It's not that I don't understand why "Weeds" has become such a popular critical whipping boy.
If you like a show for a certain reason and the creative team decides they really don't want to make that particular show anymore and they change the tone and spirit of the show so completely that it comes unrecognizable, it's easy to get caught up in a "I like the show the way it used to be and since it isn't that show anymore, it must have gone horribly wrong somehow" mentality.
I've felt that way myself at times over the past two years. In fact, I've frequently lamented that "Weeds" ceased to be a comedy long ago and that it's become a weird, twisted half-hour soap opera with occasional awkward laughs.
"Weeds" didn't do anything to change my opinion. It was my Best of the Decade list that re-energized my feelings for the show. I put "Weeds" at No. 27 and initially felt like I might have been overrating it, before I stopped and tried to make sense of the downward spiral that the Botwins and the show were in. In the process, I talked myself into recognizing that "Weeds" has always been a show about characters making dumb choices for dumb, but occasionally well-intentioned, reasons. It's like "Entourage" except that "Entourage" exists in a fantasy world where every idiotic decision is protected by an elastic net that bounces the characters higher than they were before. But on "Weeds," every blunder has a consequence and if you really thought that the story of a suburban mom getting deeper and deeper into the drug trade to support her family was going to be endlessly repeatable and that a happy ending was just around the corner, you must have socked away a supply of MILF Weed.
So when I tell you that "Weeds" is off to a good start with Monday (Aug. 16) night's sixth season premiere, you have to know that what I'm saying is that it's pushing the story forward in interesting ways, not that "Weeds" has gone back to being the show it was in Season Two.
[More thoughts after the break... This review will obviously assume that you know what happened in last season's "Weeds" finale.]
It's become de rigueur for the lazy-minded to call every "Weeds" plot twist an example of jumping the shark (which you should already know is one of my least favorite over-used phrases) and the climactic event in last season's finale was no exception. There's no doubt that "Weeds" ended its last stretch of episodes with yet another action that the show won't be able to sweep under the rug.
Alexander Gould's Shane Botwin is now a murderer, having brained Kate de Castillo's Pilar with a croquet mallet.
I've seen casual fans up in the air at a character, especially one as young as Shane, committing such a shocking and heinous act.
For serious fans, though, the reaction was more like, "Eh. What took him so long?"
Shane Botwin was a sociopath from the pilot episode on, capitalizing on the general state of neglect to emerge as very much his mother's son. Early seasons of "Weeds" revolved around Nancy's descent, always predicated on her desire to keep her family safe. In the past season and a half, though, she has frequently lapsed from valuing the preservation of the family, to holding out merely for self-preservation. With Nancy no longer fully locked in as the Botwin saviour last season, Shane had to take over. On one hand, he killed Pilar because she was a threat to the family, but if it wasn't Pilar, he'd probably have killed somebody else at some point. The first five seasons laid the foundation for Shane's amorality, while the sixth season contributed means and motive.
When Justin Kirk's Andy gets an inkling that a disaster occurred, he reacts with, "What happened? Who did Shane kill?"
Like observant fans, he saw it coming.
In an ideal world, Gould would have been very much in the Emmy discussion this summer for his work last year and he's the rare young actor capable not just of portraying Shane's slide as dramatically plausible, but also as comedically engaging.
Monday's premiere picks up instantly after Shane's violent act and you have to ignore that, thanks to the wonders of puberty, Gould is aging at a rapid rate, which was the case in previous seasons as well, but never with quite this level of obviousness. As we begin, Shane is reacting to what he did with sarcastic detachment, which doesn't speak so well for his psychological state, but provides plenty of morbid laughs, especially as he tries to get his family to properly identify his murder weapon of choice. Shane's teetering at this point and he has a crash coming, but if you could properly anticipate how and when that breakdown is coming, "Weeds" wouldn't be doing its job.
As ever, there are several possible ways for Nancy to steer the family out of the impending crisis and, as ever, she's not taking the easiest approach. Her path? Grabbing Shane, grabbing a confused Silas and heading home for a quick pre-exodus packing, completing with greater alcohol consumption than any normal person, or at least any nursing mother, should be imbibing. This is what Nancy does and when Silas complains that Mommie Dearest keeps leaving them holding their dicks in their hands, Nancy's apology is priceless.
"I'm so, so, so, so sorry... For all the countless times I've left you holding your dick, I am sorry. But now you have the handbook for what not to do," she says. It's a terrific delivery by Parker, who has sadly fallen to fourth on Showtime's Emmy promotion in-house depth chart (behind Toni Collette, Edie Falco and newcomer Laura Linney). Parker does "drunk" as well as anybody and her impossibly dark eyes convey more "lost and flummoxed" than usual. When I say that Parker's work at the end of this episode, contemplating Shane, possibly having five seasons worth of flashbacks in mere seconds, is some of her finest to date, you know that's saying a lot.
A little bit of effort goes into getting Andy on-board and I won't spoil how that all goes down except to say that Kirk was always sticking with the show for this season. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Perkins, Kevin Nealon, Allie Grant and Andy Milder are all absent. I know Nealon's coming back, somehow, and that Perkins is not, but how (or if) the plotlines from that side of the story are going to be tied up remains to be seen.
As premieres go, Monday's "Weeds" episode doesn't necessarily set up a blueprint for the season to come. Yes, the Botwins are on the run, but they currently don't have much of a destination or plan. That's a prospect that some viewers will find worrisome but which I'm OK with. After a little while bumping around, I'm prepared to follow the Botwin journey again, just to keep up with the unfolding consequences.
"Weeds" returns to Showtime tonight at 10 p.m.
But why wait? Watch the premiere now:
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A long-time member of the TCA Board and a longer-time blogger of "American Idol," Dan Fienberg writes about TV, except for when he writes about movies or sometimes writes about the Red Sox. But never music. He would sound stupid talking about music.