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Review: Weeds: Season One

There’s a sense that the writers of Weeds are as lazy as their main character, that they understand her as little as she seems to understand herself.




Weeds: Season One

Desperate Housewives has been rightfully accused of hawking a lurid form of conservatism on Sunday nights, but you get a sense while watching it that series creator Marc Cherry and his cohorts intend to say something profound about suburbia with their outmoded view of females and the inexplicably coordinated Redbook couture that hugs their perky frames. What that message is I’m not exactly sure, and neither does Matt Feeny, whose amusing review of the show for Slate focuses almost entirely on the program’s single most irritating facet: the narration by Mary Alice Young, a woman whose mysterious death is the program’s one unbroken plotline. The woman’s honeyed voice, rife with emphatic pauses, beats the audience over the head in such a way you’d think the show’s creators believe we’re as stupid as their characters. (Want to annoy the shit out of your roommate? Just answer any and all of their questions with a sexy, drawn-out yeeeeeeeeeesss.)

A mess of genre inflections, Desperate Housewives has nothing to say about the neighborhoods we live in that wasn’t already essayed with greater complexity and a more intense, cohesive vision by David Lynch in Twin Peaks and its big-screen preamble Fire Walk with Me. But we continue to watch anyway, and it’s not because there isn’t anything else playing on Sunday nights, but because the show does have its pleasures: The dramatic elements may be contrived, but Felicity Huffman is a revelation and the comedy is often very good—provocative even, like Marcia Cross’s uptight Bree revealing her husband’s private sex fantasies to a roomful of people or her character suggesting “Palestine” as a control word during a role-playing scenario.

It’s easy to see Showtime’s Weeds as a response to Desperate Housewives, much in the same way that Cherry’s dramedy has opened the door for films like The Chumscrubber and Thumbsucker that paint suburbia as secret covens of perversity. (For the sake of film culture, we should all pray that Desperate Housewives fizzles out sooner rather than later.) The Village Voice’s Joy Press, who shares my opinion and inexplicably sick fascination with Desperate Housewives, sees Weeds as “a giant fuck-you to the retro conservatism of Wisteria Lane,” but I’m not so sure this fuck-you is so giant or that Showtime’s new show is hawking a vision of Americana that’s any less retro.

Desperate Housewives isn’t subversive because that would mean Cherry was actually trying to subvert something to begin with; instead he upholds a status quo that champions a weak, soulless form of womanhood. And though Weeds doesn’t grapple with hot-button issues the same way Desperate Housewives does (via gossip, secrets, and mock shows of horror and righteousness), its “keepin’ it real” demeanor still feels like a hackneyed front. What’s the difference anyway between the women of these shows besides the fact that Mary-Louise Parker and Elizabeth Perkins’s characters probably don’t subscribe to O Magazine and that they enjoy saying “fuck” a lot, which isn’t even radical, just a luxury of having your show play on premium cable. One show panders to conservative fears, the other to liberal sensibilities. I mean, who else but a snobbish blue-stater would smile when Kevin Nealon on Weeds says, “I wouldn’t take a dump in the Olive Garden”?

In the span of four episodes, we have learned absolutely nothing about Nancy (Parker) except that she’s recently widowed and that she supplies the town’s adults with marijuana, which she gets from some African-American matriarch, Heylia (Tonye Patano), who lives in a part of town that is never really surveyed but is assumed to be a little more ghetto than the part of the neighborhood where the white people live. (Like Desperate Housewives, there isn’t a profound sense of location, as if the camera refuses to really open up and study the topography of its fictional ’burb. It’s Backlot, Hollywood as Americana.) Nancy can’t be bothered to play the mother to her two boys because she’s too busy trying to score hash from her sassy supplier, whose family’s congregations around the kitchen table suggest the show’s creators learned everything they know about black social customs from The Cookout.

But Weeds isn’t racist because the whites seem to be cut from the same stereotypical cardboard as the blacks. Desperate Housewives played the race card during its season finale, readying season two with a villain by dragging Alfre Woodard into white-bread Wisteria Lane. (The way Nicollette Sheridan and Woodard interacted you’d think the town committee had just passed an anti-segregation housing measure.) On Weeds, the interactions between Nancy and her suppliers are no less troublesome. The camaraderie Parker and Patano’s characters share is of the honky-you-so-crazy-nigga-please variety, and I’m not sure if these exchanges are genuine expressions of friendship or contempt. Are these characters simpatico because they like each other or because they need each other’s business? It’s not an elucidation the show’s writers care to make.

The show begins with Nancy’s husband already dead and the woman trying to eek out a living for her children. How she got involved selling marijuana isn’t a point the program wants to belabor; it assumes, rightfully so, that hip audiences don’t care about what she’s doing (’cause, you know, we want some of that ganja too), at least as long as she isn’t selling to minors. But how she came to choose this path is important, and since the matter-of-fact tone of the show doesn’t suggest that secrets are being withheld from the audience, I’m not exactly sure we’re ever going to find out why Nancy came to sell drugs or how her husband came to pass. This is lazy storytelling, and if the creators want us to sympathize with their main character, it isn’t working. I mean, if money is such a problem for this woman, why isn’t moving out of her oversized house and firing the Latina maid ever an option? Even if the memories of her husband and her liberal guilt preclude her from doing so, you wouldn’t know it from watching the show.

Lucky for Weeds that some of its supporting players are knockouts, especially Perkins, who plays Nancy’s neighbor and best friend. Both Perkins’s character Celia and Bree from Desperate Housewives are ghoulish control freaks trying to cope with cheating husbands and children whose problems are really their own: Bree’s son likes to mess around with other boys and Celia’s daughter is overweight. Usually a major fixture in any given episode, Celia is almost completely abandoned in episode four: She kicks off the episode by flicking her husband’s morning wood and isn’t seen again until the final scene, when she reveals to her husband that she has cancer at the precise moment fallen cargo from an airplane has ripped a hole in the roof of their bedroom. Having Perkins’s only scenes bookend the episode was a dynamic expression of her character’s profound sense of emptiness.

Allie Grant, as Celia’s daughter Isabelle, is also good, stealing episode three after Celia puts laxatives in Isabelle’s cookies and the girl describes the horror of having to throw her panties in the woods and the children at school dubbing her Shit Girl. Ditto Alexander Gould, the voice of Nemo from Finding Nemo, who plays Nancy’s 10-year-old son Shane. The character’s awkward pre-adolescence is perceptive and separates him from the rest of his team on the soccer field, and in spite of his chipper and eccentric demeanor (he cracks an impious smile when he hears on television about a dangerous mountain lion that is loose in their fictional town of Agrestic, California), there’s a profound sense of loneliness that underscores his every action. He misses his father and he seems to understand that Mom is unable to fulfill or understand the paternal void the man’s death has left behind.

Whenever Gould is on screen, the show feels miraculously centered. His solo scenes, whether it’s staring at images of his dead father through a video camera’s viewfinder or strapping himself to a chair and waiting to shoot a mountain lion with his BB gun, are quirky, funny and humane without feeling forced or ingratiating. His character is rich in a way that Parker’s simply is not. (This isn’t an insult to Parker; like Lisa Kudrow on the heinous The Comeback, Parker brings a great performance to a less than one-dimensional part.) There’s a sense that the writers of Weeds are as lazy as their main character, that they understand her as little as she seems to understand herself, but maybe there’s hope for both the show and its protagonist. Nancy doesn’t believe Shane when he says he shot the mountain lion in the eye, but later she sees the lion in her backyard with a gooey mass of bloodied flesh on its face. In this single moment, she realizes she needs to learn trust. One hopes it’s a message of growth the show itself will take to heart.

Cast: Mary-Louise Parker, Elizabeth Perkins, Kevin Nealon, Justin Kirk, Tonye Patano, Romany Malco, Hunter Parrish, Alexander Gould, Andy Milder, Renee Victor, Allie Grant, Tyrone M. Mitchell, Alyssa Ashley Nicols Airtime: Showtime, Mondays, 10 p.m. Buy: Amazon, Soundtrack



Review: Amazon’s Hanna Quickly Exhausts the Novelty of Its Premise

The series fails to uphold, subvert, or otherwise comment on the stylistic vision or thematic coherence of its source material.




Photo: Amazon Prime

Like the 2011 film upon which it’s based, Amazon’s Hanna follows the eponymous teen (Esme Creed-Miles) as she embarks on a revenge mission against a shadowy spy agency. The series milks visceral thrills from Hanna’s fight skills as she kicks, punches, shoots, and kills burly adult men. But where Joe Wright’s film was distinguished by its thumping Chemical Brothers score, bluntly filmed and brutal action scenes, and strikingly lensed locations, the series neither carves a unique path for itself nor upholds, subverts, or otherwise comments on the stylistic vision or thematic coherence of its source material.

After an opening sequence that sees Hanna’s parents fleeing for their lives from the spy agency, the series flashes forward to regard Hanna training with her ex-military father, Erik (Joel Kinnaman), in the woods where they live in solitude. When the duo is eventually forced to flee their safe haven, Erik reveals to Hanna that he’s actually been preparing her to hunt and kill a villainous C.I.A. agent named Marissa Wiegler (Mireille Enos). While Marissa is shown in flashback to be nefariously connected to Hanna’s childhood, Erik tells Hanna nothing else about her target. Consequently, the central mystery of Hanna’s origin, and Marissa’s role in it, is predicated on the secrets that Erik keeps from her for reasons that are never made clear.

Every episode of the series more or less follows the same format, as slow-burning cloak-and-dagger spy games eventually yield a few more revelations about Hanna’s past before leading to an eruptive and often incoherently filmed climax. The season’s middle stretch is particularly dull, as Erik and Hanna’s first attempt to kill Marissa goes awry and the teen finds herself stranded with a vacationing English family. Hanna attempts to use the relationship which emerges between Hanna and the family’s daughter, Sophie (Rhianne Barreto), to yoke a violent revenge plot to a coming-of-age teenage drama—which doesn’t work, chiefly because it’s impossible to understand why the otherwise unremarkable Sophie would be suddenly obsessed with Hanna, who’s nearly feral and prone to extreme violence.

Of course, Sophie’s fascination with her new friend is mysterious in part because Hanna herself is purposefully difficult to know, with Creed-Miles uses her open face and wide eyes to portray Hanna with a faraway look and a curious intelligence. The girl is inscrutable by Erik’s design, but less understandable is why the adults in the series, particularly Marissa, are similarly vague. Throughout, Hanna goes to great lengths to make its villain, who’s shown committing heinous acts, more sympathetic to the viewer. Certain plot twists suggest that Marissa may be ready to deal with her guilt over the nature of Hanna’s being, yet Enos’s severe, unsmiling performance and the season’s hectic third act go a long way toward muddying our sense of whatever change of heart the woman may be experiencing.

This muddled depiction of Marissa’s ostensible moral transformation, along with the introduction of a cabal of more menacing villains operating alongside her, rob the season finale of catharsis—which is about the only quality otherwise still preserved in the vicious retributions doled out by Hanna. Just as the series struggles to define Marissa’s motivations, it doesn’t hint at what might eventually happen to the rest her shadowy organization. The season’s conclusion asks as many questions as it answers, appearing to exist only so that Hanna may sustain itself, offering more henchman bones for Hanna to snap without wondering whether the character should, or even wants to, keep snapping them.

Cast: Esme Creed-Miles, Mireille Enos, Joel Kinnaman, Khalid Abdalla, Rhianne Barreto, Benno Fürmann, Sam C. Wilson, Félicien Juttner Airtime: Amazon Prime

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!



Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Review: What We Do in the Shadows Struggles to Carve Out Its Own Identity

The series struggles to find a distinct voice that isn’t beholden to the original film.




What We Do in the Shadows
Photo: Byron Cohen/FX

Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s 2014 mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows seems like a natural fit for episodic television. The film was somewhat episodic itself, less an ongoing story than loosely arranged chapters of modern vampire life: going out on the town, having virgins over for dinner, dealing with the cops when there are bodies in the basement. For their FX adaptation, Clement and Waititi mostly succeed in translating the film’s comedy into half-hour chunks, albeit sometimes to a fault, as frequent echoes of the film leave the series feeling like it’s still in search of its own identity.

Both the characters and the New York setting of the series are new here, but the setup is the same, with a documentary crew filming the lives of a group of vampire roommates. All of the vampires are hopelessly behind the times, their shared house a dimly lit den adorned with antique furniture, old-timey portraits, and clothing that’s centuries out of fashion. Though the vampires still maintain the otherworldly allure that guides mortals to their demise, vampirism’s sheer flamboyance hardly meshes with the most banal facets of the present day: The local supermarket doesn’t take ancient coins, and one junior member of the Staten Island Borough Council can’t quite hack it as a vampire’s doom-saying herald.

It’s familiar material to be sure, but going back to the film’s bloody well still yields plenty of goofy, memorable personas. Matt Berry’s commanding presence as Laszlo sells the vampire’s oblivious pomposity when he insists on wearing a cursed hat or says something like, “You are a credit to the women’s suffragette movement.” Human servant Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) carries out his grim work with an excitable verve, insisting, “I’m not a killer. I find people who are easy to kill.” At its worst, though, that same familiarity leaves some scenes feeling like they were lifted from the film’s outtakes reel. Certain traits of the film’s characters seem to have been divided among Laszlo, Nandor (Kayvan Novak), and Guillermo, which can lead to the actors seeming to outright channel Waititi and Clement’s performances.

The acerbic Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) adds a more observant dynamic to the general buffoonery of her housemates even as she’s still prone to similar moments of profound silliness, like stalking someone with an old camera that uses a vintage flashbulb. Elsewhere, Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) emerges as the show’s most memorable creation: a caricature of a milquetoast, nasally desk jockey who’s revealed to be a day-walking psychic energy vampire. Colin, a sentient mound of dull khakis and sweaters, roams the cubicles of his day job, absorbing people’s boredom and irritation, which he amplifies with mind-numbing small talk. When he feeds, his eyes glow and his mouth gapes in an orgasmic snarl that would be frightening if it weren’t hilariously juxtaposed with Colin’s unassuming appearance.

The vampires’ goal is to conquer the “new world” of the United States (or maybe just Staten Island), which opens comic possibilities like a meeting at the aforementioned city council. There are other bits of continuity between episodes, like LARPing enthusiast Jenna’s (Beanie Feldstein) ongoing transformation into a vampire after Nadja took pity on her, but the series isn’t burdened by a serialized plot. For one, the third episode covers a werewolf feud totally unrelated to the group’s fumbling attempts at conquest of America.

Even with such departures, however, these episodes can struggle to find a distinct voice that isn’t beholden to the film. The series certainly offers some amusing additions to this occult universe, but the comedic value of its more familiar material has begun to diminish now that the concept must sustain not only a feature-length movie, but multiple episodes of television.

Cast: Matt Berry, Kayvan Novak, Natasia Demetriou, Harvey Guillén, Mark Proksch, Beanie Feldstein Airtime: FX, Wednesdays, 10 p.m.

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