In a New Series, The Suburbs Light Up

In a New Series, The Suburbs Light Up
Posted by CN Staff on July 31, 2005 at 21:35:06 PT
By Dave Itzkoff
Source: New York Times
USA -- It doesn't take long for "Weeds," a gleefully transgressive new Showtime series, to light a fire underneath the exhausted form of the half-hour television comedy. In the opening scene of the pilot episode, we are introduced to Nancy Botwin, a recently widowed soccer mom played by Mary-Louise Parker, at a P.T.A. meeting. While she is arguing to have soda machines banned from her children's school, her peer group of despairing homemakers is quietly gossiping about the authenticity of her new designer handbag and wondering how the suddenly single mother of two has been able to maintain her standard of living.
Cut to Scene 2, where we find a more relaxed Nancy casually trading quips, barbs and homespun wisdom with the people who make her feel most at home: a family of drug dealers who supply her with the marijuana she sells to the residents of her sleepy California suburb.From the first strains of its theme song, the folksinger Malvina Reynolds's anticonformity anthem "Little Boxes," "Weeds" (which has its premiere on Aug. 7) clearly aspires to be much more than just a sitcom about pot. Sure, there are throwaway jokes about getting the munchies and the merits of smoking up before seeing "The Passion of the Christ," but these are interspersed among darkly comic debates on subjects from race and class relations to adultery to cancer to the ethics of dating the handicapped. On "Weeds," pot is indeed a gateway drug, one that allows its viewers into the lives of characters whose pursuits of all kinds of personal freedoms inevitably lead to deeper levels of confinement. When she first conceived of "Weeds," Jenji Kohan, the show's creator and executive producer, was in need of an escape route of her own. At the start of 2004, Ms. Kohan - a former writer for comedies like "Friends" and "Tracey Takes On ...," and the daughter of Buz Kohan, a producer for "The Carol Burnett Show" - had become disenchanted with her latest series, a short-lived CBS family sitcom called "The Stones." When she wasn't battling the network or her fellow producers - one of whom happened to be her brother David, the co-creator of "Will & Grace" - she was watching lots and lots of "The Shield" on FX."I loved how suave the characters were, and the nebulous morality," Ms. Kohan recalled over a corned-beef sandwich at Canter's delicatessen in Los Angeles. "I wanted to play in that arena, too. It was just a matter of finding a subject." Taking note of the special place that marijuana use occupied in the American consciousness, as a universal act of rebellion that transcended ethnic and economic boundaries, Ms. Kohan realized she had discovered her muse. "This was really the chance to write sophisticated, dirty, fun stuff," she said, "about the kinds of characters I like to watch: really flawed, complicated people."It's hard to imagine a TV protagonist more flawed than Nancy, the pot-pushing anti-heroine of "Weeds," a character so reprehensible that not even the actress who portrays her will stick up for her. "She's kind of a loser," Ms. Parker said "She's not virtuous, and she's not Robin Hood. She just wants to keep her housekeeper, go to the nice grocery and keep buying her $4 smoothies."And yet, Nancy manages to elicit an audience's sympathy: she protects and provides for her two sons, mourns for her husband and defends her turf from less reputable dealers who see no harm in selling their wares to schoolchildren. Her decision to trade in drugs is an unforgivable one, but one that shows just how much she's willing to risk to keep her life and her family in order. "Her intentions are good, and she's empowered because it's something she's good at," Ms. Kohan said. "This is her ticket to independence, so she doesn't end up the oldest Gap employee in America."Nancy also benefits by comparison with the judgment-impaired company she keeps, particularly her neighbor Celia, an icy, frustrated perfectionist played with delectable contempt by Elizabeth Perkins, who openly refers to her overweight daughter as "Isa-belly," and slips laxatives into her child's hidden candy stash. "She has no relationship to pot," Ms. Perkins said of her role. "She doesn't use it or sell it, but she may be the most screwed-up character of them all. Somebody has to set the bar."As a series whose comedic tone is more acerbic than rattlesnake venom, "Weeds" sometimes struggled in its production process to find just how high that bar could be set. "There are kids on the show," said Kevin Nealon, who plays Nancy's stoner accountant, Doug, "and during our table reads for certain scenes, they had to leave the room. For certain scenes, I had to leave the room, too."Ms. Parker said she had complained to the show's producers about dialogue that she felt went too far over the line; she was particularly bothered by a scene in which Mr. Nealon's character says that a local medicinal marijuana clinic is better than Amsterdam "because you don't have to visit the Anne Frank house and pretend to be all sad."Ms. Perkins also had difficulty with a sequence in which Celia declares, in private, that she wishes she'd aborted her daughter. "I went to Jenji," Ms. Perkins recalled, "and I said, 'Am I coming off too mean?' And she said: 'Why? You're not saying it to her face.' And I thought: 'She's right. This is her inner moment - this is how she really feels.' "Though both of these offending items ultimately remained in the show, the producers were willing to compromise with the actresses on other occasions. "It's never our intention to sit here and say, 'Tee-hee, what can we get away with?'" Ms. Kohan said. "We work through it."Given her show's strong female leads Ms. Kohan acknowledged that "Weeds" would inevitably draw comparisons to a certain runaway hit network program about troubled women who live in a seemingly idyllic neighborhood. "I like 'Desperate Housewives,' " she said, "but I don't think those are modern women. It's the 50's." Ms. Perkins agreed that there were crucial differences between the women of "Weeds" and the women of "Desperate Housewives": "They're fake," she said. "We're real women living in a fake world."The larger concern to Ms. Kohan is that "Weeds" will be misconstrued as being pro-marijuana although it actually takes no stance on the drug one way or the other. "I'm not comfortable saying we're here to endorse pot," she said. "If it became the show that's trying to convince people to smoke pot, I think it defeats all the work we've done. But I absolutely don't intend to vilify it, either. It's not about the evils of the demon weed."Nor does Ms. Kohan want viewers to conclude that she is a pot smoker herself. For one thing, she is nine months pregnant with her third child. ("I got knocked up and picked up at the same time," she joked.) And the effects of marijuana, she said, simply don't agree with her temperament. "It's not my drug. I'm too much of a control freak to enjoy it."Source: New York Times (NY)Author: Dave ItzkoffPublished: July 31, 2005Copyright: 2005 The New York Times Company Contact: letters Website: Related Articles & Web Site:Showtime's Weeds Television Characters Are Going To Pot Showtime Series Weeds Out Housewives
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Comment #7 posted by Celaya on August 01, 2005 at 16:59:43 PT
Weed Like This Chance
On the other hand......The description of the show sounds like a more objective look at the cannabis culture than anything I've seen before on TV.What if..... the 20 million plus marijuana consumers adopted this show and gave it such support that they couldn't cancel it. Such support that it would grow to reflect reality. That, frankly, marijuana consumers are more in touch than alcohol consumers.If so, it could be a coup for reform.FWIW
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Comment #6 posted by E_Johnson on August 01, 2005 at 12:35:19 PT
That word bothers me. For one thing, according to Christianity, nobody is unforgivable. So how could Nancy be unforgivable? Are marijuana suppliers worse than murderers, outside the very realm of Christian forgiveness?And remember that TV show Cheers where an alcoholic ran a bar filled with people who sat around and drank all day?That show was unforgivable.
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Comment #5 posted by runruff on August 01, 2005 at 12:07:31 PT:
Drunk, literally.
Not just drunk on power. You can be sure they imbibe liberaly the legal drugs available to them. Alcohol and caffine. This is what sets them apart from the "bad" guys in society as they see it.
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Comment #4 posted by Sam Adams on August 01, 2005 at 10:44:46 PT
fascinating article
Observer you're right, this article is a fascinating window into the mind of the NYT and the soul of the prohibition movement.  The NYT wants us to think that a "pot-pusher" or someone who "makes a unforgivable decision to trade in drugs" is more evil and "dark" than the neighborhood convenience store or liquor store clerk in NYC, happily selling alcohol to wife-beaters, alcoholic mothers and fathers drinking themselves to death, and drunk drivers. Far better to sit back & soak in the world of major network sitcoms and crime-o-tainment trash like the Shield (what a quality show - little wussy-boy 5 foot-7 Michale Chiklis running around in a tight T-shirt, beating on "perps" - if that not sickening, morally degrading depravity, I don't know what is. It's crime/violence pornography, neatly packaged into 55-minute segments for the kids' short attention spans).  Yes, it's much better for Big Government to take care of the brainwashed little sheep, too helpless to handle the evil influence of the cannabis plant.  Weekly rapings in a 8-by-8 jail cell is much healthier confinement than a metaphorical, "deeper level" of confinement caused by using and selling a herbal plant. I love a good beating from huge, violent, inmate. So refreshing after the terrible, dark, metaphoric confinement of being a daily cannabis user. Especially with all the reggae music & all. Oh! The agony of the dark hole I live in!Isn't the irony incredible - they actually mention that the character is fighting Corporate America's soda machines in schools - I guess the spectre of 1/3rd of America's kids developing childhood diabetes over the next generations is OK too? I guess she gets no credit for fighting the child obesity epidemic? Not enough to make up for the "unforgiveable" cannabis sin. 
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Comment #3 posted by observer on August 01, 2005 at 08:49:59 PT
The Language of Morality and Sin
Note the language of sin and morality:
 ... transgressive
 ... drug dealers
 ... anticonformity
 ... the nebulous morality
 ... a universal act of rebellion
 ... flawed...people
 ... She's kind of a loser
And here is the real message Hollywood Cohen and Itzkoff of New York want you to understand:
 ... personal freedoms inevitably lead to deeper levels of confinement
 ... She's not virtuous
 ... Her decision to trade in drugs is an unforgivable one
Cannabis use (and selling, without doubt!) is an "unforgivable" sin say the Cohens and Itzkoffs of this world. "So therefore," wail officials, authorities, and experts, "any punishment we inflict on you for using pot (which we will call "distribution" after you pass that J) is our Sacred Right and Duty. (see: and for more on what the Good People in the USA do to their pot-sinners.) "Unforgivable".And we have the Holy Word of Cohen and Itzkoff on that.
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Comment #2 posted by Hope on August 01, 2005 at 08:23:48 PT
I'm scared for Marc, too.
He's fallen into the hands of a bunch of drunken (on power) moralists/sadists.
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Comment #1 posted by mayan on August 01, 2005 at 04:03:13 PT
Embedded Culture
I wish I had Showtime. I'll have to get a friend to record this series. It sounds unbiased and hopefully it truthfully portrays cannabis as a relatively harmless subtance which is firmly embedded in mainstream American culture. The cannabis culture encompasses all demographics and isn't going away. Sorry, Johnny.Wow! As I'm typing this one of the local AM stations is running an ad for "Weeds"! Synchronicity! Sorry if these have been posted...Pot activist is scared his fiancee says: may soothe inflamed bowels: medicine tests pot's potential: COVER: The Meth Epidemic - Inside America's New Drug Crisis: WAY OUT IS THE WAY IN...FBI Confiscates Personal Property Of Former U.S. Army Corporal Who Blew Whistle On 1976 Government funded "Perfect Terrorist Plan" To Topple Twin Towers: Suppresses an Explosive 9/11 News Report: in Historical Perspective: Flawed Assumptions: Bush Who Seems to be in All the Right Places:
Marvelous Marvin: Ahmed on C-SPAN - MP3 Download:
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