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Weeds: Season Seven

Mary-Louise Parker explores her character’s Velma-Daphne complex. [Photo: Giovanni Rufino/Showtime]

Weeds: Season Seven 2.5 out of 4

star2-5

When we last saw the gang from Weeds, Shaggy, Scooby, and Fred were on a plane to Copenhagen and Daphne had turned herself over to the FBI for one of the few crimes she hadn't committed across the show's six seasons. The seventh—and rumored final—season of Showtime's flagship dramedy picks up three years later, and for once, Scooby's, I mean Shane's (Alexander Gould) latest growth spurt, which manifests in the form of sideburns this time around, makes sense.

As with seasons past, the quality of the writing on Weeds fluctuates even more wildly than Nancy's (Mary-Louise Parker) mood swings. The show's writers never met a cliché they couldn't pound further into the ground. Luckily, most of the season premiere's cringe-worthy moments come quick and early, including a scene where shrill parole board members bicker with each other off screen while Nancy squirms in her seat, and the writers' inexplicable decision to give their locked-up (anti)heroine a lesbian lady lover. There's a theatricality to the staging of these early scenes (helmed by noted Broadway director Scott Ellis) that, intentional or not, actually works: "You will never puppeteer in Copenhagen again!" shouts Shane's girlfriend from a second-story window in a rather novel approach to exposition that ends with a pan toward a billboard adorned with brother Silas's muscled and tanned body, our introduction to his new career as the spokesmodel for some "weird flower water." For a show that jumped the shark a long time ago, these first six minutes of the new season really take the piss.

Weeds is one of cable television's most mercurial franchises, but the first half of the episode feels more like a where-are-they-now postscript or cash-in Hollywood movie than the start of a new chapter. Though he's responsible for the episode's sole LOL moment (it involves spit and ironing), Kevin Nealon's bumbling idiot of a former attorney somehow managed to worm his way back into the Botwins' lives, while the producers have failed to woe back Elizabeth Perkins, who understandably jumped ship after her character, Celia, transformed into a bumbling idiot of a former housewife. Nancy ending up in prison at the end of the last season seemed like a natural end to her story. She's pretty much the worst TV mom ever, which goes a long way in justifying why her caricature of a sister (played with little depth by guest star Jennifer Jason Leigh) is such a fucking bitch and won't let her see her own son during a cam-to-cam chat.

Nancy Botwin is either television's most vapid, one-dimensional sociopath, or she's one of the most complex and richly drawn characters to ever grace the small screen. And whether you love her or hate her, whether you empathize with her or pity her, determines which side of that divide you're on. She's both Daphne and Velma, gnawing on giant straws and coyly batting her eyes to get what she wants from men (and apparently women too), but even more satisfying to watch when she employs her brainy, scheming side. She flirts, cons, snarks, fucks, and wiggles her way out of almost every predicament with mind-boggling flair and ease. But despite how superhuman she may seem, and for all of the writing that makes its presence painfully known on Weeds, Nancy feels excitingly real, like she's a nonprofessional actor dropped into some single-camera experiment where she's allowed to improv all of her dialogue and actions, and the show's writers (and the other actors) react accordingly.

Granted, we haven't seen a whole lot of that yet this season. Weeds is always slow to take root. If nothing else, the show knows how to move, even if it doesn't always know where it's going. In seven seasons, we've followed the Botwin clan from a fictional town in California to Mexico to Seattle to Michigan to Denmark and now to New York. It only makes sense that Nancy's journey would end in the Big Apple. Once you've made it here…well, you know the rest. It remains to be seen whether this season's Nancy will be more Daphne or Velma, more damsel in distress or more protective mama bear, but by the end of the first episode, it's clear she's back to her old tricks. Which is a good thing for us, since it's a joy to watch Parker work, to watch the wheels of Nancy's mind turn behind those often vacant, soulless, but always conspiring eyes.

Cast: Mary-Louise Parker, Justin Kirk, Alexander Gould, Hunter Parish, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kevin Nealon Airtime: Showtime, Mondays @ 10 p.m.

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