When it comes to original pay programming, HBO is the 800 pound gorilla. They had The Sopranos, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, and more. But now, what do they have? John From Cincinnati is getting panned. Big Love and Curb Your Enthusiasm are single-handedly keeping the station alive right now, and as fantastic as those shows are, we don't yet know if they're enough to stop the droves of the cancellations expected in the wake of The Sopranos ending.
Why do I bring this up? Because there is another channel most people don't think of when it comes to original programming, but their track record is just as good, if not better than HBO. This channel is Showtime. Right from the beginning, their original shows were great. Beggars And Choosers and Rude Awakening were both compulsively watchable, and featured great casts. Now they have Dexter, easily one of the best shows on TV, and the upcoming Meadowlands and Californication both look like winners. But one of their best shows is Weeds. Starring Mary-Louise Parker, Kevin Nealon, and Elizabeth Perkins, Weeds is controversial, hilarious, and very much worth watching.
Mary-Louise Parker stars as Nancy Botwin, a recently widowed mother of two. By all appearances, she seems to be coping well. She's got designer handbags, is active in the PTA, and focuses on her kids. But Nancy's harboring a secret. In order to maintain her upper middle class suburban lifestyle, she has turned to selling drugs. Well, not all drugs, just weed. She sells to the bored denizens of Agrestic, CA (aka generic suburban hellhole, CA). Mostly to her accountant (Kevin Nealon) and her lawyer (Andy Milder). She also happens to be friends with her lawyer's wife, Celia (Elizabeth Perkins). She gets her pot from Heylia James (Tonye Patano) and Conrad (Romany Malco). As you might well imagine, life is tough enough trying to juggle two kids on your own, but throw in all the complications that come from selling pot, and that's a lot for Nancy to handle. And when her loser brother-in-law Andy (Justin Kirk) comes to stay, she might just have more on her plate than she can handle.
Weeds is a great mix of drug comedy, family drama, and that indefinable mix that makes the series worthy of Showtime. Mary-Louise Parker is amazing as Nancy Botwin. You simply cannot take your eyes off of her when she's on the screen. She's strong, witty, and charismatic, with hidden depths to her. She's unexpected as a character and an actress. And beautiful to boot. She carries the series on her able shoulders and the world of television is better for it.
The supporting cast create the icing on the Mary-Louise cake. Elizabeth Perkins is a perfect counterpart, dry and sarcastic. Kevin Nealon and Justin Kirk are the terrible twosome: more interested in pot and porn than actually living in the real world. Hunter Parrish and Alexander Gould are very believable as Nancy's kids, and are some of the best child actors I have seen in a long time. Romany Malco, who you may recognize from The 40-Year Old Virgin, is hilarious but underused as Nancy's drug connection.
The other winning factor for the series is the outstanding writing. The show's writers aren't afraid to touch taboo subjects. Aside from pot, we get characters who have cybersex with underage deaf girls, who have affairs while undergoing chemo for breast cancer, or an entire sequence featuring a search for batteries to power a vibrator. And they give the characters such wonderful lines, and put them in believable but still outrageous situations. When you combine the writing, the acting, and the Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds is a must-see.
The episode listing for season one is as follows:
Pilot: You Can't Miss The Bear
Good Shit Lollipop
Fashion of the Christ
Dead In The Nethers
The Punishment Light
The Punishment Lighter
The Blu-ray Disc:
Lionsgate presents Weeds: Season 1 in its original aspect ratio of 1.77:1 in an MPEG-2 encoded 1080p transfer. Note that this is the first time Weeds has been available on home video in its OAR, as the original DVD release is full-frame. The image on display here is literally all over the place. When the show starts, it's eye-poppingly good. I could actually make out veins on Mary-Louise Parker's cleavage. Talk about feeling like you're there. Other times, the image is blown out, or overly grainy, or lacking detail. What's weird is that the image seems to change from shot to shot, even within the same scene. Having watched the original broadcasts, this seems to be how the show was shot, which is kind of odd, but there you go. This is definitely an improvement over the original broadcasts, with no compression artifacts. It's also a significant step up from the DVD, with far more depth and detail, making the content look much more like film. And, as mentioned before, it is in OAR.
Lionsgate offers both a Dolby Digital EX 5.1 mix and a DTS-ES 6.1 mix (the back cover lists DTS-HD, which is literally nothing but a marketing rebranding of the same DTS we've had on DVDs for years). The two tracks sound almost identical, seeing as how the show is very dialogue-centric. They both have excellent fidelity and good channel separation. A more than passable set of mixes for the show.
This Blu-ray ports over all of the special features from the DVD version. None are in HD.
Commentary by Creator Jenji Kohan on episodes "Pilot" and "The Godmother": Series creator Jenji Kohan gives comments on two episodes. Both of these tracks are mind-numbingly boring. Kohan speaks in a hushed whisper, and in a voice so monotone that she makes Steven Wright sound animated. She has very little of interest to say, making many of the "This actor was really great" kind of comments or "There's my husband in a cameo" and blah blah blah. Also, she has her infant with her, which is just annoying. Pass.
Commentary by Actor/Consultant Craig X on the epiode "The Good Shit Lollipop": Craig X, who appears as the proprietor of a medical marijuana outlet in the show, turns out to be an actual proprietor of a medical marijuana outlet in Los Angeles. He was brought in as a consultant on the show, and ended up playing himself because of it. He gives a very animated and often hilarious commentary that is far more interesting than the commentary by the lady who created the entire series.
Commentary by Actress Tonya Patano on the episode "Lude Awakening": Tonya Patano, who plays Nancy's dealer, gives her thoughts on this episode. She tends to describe what is going on at any given time a little too much, but also has some very insightful comments. My personal favorite is when she mentions that the show's title is more than just about pot, it's about how all the main characters are weeds unto themselves, ugly and growing in through the cracks in society. Awesome.
Commentary by Actor Romany Malco on the episode "Dead In The Nethers": Romany Malco reminds us why he's the man in this gut busting commentary track. I love that he's not afraid to point out how hot all of his female co-stars are. You don't hear that too often in these kind of tracks.
Commentary by Actor Kevin Nealon on the episode "The Punishment Light": And yet another very funny commentary, this time by SNL alum Kevin Nealon. There's more silence on this track than the others, but when he does talk, he makes you laugh.
Suburban Shakedown: A fifteen minute interview session with many members of the cast and crew about the show. A good overview of the series, although not very heavy on production stories.
Smokey Snippets: Essentially a blooper reel, with outtakes from the interviews and a few cute on-set bits with Kevin Nealon.
Music Video: The song, "All Too Much/More Than A Friend," is pretty good. The video, which has an extreme close-up on a pair of lips singing the lyrics intercut with scenes from the show, is not.
Smoke & Mirrors: A documentary about marijuana, hosted by Romany Malco. Some good information can be found here, although I think some of the claims of what hemp can do may be exaggerated.
Showtime Original Special: The 3-minute version of "Suburban Shakedown."
Showtime Original Series Shorts: Some additional, more playful interview footage not found in the other extras.
Trailer: Not the trailer for Weeds, but for all of Showtime's original series. Seeing this made me remember all the other great shows they have on their slate.
Agrestic Herbal Recipes: The non-pot versions of all of the dishes either mentioned or shown throughout the season.
It's also worth noting that all the menus have been completely redone for the Blu-ray release, and are very interactive, even to the point where you can change how fast the menu animations slide. I generally don't mention disc menus, but these are some of the best I've seen on either HD format.
Weeds is a show that takes chances. It's not afraid to tackle all kinds of off limits subjects and ridicule them for all they are worth. Mary-Louise Parker is at her absolute best here, which is reason enough to run out and buy this right now. But in case you need a little more incentive, the rest of the cast are also great, and the scripts are fantastic. The image on this Blu-ray disc veers wildly in quality, but such is an accurate reproduction of the show as originally broadcast. This is, however, the best way to see the show, and the only place to find it in its original aspect ratio. Are you still here? Go buy some Weeds already! Highly Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.