Jenji Kohan’s Weeds

There was a time when television long-form narrative drama was restricted to the soap-opera or the occasional linked Agatha Christi adaptation on the abc. In the last 20 years, however, our understanding of what can be done with commercial television’s long form narratives have shifted and they have begun to borrow from their generic and technological neighbors. Northern Exposure, Six Feet Under and The Sopranos have moved familial, community based drama away from the exclusive realm of the Soap Opera and blended it with comedic, cinematic and suspenseful elements from film and serial fiction. These dramas allow their white, middle class audiences (like me) to vicariously experience an exotic life of crime, danger and wild sexual abandon from the completely safe confines of their living rooms. Many of these dramas project themselves into environments which are distinctly ‘other’ to the safe, suburban lives of their audiences. They tempt the audience by asking them “what if you were a gangster?” or “what if you worked in a funeral home?”. Now we have a series which takes the sex, drugs and violence of its predecessors and thrusts it squarely into the world of the American white middle class. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Weeds:

Weeds examines Nancy Botwin, a middle aged white widow who, after the death of her husband, takes to dealing cannabis to the local bored, middle aged members of the Agrestic Housing project in Anytown USA. As Nancy becomes more ambitious and her expenses and contacts accumulate, the risks and rewards for her illicit activities accumulate with them. Her regular clients and some family members begin to work for her and Ms Botwin becomes somewhat of a marijuana baroness. We have all of the elements here for the kind of thing that most people look for in a good television drama. Crime (Nancy is a drug dealer), danger (the police, rival drug lords and some of her fellow citizens pose a threat to Nancy), desperation (Nancy must succeed in her dealing venture or she won’t be able to eat) and human interest (as we follow Nancy’s story her family and friends provide thier own narratives). It’s all there, it’s all been neatly placed in the ubiquitous sprawl of suburban America and the citizens of Agrestic take on the voice of the white, middle class American.

The theme song says it all, describing the community of Agrestic as “little boxes on a hillside” which are made of “ticky tacky” and that “all look the same”. Is this not the world of the white, social-climber inhabited McMansion, inhabited by those who surround themselves with ephemera to boost thier self-esteeem? To match this setting Agrestic is inhabited by these people who live in “the boxes” that “all look just the same”. These are the bored, the pretentious and the sedated consumers of middle America. This is a bland middle class existence, where everyone is homogenized and defined by the ephemeral “ticky tacky” that they purchase and allow to accumulate around them. Each of them, deep down, yearns to commit any number of rebellions against this dreary existence and can’t for fear of loosing face in the bitchy politics of their local community.

Enter Nancy. Nancy is a sweet, clean, middle class lady who becomes a drug dealer when her husband dies. In Nancy we see the world of the middle class and lower class colliding. The adults in Agrestic who become her client base experience a renaissance of teenage freedom, ‘slumming it’ and flirting with crime and danger. It is through Nancy, and these other characters that become involved with her, that the audience of Weeds project themselves into a lifestyle of crime, danger and excitement. It is much easier for us to enter the world of Weeds because when we can empathize with the lives of the characters of Weeds. In the end, with our pointless jobs, families and health problems the prospect of a neighborhood drug dealer may become quite a salacious fantasy (did I mention that Ms Botwin is hot and is my official TV girlfriend?).

Ultimately though, it is the hilarious and heartfelt relationships in Weeds which make it a great show and the suspense and threatening criminal elements serve as a beautiful method of raising the stakes of any emotional conflicts. The people of Agrestic make up the show, with focus firmly on Nancy’s family. These social encounters can be both hilarious and endearing from the moronic stoner antics of Doug and Andy to the consequences of Nancy’s husband’s death. Most of all though, I would have to credit the show with what is the best scene between a younger person and an older family member and leave it as my final testimony to the show:

Ok, so I may have just lost some votes there, but I love that sequence. It’s one of the first times in the Series that Andy is any good to anyone and I find it both humorous and heartwarming. I think that Weeds is appealing on many levels, to many people and that it does so for many good reasons. This is a show that you can watch purely for entertainment, only to be delighted to realise, six episodes in, that there’s a weight and subtext to what’s been happening on screen, all along. The long term narrative will take you places you would never expect and jumps through stylistic stunts (from the domestic opening of season one to the Tarrantino-drenched opening of season three). If you desire quality television that will consume a week of your life, like so many alien abductions, the Weeds is for you.

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~ by Morgan on August 27, 2008.

One Response to “Jenji Kohan’s Weeds”

  1. I’ve been reading along for a while now. I just wanted to drop you a comment to say keep up the good work.

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