The best thing about the rise of cable television is not the ability for shows to use dirty words or show boobies, but is really the expansion of what is possible conceptually on a television serial. Before cable networks like Showtime started making original programs, there would have been no place on the tube for a show about a marijuana-dealing suburban mom. Period. The idea alone would have sunk the project, regardless of however else the producers toed the line of standards and practices.
So, praise be to cable TV, because just such a show exists. Weeds is one of those genre-busting series that elevates the art of episodic storytelling. To call it addictive would be slightly cutesy, but it really is. No one stops at just one--and this is Season Two.
Nancy Botwin is a newly widowed mother of two who, at the start of the show in 2005, turned to selling pot to the rich white men in her gated community in order to make some money. It's a gimmicky hook, to be sure, but gimmicks soon lose their muscle without something stronger to give them shape. Outside of its criminal dealings, Weeds is really a family show, about what people do in order to survive, to stay together, and to maintain their individuality in a claustrophobic setting. The Agrestic community, which the Botwin clan calls home, is a homogenized neighborhood that attempts to weed out all the unwanted elements of modern life. The problem with such things, and with life's niggling and unpredictable concerns, is that they keep coming up again and again, no matter how hard we try to rid ourselves of them. (See what I did there? The show is called Weeds plural, after all.)
This means that even though her solution solves her money woes, it brings Nancy even more problems. Like Tony Soprano before her, Nancy is going to have to figure out how to keep her out-of-the-home activities from affecting her in-home activities. Two young boys can be quite a lot to juggle. Our mom here is played by the flawless Mary-Louise Parker, and serialized television has truly given the actress a venue to show how good she is at everything. She can be insecure, sexy, cunning, sad, and cocky, sometimes all within the same episode, and have it appear to all come out of the same fountain. It's one of the most consistent performances on television--both consistent in skill and strength of character.
At the start of season 2 (read the DVD Talk review by das Monkey of season 1 here), Nancy is attempting to consolidate her power and set up her own supply. She had been using a bakery as her front, but that isn't going so well. She forms a group with her nerdy college-age dealer Sanjay (Maulik Pancholy, now on 30 Rock); her accountant, best customer, and the Agrestic city councilman Doug (Kevin Nealon); her screw-up brother-in-law Andy (Justin Kirk); Doug's lawyer Dean Hodes (Andy Miller); a former rival Alejandro (Vincent Laresca); and the true brains behind the operation, Conrad (40 Year Old Virgin's Romany Malco). Conrad is related to Nancy's former supplier, the tough-minded Heylia James (Tonye Patano), but Heylia doesn't want to let the young man run on his own just yet. He's setting up with Nancy in secret, providing her with a new strain of cannabis he's developed, but it's sure to cause problems for both of them when Heylia finds out.
Another problem is that at the close of last season, Nancy discovered her new boyfriend, Peter (Martin Donovan), is actually a DEA agent. As she points out, they are natural enemies, much like the scorpion and the turtle. He quickly corrects her and notes that she means the scorpion and the frog. That should be a signal right there: a correctional officer's true nature is to correct. Nancy will have to deal with this amidst the myriad of other things that will come her way, including the Armenian mafia and other rival dealers.
And, let's not forget her boys. Nancy's oldest, Silas (Hunter Parrish), is going to have major girl troubles and decide he needs to be more of a man, which to him means getting involved in the family business. Her youngest, Shane, is also discovering girls, as his body starts to change in unexpected ways. Plus, there are the neighbors, like Dean's nosy wife Celia (Elizabeth Perkins), who has a pathological need for everything to be about her, running for city council against Doug and pushing for Agrestic to be a drug-free zone.
These are a lot of balls to keep in the air, but series creator Jenji Kohan and her team of writers do a remarkable job of it. Weeds walks a tricky path between comedy and drama, and it usually manages to stay grounded while keeping one foot on either side of the trail. When there is some stumbling, it's usually by way of comedy. The cameo from Snoop Dogg is forced, for instance, and let's be frank, cameos from Snoop Dogg are a dime a dozen these days. The obnoxious brother-in-law character played by Justin Kirk can also be really annoying, often wearing out his welcome as each episode lingers, even when he's in an excellent side story like his relationship with the ex-Israeli soldier, who as a woman is more of a man than he is. (Meital Dohan is wonderful in the role, and I doubt many guys wouldn't change places with Andy in a heartbeat.)
Thankfully, everything else, all of the family and relationship stuff, is dead on and makes up for the occasional dips. The friendship between Nancy and Conrad is of particular importance in Season 2 and takes the series to even greater interpersonal depths than it's gone before. Somehow, the series creators also find time to continue to explore new aspects of the marijuana business, exposing heretofore unseen side pockets of the industry and the lifestyle. All of it leads up to the granddaddy of all cliffhangers. I'm already jonesing for Season 3.
There are twelve half-hour episodes on Weeds: Season Two, collected here on two discs with a fair amount of bonus features.
Episode 1: Corn Snake - Commentary by series creator and head writer Jenji Kohan. It's a slow-moving audio track. Kohan talks less about the episode itself, and more about what is coming up later in the season and on the next one.
Episode 2: Cooking With Jesus - Commentary by technical consultant Craig X. Craig appeared on the show in Season 1 as the owner of the medical marijuana establishment Doug and Nancy visit, and he appears again here as part of a pot convention that Nancy, Doug, and Andy go to looking for a possible mother plant for their grow operation. His commentary is full of details about the politics and practicalities of cannabis growing, but I have to be honest, I find stoned people to be tedious. You can hear Craig sparking up here, and if he didn't remind us regularly how high he is, the fact that he can't stay on topic might clue us in. "Whoa, did you know this was a soundstage?"
Episode 3: Last Tango in Agrestic - The episodes without audio commentary have trivia tracks that run as an added subtitle option. This is the first of them, and it sets the standard. Some of the trivia is about cast members and the show, some is just random facts based on a line of dialogue from the show. Like, if someone mentions Abraham Lincoln, there would be a little factoid about Abraham Lincoln on the screen. I really don't see the need for this, but maybe others do.
Episode 4: A.K.A. The Plant - Writer/producer Matthew Salsberg and director Lev L. Spiro team up to discuss an episode they collaborated on, featuring Nancy discovering the joy of a secret identity. It's a good track, full of more specific anecdotes about the particular episode and technical notes. It's also fairly lively, and the two joke around with each other a lot.
Episode 5: Mrs. Botwin's Neighborhood &
Episode 6: Crush Girl Love Panic - Both have trivia tracks.
Episode 7: Must Find Toes - Trivia.
Episode 8: MILF Money - Romany Malco sits down for this one, and he brings his dog, an American bulldog he bought after the same breed was featured in the previous episode. The plot of "MILF Money" involves testing the new plant out on the hip-hop trade, and features Snoop Dogg, who dubs the strain "MILF Weed." Not the show's finest moment, but the commentary, though spotty, is kind of fun. Malco doesn't take it very seriously, and tosses out lots of random thoughts.
Episode 9: Bash - Commentary by Kevin Nealon. It's relatively funny, but also meandering. I often get the sense when actors do commentaries on TV DVDs, it's less a planned thing and more just a matter of who they can get to sit down in a recording booth when.
Episode 10: Mile Deep and a Foot Wide - Trivia track. Guest starring Zooey Deschanel for the first of three episodes.
Episode 11: Yeah, Like Tomatoes - Another writer and director commentary with Roberto Benabib and Craig Zisk, both of whom are also producers. Like the commentary on episode 4, this is one of the better ones, as these two guys actually have something to say.
Episode 12: Pittsburgh - Jenji Kohan makes a repeat appearance for the finale commentary, and maybe took some pep pills, as she's more active this time around.
The Weeds: Season Two DVD set comes with a handy insert listing all the episodes along with writing and directing credits.
All the stops are taken out for the double-disc release of Weeds: Season Two. All the shows were shot in widescreen at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and are put on DVD with a 16X9 widescreen transfer. The image quality is superb.
All the episodes have the option of a 2.0 mix of the original audio and a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. These are really great. Showtime is treating their best show in the best possible way on this set.
In addition to the commentaries and trivia tracks, there are many bonus featurettes to make the Weeds: Season Two set a better-than-average package.
DVD 1 has several items. The "MILF Gag Reel" is a little over two minutes of goofy outtakes. Also goofy is the unedited Huskeroos Commercial (0:20). This is the commercial Celia's daughter does for plus-sized clothes, and we get both the English and Spanish versions.
"Conrad's Grow Room" (9:55) is a look at the ins and outs of hydroponic growing and its applications, hosted with a wink by Romany Malco. This also marks the return of the irritating Craig X., who unfortunately also sticks around to discuss different types of marijuana in "Cream of the Crop" (5:20). These two things will only be interesting to you if you care anything about pot, which I don't, so la-dee-da. That's how good the show is: you can hate dope humor and not care a fig about the lifestyle, and you'll still love it.
DVD 2 has some fun extras that play with certain elements of the show. "Slangin 101" (2:20) is an animated list of terms for pot, while the four one-minute-long "Little Boxes" montages take different performances of the Weeds theme song and put them together with sequences combining graphics with the lyrics and memorable lines from the show. The performers are Aidan Hawken, Dengue Fever, Peggy Honeywell, and Tim DeLaugther of Polyphonic Spree. As an added musical element, there is a full performance of "Jammin' Nation" from the reggae band at the cannabis convention in episode 2. Finally, "Tools of the Trade" (4:30) is a photo array of different paraphernalia used by smokers and sellers.
The package for the Weeds: Season Two set is a single cardboard case with an interior slot for the episode insert and a couple of advertisements that come with it. The DVDs are held on a double sided plastic tray mounted in the side of the foldable case. This interior case then slides into an outer cardboard sleeve.
Highly Recommended. Weeds: Season Two is a great twelve-episode run from one of my favorite shows on television. There is barely a wrong moment in this smart, funny show. The ups and downs of family life for a woman who sells pot in an affluent suburb could have been more gimmicky in less capable hands, but the true hook of the show is the interaction of the characters and the real heart that beats behind the pot jokes and dramatic scenarios. Mary-Louise Parker is one of our finest actresses, and her work alone is enough to sit through all six hours of this splendid series. A fantastic supporting cast and the support of great writers makes sure she isn't working alone, however, and thus Weeds: Season Two is pure pleasure from start to finish.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.