WEEDS: Television reaches a new high....
And the painkillers worked to a certain extent, knocking the pain from cries of never-ending anguish to a low-level throb that became my constant companion. And because I’m left-handed even typing on the Little White Wonder for more than a minute of two became a task of Herculean proportions (or sadistic, macho showboating). Even reading became difficult, since by the time I got all settled in and comfortable, it would be time to turn the page – a feat that required more dexterity and strength than you’d expect – or I was capable of.
So drugs and television, my friend, became my good buddies. And, despite the well-known healing powers of the Rockford Files (put your hand in the hand of the man who drove the gold car), my new televised vice of choice is Showtime’s WEEDS.
Yes, WEEDS. The cable show that proudly puts the “herb back in suburb.”
Oh, I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry -- I can quit it any time. But why should I? It feels good when I watch it, and it leaves me mellow and at peace for a little while afterwards-- less inclined to stomp out on the lawn and heave a brick at the kid next door with his boombox and questionable taste in “urban” music, or his loudmouth doofus little brother whose friends drop him off every morning at 3:32 AM with a regular production just a little less spectacular than Gone With the Wind’s burning of Atlanta or possibly the fall of Saigon, full of lights, sound, action, engine revving, horn tooting, door slamming and “Good Nights” that echo down the 'hood until the sun starts to creep up in the suburban sky.
But I digress... What I wanted to say is that, really, that’s what WEEDS about. The ‘burbs.
Oh, sure, at first glance, it looks like it’s simply another little cable sitcom plot, set out to shock and hopefully offend, about nice white suburban soccer mom Nancy Botwin (is there anyone more button-cute or whiter than Mary-Louise Parker?) in the nice white suburb of Agrestic in southern California with two young sons to raise and a certain style she’s trying to maintain after the unexpected death of her husband. And what better way to keep paying the bills than to deal a little dope?
She is, of course, surrounded by a slew of colourful and peculiar family and friends, including a perpetually horny and confused Silas, her fifteen-year old son, and Shane, his tree-climbing kid brother, a sweet but seriously weird kid who films terrorist videos and bites kids in karate class. Then there’s her ne-er-do-well brother-in-law, Andy, who shows up, insinuates his way into Nancy’s life, profession and household – and just won’t leave; Doug Wilson, her accountant and best customer, whose muddle-headed business acumen seems to have left the building years ago (played by Kevin Nealon, who is – finally, after all these years – funny) and Celia Hodes (played by Elizabeth Perkins who’s just nabbed an Emmy nomination for her efforts), Nancy’s best friend, an over-achieving super mom and control freak, who can’t seem to control anything, including her philandering husband, her daughter’s weight and her house being bombarded by soft drink bottles.
Typical “edgy” cable fare, maybe, except the show’s actually a bit more insidious and revolutionary than that, because what’s really going on is the sharp and incisive skewering of the suburbs. The mind-numbing complacency, the soul-sucking emphasis on homogenity-at-all-costs and the daily hypocrisy that so many North Americans have been brainwashed to aspire to. Oh, and the whole hypocritical and ineffectual war on drugs gets a little well-deserved knock or two, as well.
The tone is set right away, with the opening theme song, the annoying-but-dead-on little pop/folk nugget from the sixties, “Little Boxes” by Malvina Reynolds, which plays over the credits and a backdrop of a SoCal ‘burb jaw-droppingly familiar (“Hey, is that Palmdale? Lancaster? Santa Clarita? Simi Valley?”) right down to the row-upon-row of ticky-tack houses, ticky-tack SUVs and ticky-tack clones in white shirt and khakis, morning latte in one hand and cell in the other, streaming out of the pseudo-Starbucks.
What makes this show such a hoot is the way the characters are all so damn recognizable – they are us. And once that self-recognition hook is set, the writers and the talented cast just pump it up to eleven, taking things to their delighfully illogical but always somehow-believeable extremes. And it just keeps getting better, a hilariously savage satire, full of wit and sometimes black humour, of the way we live that makes the crude alleged “adult” humour of Saturday Night Live and much of the Comedy Network’s offerings look like the crude fart-based humour it is. Not since P.G. Wodehouse has a social class been so effectively dinged.
Yeah, yeah, yeah – it’s a bad show: it glorifies drug usage, it casts disrespect on law abiding Americans (all three of them) and, most commonly, that it’s a gateway show that leads to harder, more destructive shows. But I swear, I’ve watched all of season one of WEEDS now (Season Two starts this week) and I still have no inclination to watch Desparate Housewives, American Idol or The O’Reilly Retort.
And I’m apparently not the only one who’s been caught doing WEEDS – the show’s slowly building a buzz, with rumours that even ex-prez Bill Clinton has watched it (although he claims he never listened).
And perhaps the true testament of the show’s growing cult status? There’s a great soundtrack album out now, complete with “Little Houses” and a diverse collection of songs from the show that don’t actually suck, featuring everyone from Peggy Lee and NRBQ to The New Pornographers, The Be Good Tanyas and Flogging Molly. And it’s just been announced that the second season will really rock, at least musically: there will be opening credit covers of “Little Houses” by the likes of the eternally hip Elvis Costello and flavor-du-jour Death Cab for Cutie.
Why, I hear that in the more temperate political climes of Canada, it’s even actually legal for consenting adults to watch this kind of stuff on primetime on a regular network in the privacy of their own homes. Mind you, I can’t confirm that one, although I will venture to say that if you did at least you wouldn’t be thrown in jail.
To paraphrase Celia’s question to a goggle-eyed Silas in a memorable, breast-baring scene scene: “What do you think of those puppies?”
Now excuse me... I’ve got a sudden hankering for a bag or two of chocolate chip cookies.