Drugs

ShowTime's Weeds: Suburbia, Drugs and Mary-Louise Parker’s Ass

ShowTime's <i>Weeds</i>, one of the smartest shows on TV, puffs its way to a third season, with the premiere airing on Monday night.
The first episode of Weeds airs Monday, August 13, on ShowTime.

Mary-Louise Parker has a really nice ass.

You probably know this already, perhaps because you've seen the first two seasons of Weeds, in which the doe-eyed Parker plays Nancy Botwin, a suburban housewife of certain beauty and uncertain age who turns to drug dealing to support her family after her husband dies of a heart attack. The power of the Botwin "ba-donk-a-donk," as more than one character has called it with a heaving sigh, is by now a well-established fact.

Or you might know it from the show's most recent publicity posters, which feature a luminous Parker, shot from the back with a snake coiled around her luminous body, head poised mid-strike as if he, like the viewer, can't decide which part of her to attack first. There must be symbolism at work here -- greed or temptation or sin or something -- but when it's wrapped around a body like that, who gives a damn about the snake?

And herein lies the problem, as Weeds puffs its way into a third season. When last we left the good widow Botwin, she'd finally landed in a situation none of her charms could get her out of: frozen in a pre-fab kitchen, with a circle of AK-47s pointing at her pale pretty head. A group of hostile Armenians had assassinated her blackmailing Federal Agent ex-boyfriend and were sharing shoot-to-kill privileges with an unethical black gangsta named U-Turn; her own teenage son Silas had stolen the stash she needed to pay off her debts; her younger son Shane had absconded in a van with her feckless brother-in-law's psychotic Alaskan girlfriend, who in turn was running from a tank-sized bounty hunter named, and why not, Obumchuck.

Following all this? If not, then stop reading now and Netflix the first two seasons. It's worth it: For the past two years, Weeds has been one of the smartest shows on television, combining the scathing satire of Curb Your Enthusiasm with the situational absurdity of Arrested Development.

Nancy Botwin's troubles almost seemed secondary to what was really just the brilliant supporting cast's series of high farce set pieces, which skewered suburban values. In the imagined housing development of Agrestic, an affluent town as corrupt and hypocritical as its pools are well-appointed and inviting, Botwin's neighbors were the true stars: Saturday Night Live alum Kevin Nealon as an amoral and perpetually stoned accountant; Tonye Patano as Botwin's formidable supplier, a tough-talking matron from the wrong (read: black) side of the tracks; The 40-Year-Old Virgin's Romany Malco as her ambitious nephew, a love-struck grower with plans of his own; and finally, the magnificently bitchy Elizabeth Perkins as Celia Hodes, an acid-tongued PTA mom whose own formidable assets are so perpetually on display that they may soon begin demanding their own twin trailers.

Watching these nimrods grope and choke their way through grow-houses, city-planning meetings and absurd extramarital affairs would have in itself been enough to make Weeds a stoner-friendly cult show, full of hip references to antidrug legislation, indica/sativa blends and dumb guys eating dumber food after a few really good bong hits. But Weeds aspires to much more, and frequently attains it. Like Big Love, The Sopranos and The Riches, it is also about a family living outside the law and so derives a good deal of its comedic and dramatic punch from the combination of internal and external threats the family copes with.

The Sopranos are mobsters; the Henricksons are polygamists; the Riches are grifters. The Botwins are also a crime family, only this particular family is run by a woman: a sexy, smart, morally suspect woman whose recklessness Parker endows with the kind of wry detachment that made her sudden bursts of anguish and panic all the more sympathetic. Nancy dashes from soccer games to clients to showdowns with her pissed-off competition as if she thinks she's late for a Pilates class, always tightly gripping an extra-tall coffee as if it's her last link to normalcy, and we feel for her.

As her sons Silas and Shane, Hunter Parrish and Alexander Gould are also appealing, especially Gould (the voice of Nemo in Finding Nemo!) as the all-seeing youngest boy, an innocent who nonetheless sends his mother a message by enacting a mock hostage-beheading on video. Add Justin Kirk as slacker brother-in-law Andy, who steps in as the unlikely man of the house, and you have a family worth caring about. They endowed Nancy's predicament with very real pathos: a woman with no real job skills struggling to manage two difficult boys, a dangerous business and her own paralyzing grief.

It's been a potent -- if risky -- mix for a half-hour comedy, and so far, the show's creator, Jenji Kohan, and her team have succeeded admirably. And if the first few episodes of Season 3 are any example, then the satire is cruising along admirably as well. Several ambitious subplots have been set in place -- one based on Andy's continued attempt to evade military service, and the other on a new housing project which caters to the evangelical right. Furthermore, the old gang of troublemakers are joined by capable new guest stars Carrie Fisher and Matthew Modine, who contribute sharp portraits of a shark divorce lawyer and a slimy Christian real estate developer. The fine supporting cast continues to surprise -- Nealon and Perkins, in particular, couldn't hit a false note if it came sailing in on a cloud of shwag.

But dramatically, the cracks are starting to show. Nancy Botwin has put too much faith in her sex appeal, and thus squandered much of our goodwill. She's ridden far enough on her pale skin and doe-eyed helplessness, and frankly, the "Oh, no, what do I do?" routine is getting tired. In the first four episodes of the third season, we get to see Nancy bare new levels of cleavage, strip down dramatically to her underwear, do a forced table dance for a group of menacing cholos and finally land a (barely) legitimate job by sitting through the kind of degradation from her interviewer that an enterprising woman could parlay into a grand lawsuit which would solve all her economic troubles forever.

It's time for Nancy to show a little less ba-donk-a-donk and a little more cojones. A nice ass, even when airbrushed to perfection, will only get you so far.

This article has been corrected. An earlier version misidentified the cable network that airs WEEDS.
Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based writer.
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