Weeds works best when it focuses on the first two syllables of its designated genre, “dramedy,” with comedy serving as a byproduct of its quirky realism (or is it realistic quirk?) rather than the main narrative objective. During seasons two and three, the writers of Showtime’s flagship series frequently relied too heavily on sitcom pratfalls and stunt casting (here’s hoping Justin Kirk’s Andy—and we—have seen the last of Zooey Deschanel), but the core of Weeds revolves around the moral and emotional crises of main character Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise-Parker) as well as her neighbor/frienemy Celia Hodes (Elizabeth Perkins) and youngest son Shane (Alexander Gould), which, even when they are hilarious, often represent nothing less than character drama at its finest.
Season four curiously picks up exactly where last season left off, providing little explanation for Shane’s sudden growth spurt and the body mass indexes of several other characters, and the hurried pace of the season premiere, “Mother Thinks the Birds Are After Her,” is a little disorienting, but the show finds its footing by the next episode. If season three was about growth (emotional, economic, botanical), the new season is about change. The landscape is widening, and as the Botwins exit their little suburban town of Agrestic for the sandy shores of Southern Cali and the Mexican border, Weeds’s worldview also further expands—from local drug dealing to a much broader portrait of how illicit drugs enter the United States and, presumably, how that’s tied to illegal immigration.
To wit, in the span of three years, Nancy has moved from start-up neighborhood pot dealer to international drug mule, and her always questionable moral choices are becoming increasingly hard to defend. “It’s work,” she tells Andy, her brother-in-law and partner-in-crime. It’s a matter of fact. Nancy is either practical or downright immoral, but she’s also crafty and seemingly possesses good timing, though it does seem like her spontaneous decisions, which often interrupt bouts of straw-gnawing blank stares, are facilitated by some kind of preternatural force—i.e. the show’s writers. She’s also socially conscious (when asked about her hybrid vehicle, she answers proudly, “Gotta save those fossil fuels,” before trailing off into some half-formed, quasi-political attempt at political awareness: “…dead Iraqi children”) and has a high-pitched yet uncannily effective way of changing the subject (“Okay, shower time!”).
It’s this kind of complexity, and the writers’ willingness to render their characters imperfect, that makes Celia a compulsively watchable foil for Nancy. The character has unraveled the same way Bree on Desperate Housewives has, only Celia remains somewhat contemptible, and the writers don’t pander or condescend to audiences by revealing her to be anything more than a bitch who occasionally feels things. The season’s second episode, “Lady’s a Charm,” resorts to the sight gag of Celia behind the glass of the county jail donning Latina-style lip liner and pencil-thin eyebrows, but it’s one of the few comedic moments early in the season that doesn’t feel organic or at least explicable.
Last season, the show’s black characters developed into something resembling fully formed human beings, and all it took was getting them out of that damn kitchen. Nancy’s conflicts with dealer-turned-partner Heylia (Tonye Patano) have provided Weeds with some of its most candid examinations of race/gender/class-relations. Heylia, not to mention Nancy’s sometime-black-lover Conrad Shepard (Romany Malco), have yet to resurface following last season’s explosive DEA bust, but the show’s new focus is on the Latino gang Nancy has shacked up with and, by association, the immigration crisis. (Ever the topical program, the writers even toss in a jab at Big Pharma when Nancy is sent across the border on a practice drug run, and an unsettling, well-placed reference to the patient preparation of the 9/11 hijackers.) Race is always—but by virtue of its nonchalant acceptance, simultaneously never—an issue. I live over here. You live over there. We can do business if we have common interests. The racial and class lines are drawn and respected; this season that line is a border fence that is, unfortunately for Nancy, equipped with video surveillance.