With a fresh start in a new town, showrunner Jenji Kohan and the creative team behind Showtime’s “Weeds” have completely reinvigorated the show in its fourth season. What started as a suburban satire has grown to become so much more, at once a hilarious comedy and a fascinating character study with one of the best ensemble casts on television.
How does a mother of two cope with the sudden death of her husband? If you’re Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise-Parker), the answer is to deal marijuana to your shallow suburban neighbors in order to maintain your lifestyle and support your sons. Convention was never quite her thing.
The great thing about “Weeds” is that, no matter how morally bankrupt, promiscuous, and, well, stoned the characters may seem, there is so much more to their actions than meets the eye. As heavily involved as Nancy gets in the drug dealing business, she always seeks to protect her family's interests first.
But when the season three finale saw the suburban setting of Agrestic literally going up in flames, the Botwins relocated to the California border town of Ren Mar. The Botwin boys have become involved in the business, and Nancy has even risen from dealer to trafficker, performing drug runs with the help of drug lord Guillermo Garcia Gomez.
With the stakes for Nancy higher than ever—her border runs quickly expand to include both herbal and human cargo—she rises to the occasion, just as the show’s creative team has risen to solidify this new direction.
While season three was still laugh-a-minute, there was clearly a heavier emphasis on the situational aspects of the show rather than the character relationships, which is what made the show stand out in its first two seasons. That being said, the first four episodes of this new season have remedied that concern, refocusing and digging deeper into characters we’ve come to love over the years.
Nancy’s brother-in-law Andy (Justin Kirk), for example, has always been one of the best sources of comic relief (the other being perennial scene-stealer Kevin Nealon). But with the appearance of his father Lenny (Albert Brooks) this season, we’ve been able to see the extent of Andy’s familial issues, and how there’s much more to him than being a freeloading, pot-smoking, army-dodging, porn-shoot-catering, fun uncle.
The most unwelcome change in season four has been the departure of two integral characters from the main cast, Conrad and Heylia (Romany Malco and Tonye Patano), Nancy’s original connections to the drug underground. At the end of season three they mentioned leaving the business, and with the emphasis shifting from drug dealing to drug trafficking, it makes sense that they would take their leave. However, it wasn’t handled very well, as they only got a single mention from a tertiary character in the season four premiere (“They’re long gone!”). Considering the loose ends left by Nancy and Conrad’s sexual relationship and the constant struggle between Nancy and Heylia, their absence leaves much to be desired.
To what can we look forward in the remaining nine episodes of season four? First and foremost, a more important role for Elizabeth Perkins’ deliciously evil Celia Hodes, as her plan to get revenge on Nancy for framing her in a drug bust has resulted in the ladies’ unlikely partnership. Secondly, we will get to see how Nancy adapts as a mother, dealing with her sons’ increased awareness and involvement of her business.
But if I know “Weeds,” I know that as much as the tone, location, and opening credits may change, there will always be rock-solid writing, brilliant performances, and twists galore.
My viewing habits have gone green.
“Weeds” airs on Showtime, Mondays at 10 p.m.