always darkly lit and claustrophobic despite its big closets and two-car garage. Even a rat the feared symbol of disorder runs through it, eating through a stash of wacky tobakky and getting the munchies.

It's every Ashley and Brittany and Justin for him or herself, with the Wilderness Channel and violent video games as general instruction and allegory for staying alive.

The ironic message: this is no place to raise your children! Ultimately, though, it's suburbs by the numbers (even her kids have mall names: Silas and Shane, and the comic-relief maid is a Hispanic yentah).

Like every adult in this generation, the parents are children, and the children themselves are on anti-depressants, diet soda and Ecstasy.  Mom's dealer is an unflappable black woman who verges on a borderline-obvious stereotype, sitting in her urban kitchen, the queen on her throne, her children cowering before her, and dispensing attitudinal head-nodders like, "you order enough for a Snoop Dogg pool party!"   We're asked to sense that the black people here are more worldly, more real, than the delusional, materialistic, insulated white suburbanites.

The breakout character whether we decide this or not -- is meant to be the bigger-than-life desperate housewife next door (think Samantha from Sex and the City in a split level with two kids). Her redeeming qualities are zilch: for example, she tortures her overweight daughter by replacing her chocolates with chocolate laxatives so that the little girl can be humiliated at school.  

Her cable-series shock checklist is complete: she drinks, smokes, takes drugs both prescribed and otherwise, has wild, unprotected sex with strangers, and contemplates lesbianism.

In fact, the writers have to afflict her with cancer to assure that she wins us over. And she mouths off to Christian fundamentalist wives, who, of course, are played as mindless fools, and very broadly.

The theme song, which is a cover of the classic Pete Seeger blast of suburban conformity, is called "Little Boxes." In this version, the female voice sings that the houses and the people "are all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same." She sings it with a high-pitched desperation, a woman at the end of her rope, in dire need of a smokeout.

Which brings us to the ultimate point: the story doesn't seem to argue for marijuana either way, pro or con. True, we ourselves see that pot is alive and well despite the laws, as we watch these characters act out their own version of defying prohibition. Mom's business is paying the bills all right, but not making her rich. To warm our hearts and keep us relating, she remains firmly upper-middle-class, but always on the verge of spiraling into downwardly mobile.

Yet there seems to be no joy in their toking; no sense of the pleasures that are associated with the pastime. In other words, no contact high.

Still, high marks for Parker for her portrayal of mom as space cowgirl. Her charisma alone shows us that a friend with weed is a friend indeed.

Ronald Sklar

Copyright 2007 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: June 4, 2007.