Thursday, October 11, 2012

Shows for Grownups: Weeds

I actually watch a lot more live-action TV than I let on, it's just that the cartoons are much more fun to write about. A friend recommended Showtime's Weeds to me, and I was hooked through all eight seasons, taking them in through rentals and downloads.

Weeds is the story of Nancy Botwin, a rich suburban housewife who takes up pot dealing to support her lifestyle and family after her husband's sudden death. As the series progresses, she constantly gets in deep shit but manages to keep coming back, as you do.

What excited me most about this series was that Nancy was an anti-hero, but also a woman and a mother. That's so rare, even though it shouldn't be. Apparently Nancy gets a lot of shit for being all these things, more shit than perhaps a father in her situation would get. I know why this happens, but it's no excuse: if you really want to see a show for adults, you should move past the immature beliefs in female moral superiority, or that motherhood is the only sacrosanct profession.

Being an anti-hero and not a strict villain, there are moments when Nancy loses it, moments where she sheds tears or is in a vulnerable situation. Yet that doesn't change the fact that it's her fault, and that at times you see that Nancy enjoys this. She will grin and puts her feet up on the dash, ready for a new adventure. Eventually she does grow tired of that life, but it takes coming the closest she's ever been to death to start her on that path, and even then her life never truly returns to normal.

This demonstrates something about characterization that should've been obvious to me, but took a long time for me to put into words: that while we all should ask for characters who aren't purely good or purely evil, it's still easy to judge characters for the acts they commit, and know that circumstances don't excuse actions taken.

In this case, we might feel sympathy for Nancy at times, which makes the series effective, but she's still a criminal who wrecked her life and that of her immediate family. She could have had a back-up plan as a housewife, or she could have done anything else legal or taken a cut in her lifestyle. If she had, there would then have been no story, but even so, Nancy is not a good person. Toxic, even.

Weeds is also not a series that rests on the laurels of its setting and cast. After the first few seasons, the Botwin family leaves the setting the series began in, and then later Nancy goes through with a third pregnancy, while they keep changing locations. These constant changes are one of the many reasons I'm thankful for cable TV: I tend to prefer stories that change as they proceed, moving from setting to setting, and television often has problems with this process.

Suspense is also one Weeds' best qualities. The best moments have you certain that there is no way the characters are going to escape without their brains blown out, and yet somehow they do…until the next time, when the cycle starts all over again. Weeds is also a very, very funny show, too. It has you laughing almost as much as it tenses you up, sometimes laughing at jokes you thought you never would, or at least not in public company. This is another thing I'm thankful to cable TV for.

The series ends with a return back to where it began, which is appropriate, I think. Nancy had exhausted her world and as she was trying to change, and stopping her cycle (as well as she could), going back to the beginning was both surprising and makes sense. One hell of a ride from there and back again, certainly.

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