Weeds: Season Four
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // Unrated // $39.99 // June 2, 2009
Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 9, 2009
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
E - M A I L
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
...and it
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all went up in smoke.

No, not a joint, not a dime bag, and not a bale. Hell, not even just Nancy's growhouse: every square inch of Agrestic went up in flames. Out of control wildfires and some gasoline sloshed around the living room give Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise Parker) a shot at starting all over. No more forking over baggies in the park: courtesy of Guillermo (Guillermo Diaz) and a direct pipeline to Mexico, she's out of dealing and kneedeep into trafficking. 'Course, the Botwins are also broke and homeless these days, and they need a base of operations closer to the border, so...why not shack up with Bubbie? As it turns out, she's a rutabega on a respirator anyway, so it's not like she'll mind. Her son Len (the too-brilliant Albert Brooks) -- the guy who was so repulsed by the idea of his Judah marrying this...this...Not-Francie that he refuses to speak her name -- has already set up shop there, tho', and she and these damned kids are just going to get in the way of Lenny's trips to the track.

Nancy's learning the ins-and-outs of the art of drug trafficking, and...hey! She even scores a kinda-sorta legit job working retail in the process. Doug (Kevin Nealon) and El Andy (Justin Kirk), meanwhile, decide to shuffle something else across the border: y'know, people. Shane (Alexander Gould) takes advantage of the family's sparklingly clean slate to paint himself as a bad-ass at school, and his brother Silas (Hunter Parrish) keeps cultivating his crop and lands a place to put it...and by "it", I mean his weed and his wiener. Even Celia (Elizabeth Perkins) trots down to Renmar. After being fingered ::snickers:: for the growhouse in Agrestic, Celia saddles up next to the D.E.A. to bring down that mota empire and whoever it is that's giving Guillermo his marching orders. ...and, y'know, a lot of other stuff happens too, but what's the fun in spoiling every last twist and turn that the season belts out?

Most shows only resort
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to mashing the reset button when they're flailing around in their death throes...a last ditch Hail Mary play to try to stave off cancellation another year. Weeds did it not in a fit of desperation but just to keep the show fresh. That's the frustrating thing about Weeds, really; Nancy can't just toss around dime bags forever, and the increasingly bored writers had mined about as much out of the sticky underbelly of suburbia as they were gonna get. A show like this screams out for some sort of forward momentum, but when Nancy starts moving up the ranks in the drug game, the potentially dire consequences that go along with that make it tough to hammer out much of a light, breezy comedy. Weeds' third season never figured out how to comfortably blend the criminal drama with its dwindling sense of humor, and in the process, it wound up being dragged down by the meandering plot of nearby Majestic devouring their sleepy little town. Shoehorning in two of the worst characters on premium TV -- U-Turn with his rambling "bitch, you're my fucking bitch, you bitch!" dialogue and a loopy, Earth-Mother-Gaia stoner Olsen Twin -- didn't help all that much either. There are some kinda sad losses with season four: no more little boxes on the hillside means the old title sequence is tossed out the driver's side window, and Conrad doesn't get a proper send-off and is only mentioned once in passing. Still, this is a much, much stronger season than the mangled disaster from the last go-around, and with a shiny new backdrop and a few new characters to fiddle around with, Weeds' writers seem revitalized and have a firmer grasp on what they need to do to right this rickety ship.

One of the undercurrents of Weeds that's always grabbed my attention is that it's driven by such a sense of entitlement. Nancy's duped herself into believing that she's dealing to take care of her family, but she's spent the bulk of the series shrugging them off. No, she's slinging pot because not only does Nancy want the McMansion and her daily couple gallons of iced lattes, she thinks she deserves it. She refuses to settle for anything less and is constantly clawing at moving further and further up the drug chain to get more; there's something about her tight jeans and big, brown eyes that compel hardened criminals to keep promoting her even as she brings their empires crumbling into ruin. Nancy cares about her Starbucks, the wads of hundreds she's stowing away, and fulfilling her increasingly reckless thirst for danger. She doesn't just want to walk along the razor's edge; she wants to build a summer cottage there. Silas and Shane had figured out quite a long time ago that their mother wasn't there for them, and it's in this season that Nancy finally clues into that too -- that she sees them as less of a responsibility and more of an outright burden. That realization is brought to life with some truly remarkable acting by Mary Louise Parker, an actress who can make something as deceptively simple as a phone call to order a gift basket emotionally ravaging.

It's
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almost like a gambling addiction spiralling hopelessly out of control, really. Nancy started small, but to maintain that sweaty adrenaline rush, she has to keep upping the ante over and over again. She started the show shilling dime bags to bored soccer moms, and as season four rolls around, she's kneedeep in smuggling small mountains of pot across the border from Mexico. The danger and excitement that go along with inching closer and closer to the source is the point, really, but that also means that the show can't be quite so bright and sunny anymore. This is a dark, dark season. Silas works out his mommy issues with the MILF at the cheese shop (Julie Bowen) and digs his feet even further into the family business. Kind of like James Marsters back when Buffy was limping to the finish line, Weeds will grab hold of any excuse to rip off Hunter Parrish's shirt. Shane -- the great white hope! the only Botwin with any shot at a relatively happy, normal life -- hits puberty and has his own sticky, twisted, and more than a little Oedipal storyline too. Who'd have thought that by the end, Celia -- a raging, unapologetic bitch who takes the reins as this season's punching bag -- would be the most sympathetic character on the show?

Weeds has always been kind of an awkwardly preachy series, and this season it dives into euthanasia, human trafficking, and illegal immigration as its hot button topics. That last one spirals into one of Weeds' best riffs, though, and that's where the show belts out most of The Funny this time around. Doug and El Andy shrug off the drug game in favor of setting up shop as "the JetBlue of coyotes": shuffling the undocumented crowd across the border at cut-rate prices and not so much with the raping and pillaging. Adventure! Romance! Lee Majors! Kevin Nealon is still holding onto Doug's Dundie for Most Endlessly Quotable Character on Cable TV, and with lines like "I smuggled her into this country. I think I've earned my cockamole on her faceadilla", he's kind of a poet too. Most of Weeds' laughs stem from that sort of deftly hypervulgar wordplay. The second-rate fart-and-poop-and-piss gags...? They kind of fall flat straight across the board, and this ought to be a show that's too clever to try milking a snicker out of a Diaper Genie spewing the brown stuff over the top like an incontinent volcano.

As much as I've been rambling on about this season of Weeds, I could probably sum it all up by saying that it falls somewhere between an indifferent shrug of an "it's okay, I guess" and "pretty good". It's just not the show I found so unrelentingly, indescribably addictive anymore. Its second season played like more of a film serial -- breakneck pacing and the most brilliant barrage of cliffhangers I think I've ever caught on TV -- while the slower pacing of season four feels I'm leisurely thumbing through a novel. I like it, but that rabid fandom has kind of been chucked out the window. Still, I have to give Weeds credit for trying something this daring: drastically re-envisioning what the show's about just a few seasons in. Even though its uneasy mix of comedy and crime drama doesn't approach the dizzying heights of its first couple of seasons, the series does feel completely rejuvenated, and fans who shrugged off Weeds after its trainwreck of a third season ought to reconsider and give it a look on Blu-ray. Recommended.

In the immortal words of Scott McCaughey, this one's for the ladies.

Video
Shot with quarter-million dollar Sony F23 high-def cameras, Weeds looks pretty incredible on Blu-ray. The 1.78:1 image is razor sharp and sports a silky smooth texture, and there are quite a few moments that easily trump anything I've caught on cable. With as inhumanly cluttered as Bubbie's pad on the beach is, the extra resolution Blu-ray belts out helps showcase the strength of the show's production design. There's a nice sense of depth and dimensionality on display here -- contrast never flattens out or looks limp and lifeless -- and its bright, vivid palette packs a wallop too. I'm not left with much of anything to grouse about this time around -- this is a really, really slick looking set.

Each half-hour chunk of Weeds has been encoded with AVC, and the 13 episode season is spread across two discs.

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Audio
Like pretty much everything Lionsgate hammers out on Blu-ray, Weeds is packing a 7.1, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. This is a full-bodied mix too, bolstered by a healthy low-end and dialogue that's consistently rendered cleanly and clearly. The sound design isn't hyperaggressive or anything -- it's just not that kind of show -- but the surrounds are used effectively when they do kick in, such as whatever it is that's skittering around at the dead of night on the Mexican border and Nancy's loopy, hallucinogenic trip. Better than average for TV-on-BD.

Minus a gaggle of commentaries, there aren't any dubs or alternate soundtracks this time around. Subtitles are offered in English (SDH) and Spanish.


Extras
Although Weeds' extras
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are served up at an HD resolution across the board, all but a couple are upscaled from standard definition. Of its tours of the sets and stacks of interviews, only their intertitles and snippets from the show are really in high-def.
  • Gag Reel (8 min.; HD): Along with the usual uncontrollable bursts o' laughter, hiccups with the dialogue, and fumbled props is a much longer version of the fluffy news coverage of the fire that gobbled up Agrestic.

  • Little Titles (5 min.; HD): Since there aren't any little boxes or even a hillside this time around, Weeds had to chuck out the title sequence it had been lugging around for three seasons straight. Every episode this season has its own short, unique title sequence, and Jenji Kohan offers commentary over a montage of all thirteen of them.

  • Moving Weight (9 min.; SD): Guillermo Diaz chats up a lawyer type about how the D.E.A. first got off the ground, the most cacklingly creative ways he's heard about pot being shuffled around (the highight...? stuffing it inside a giant squid), more common methods of transportation, and the consequences looming overhead if a smuggler gets pinched.

  • I'm a Big Kid Now (10 min.; SD): Mommy, wow! Hunter Parrish, Allie Grant, and Alexander Gould talk about what it's like growing up -- both as actors and as people in general -- on the set of a TV show as well as how that maturation has influenced their characters and performances.

  • The Real Hunter Parrish (6 min.; SD): Parrish also scores an interview of his own, palling around with his dog, chatting about setting up shop on the left coast, running through a typical day on Weeds, and contrasting working in film, television, and theatre.

  • Tour of Bubbie's House (8 min.; SD): A big chunk of the season is set at Nancy's grandmother-in-law's pad, and this featurette dives into that new set and shows off all the effort that went into dressing an eightysomething packrat's beach house.

  • One Stop Chop Shop (5 min.; SD): The other leg of the tour hops across the border to showcase the mini-Tijuana on the backlot along with the chop shop and the too-cool subterranean tunnel.

  • The Weed Wranglers (6 min.; SD): Since they can't exactly use...y'know, the real stuff on the set, the fake herb on Weeds has to be lovingly made by hand. This featurette runs through the full-size plants, the different touches the production staff adds when they're filling up baggies of weed, and the honey herbal stuff the cast is puff-puff-passing.

  • Burbs to the Beach (7 min.; SD): The last of the featurettes breezes through why Weeds mashed the reset button and touches on the many changes that went along with swapping out the backdrop.

  • Audio Commentaries: Just over half of Weeds' episodes sport a commentary track this time around.

    Creator Jenji
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    Kohan bookends the season with her pair of solo tracks. In "Mother Thinks the Birds Are After Her", Kohan notes that it wasn't always a given that it'd be Judah's family that Nancy would dart to for a leg-up, runs through some of the sweeping changes this season and how the cast and crew reacted, and...why not?...tosses out a few helpful hints if you wanna make a Bulgarian Halloween costume. For the season finale, "If You Work for a Living, Why Do You Kill Yourself Working?", Kohan touches on how each season of Weeds is based on a different film genre, with this round taking many of its cues from the mighty spaghetti western. Though she frequently falls into the trap of narrating what's happening on-screen rather than belting out any real insight, Kohan does delve into the intense performances in the finale, particularly just how physically and emotionally exposed one central character is.

    The last of the bunch behind the camera to tackle a commentary this go-around, writer/producer Roberto Benabib hammers out a really chatty, personable track for "Three Coolers". Some of the highlights include exploring the interplay between Guillermo Diaz and Mary Louise Parker, giving Samuel Beckett more than a couple of nods when talking about the writers' approach to the pot-addled dialogue, and the enormous amount of research that went into this episode. Benabib also points out a wink to Mad Men creator Matt Weiner and an error in a title card seemingly no one, anywhere, managed to notice.

    With "Head Cheese", Hunter Parrish belts out the best of the actors' commentaries. I really dig all the random background details he spouts off, such as a completely improvised conversation between the goth girls about Pop Tarts and pointing out that there are two completely different sets for the back room of Maternity World. The track with Elizabeth Perkins and Allie Grant is polite and pleasant enough but doesn't pack all that strong a hook. Most of their commentary is spent chatting about different actors and the characters they play and...well, generally just agreeing with each other. The two of them also talk about their responses to Weeds' premise being completely upended, how the season three finale coincided with a rash of not-fake wildfires, and noting how few Botwins they actually interact with on the show.

    Finally, Kevin Nealon and Justin Kirk tear into two episodes together: "No Man Is Pudding" and "I Am the Table". These can be played as traditional audio commentaries or picture-in-picture, although that tiny little window is surprisingly sparse. Dunno why it doesn't run the whole episode even though the audio of the conversation keeps playing without a hitch. Whatever. Their tracks are quippy and pretty random, diving into everything from Mary Louise Parker's disinterest in driving to asking if either of 'em had ever shot a guy to the way binocular-vision always looks on TV and in movies. I mean, they poke fun at a goat, and one of 'em even fields a call on his cell phone at one point. If you're seeking out sterling insight into the creative process, then...yeah, pass, but you're kinda missing the point.

The Final Word
After three seasons of slinging dime bags in suburbia, Weeds mashes the reset button and saddles up as a trafficker on the Mexican border. It's a drag that the series continues to get increasingly bleak in its fourth season, sure, and it doesn't look all that much like the show I found so inhumanly addictive a couple years back. Still, upending pretty much everything gives Weeds a desperately needed shot in the arm, and it's a huge step up over the trainwreck of U-Turn and Olsen Twinnage from the last go-around. Recommended.


Related Reviews
DVD Talk has churned out reviews of every season of Weeds in case you wanna read up.


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