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When Nancy Botwin (Golden Globe? winner Mary-Louise Parker) faces both sudden widowhood and poverty, she’s determined to do anything to keep her kids in suburbia – including taking on the job of neighborhood pot dealer. Subversive and hilarious, the complete series is as intoxicating as ever, with everyone’s favorite pot-selling soccer mom and the rest of the Botwin clan dealing with the ma? a, love affairs, the birth of an illegitimate child and relocation after relocation. Watch as the Botwins’ plans go up in smoke!
Given the recent legalisation of marijuana in California, and the popularity of programmes such as Breaking Bad and Narcos, the premise of Weeds seems antiquated. But when it started in 2005, the satire about a suburban Los Angeles mother who risked jail by dealing the green stuff after her husband’s early death felt revolutionary. Central to the show’s success was lead actor Mary-Louise Parker, who infused the frustrating, often selfish character of Nancy Botwin with such warmth and intelligence that you couldn’t help rooting for her, even as her motivation flipped from trying not to disrupt her children’s lives to doing anything for an adrenaline rush.
Weeds was at its best in the first three seasons, which poked fun at the claustrophobia and hypocrisy of suburbia, with theme song Little Boxes emphasising the stifling conformity. At first, Nancy’s dilemmas were relatable: from wondering whether to let her 15-year-old son Silas sleep with his girlfriend under her roof to persuading brother-in-law Andy to get a job.
There were some ridiculous storylines early on, to be sure: a chance meeting with Snoop Dogg; an actual dog biting off two of Andy’s toes; not to mention Nancy dating and secretly marrying someone who worked for the DEA (a fatal move on his part). But there was at least an attempt at verisimilitude, plus comic relief in the form of nosy neighbour Celia Hodes (Elizabeth Perkins in a lifetime best performance).
Things went south at the end of season three, when Nancy locked horns with a new supplier and paid a local gang to protect her. They did: by setting a fire that burned down not only her nemesis’s crops but the entire neighbourhood. The storylines became increasingly dark and cartoonish in the five seasons that followed.
Firstly, the Botwins moved to the imaginary border town of Ren Mar, and Nancy had a baby with her new boss, a local drug kingpin who was also mayor of Tijuana. But after her youngest son Shane (Alexander Gould) killed a woman with a croquet mallet, the family went on the run, driving across the country making hash in the washing machine of their RV.
Eventually tracked down by the kingpin and his goons, Nancy turned both him and herself in to the FBI, confessing to Shane’s crime. It looked as if she might be willing to take responsibility for her mistakes at last. But when she was released after just three years, she immediately became financially and sexually involved with her cellmate’s drug-dealing brother and narrowly missed being slung back in the slammer.
“Weeds” stomps its heels on cul-de-sacs, bureaucracy, chain stores, the middle class, the middle aged. As the show’s heroine, Nancy Botwin, Ms. Parker is a 40-year-old girl shunning responsibility and never wrinkling. During the third season (the fourth begins Monday) you couldn’t help suspecting that you’d enjoy the whole thing more if you lived somewhere, hundreds of miles from a Design Within Reach, where people were still wondering if the Moon landing was just another government sham.
Save for its initial episodes, “Weeds” gave us few reasons to love it last year. The series got into the business of Exposing the Hypocrisies in American life, digging only far enough under the surface to produce a vaudevillian indictment of a deceitful military and to hack away at the duplicities of the right and the righteous. Corrupt real-estate developers and anti-abortionists with a capacity for predatory annihilating creepiness all seemed to perpetrate their evils from the same central command center. The show appeared to be aimed at people without Internet access or opinions.
There were some heart-racing moments in those latter seasons and you could never accuse Weeds of being boring – just incredible, bordering on nonsensical. By the finale in 2012, the show had been through so many time jumps and location changes, it was hard to know which state or decade we were supposed to be in, and even harder to care. It ended with Nancy owning a thriving chain of marijuana cafes, with a family who didn’t want to spend time with her any more, and an audience who felt much the same way.
“Weeds” no longer seems propelled by the will to subvert all of our cultural images of maternal perfection; it seems insistent on celebrating Nancy’s parental fecklessness and narcissism, asking us to refrain from judgments when all we want to do now is throw stones. “Weeds” feels less digressive but it has also stripped away any vestiges of Nancy’s appeal, turning her into a woman who has bilked a widow out of a pension, has imperiled her children and keeps every man she meets enthralled by her haplessness and apathy. It can’t be a good sign that you half want Nancy to time-travel back to the ’70s and find herself not in California, but in New York, getting slapped with the Rockefeller drug laws.