Every show hits a slump at some point. That is why, for as awful as the cancellations of Arrested Development and Freaks and Geeks may have seemed to fans, such a curse may really have been a blessing in disguise. Weeds is a perfect example: what was once a funny, subversive and witty dramedy is now a stale, derivative program. But perhaps its greatest crime is that it has transformed one of television’s greatest female protagonists into an unlikeable bore.
It lost some fans last season, with the move to a fictional town on the California/Mexico border. The humour became darker. The violence became uglier. The show’s relative heroine, Nancy Botwin, was faced with more devastating moral choices. But to cite these elements as criticism is perhaps a bit unfair — who said dark and violent is inherently bad? And isn’t it a good thing that the show would attempt to evolve rather than sit in a repetitious cycle?
Yes and no. The problem isn’t that Weeds lost its style — the problem is that Weeds lost its point. In the first three seasons, Nancy made questionable decisions, but you knew her heart was in the right place, and you felt empathetic towards her. By contrast, at the beginning of Season Five, two nameless henchmen are murdered in cold blood, in Nancy’s presence, by the assistant of her fiancee. Yet she has almost no reaction as they drop to the floor and, indeed, even finds room to crack a joke.
Nancy Botwin is no longer likable. The mild brilliance of the first few seasons was how it played upon traditional suburban values and ideals — stuff the average viewer could relate to — while juxtaposing them against the unfamiliar and seedy. Nancy chose to sell marijuana to benefit her family, and did so within the confines of a typical American suburb — compare this to season four, which found Nancy running drugs across the border in the boot of her car, while ratting out potential business threats to the FBI and manipulating a Mexican politician/drug kingpin. In other news: Nancy’s son began masturbating to pictures of his mother. Her other son began having an affair with a 30-something single mother. Kevin Nealon, once the show’s funniest supporting character, became not unlike Homer Simpson did sometime around The Simpsons‘ downward spiral: an awkward caricature of his former self, only existing to be the typical bumbling Comedic Relief. And the fifth season has now even managed to relegate the previously reassuring bitchy spirit of Elizabeth Perkins’ Celia Hodes to, well, just being kind of a bitch. And one who gets stuck with a lot of meaningless subplots that we couldn’t care less about. (Right now — I’m not kidding — her Story Arc amounts to selling cosmetics.)
I do think the ultimate reason for the show’s steep drop in quality is simply the fact that its darker elements don’t ring true. I can appreciate a mainstream show attempting to portray the dark side of a struggling parent resorting to drug peddling and violence. Problem is, Breaking Bad is doing the same thing right now — and it’s a whole lot better at it. Weeds veers wildly between whimsy and Tarantino, rarely striking a true note, and — as aforementioned — many of the mandatory supporting characters (and their subplots) feel more forced than ever.
The show’s creator, Jenji Kohan, has evidently lost the plot. The further that Weeds moves from its original focus, and the more it plays outside of its comfort zone, the clearer its flaws and contrivances are. Let’s not kid ourselves — the show was never exactly revelatory or mindblowing like some of its HBO and Showtime counterparts — but, for what it was, it worked well. But now it’s broken, and it’s been broken for a while, and in refusing to allow the show to end gracefully, they’re extending a rather painful saga. My humble recommendation? Move the show back to suburbia for its final season. Bring back Conrad (Romany Malco), who is sorely missed. Give the show back its natural edge, and allow it to breathe comfortably in its environment. Because it’s just not cutting it anymore.