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Up in Smoke: An Advance Review of Season Five of Showtime's "Weeds"

Is it just me or has Nancy Botwin become really unlikable?

What always worked for me on Showtime's dark comedy series Weeds was the fact that while Nancy seemed to be floundering morally, she was always attempting to keep her family together in the face of increasing adversity, trying to hold on to the American dream of a house in the suburbs with a pool and an endless supply of caffeinated beverages.

So what quite went wrong? Season Four of Weeds found Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker) becoming increasingly shrill and unsympathetic and taking bigger and bigger risks, even after leaving Agrestic following her decision to burn down her house and jumping into bed with a Mexican drug lord (Demian Bichir). When we last saw Nancy, she was about to be killed by Esteban for ratting him out to the federali and she pulled out her ace in the hole: a sonogram depicting her unborn child, the result of her union with Esteban.

Does the last-ditch ploy work and is Nancy able to save her own life? (Well, it sort of has to work as, without Nancy Botwin, there really wouldn't be a series.) I had the chance to see the first three episodes of Season Five of Weeds, which kicks off on Monday evening, and I have to say that I'm curious just where the assorted kooky plots are heading, even as I'm still scratching my head about how showrunner Jeni Kohan will manage to make me care about Nancy again. (Beware: SPOILERS AHEAD!)

After last season's game-changing set-up that moved the Botwins to Ren-Mar, Season Five finds Nancy and her makeshift family reeling from the events of the last few months. Nancy herself is on a knife's edge with her kingpin boyfriend Esteban, who not only has political aspirations but also wants proof that Nancy is in fact carrying his child... and that it's a boy. It soon becomes clear that Nancy's greatest asset at the moment is not only keeping her safe from murder at Esteban's hands but it's also placing her and her family in even greater jeopardy as an imprisoned Guillermo (Guillermo Diaz) seeks to have his revenge against the woman he calls Blanca.

Even as a suddenly much-older Shane (Alexander Gould) moves into the family business, Nancy tasks Andy (Justin Kirk) with shipping Shane off to her estranged yuppie sister Jill (Jennifer Jason Leigh) for his own protection. Not that Andy's very pleased with Nancy after she comes clean about being pregnant as he's only now finally come to terms with his own feelings for his sister-in-law.

Jennifer Jason-Leigh is a hoot as Nancy's polar opposite Jill. While Nancy has survived all these years in spite of the abject chaos around her, Jill's whole existence is about precise order and rigid routine. (Just look at the scene where she serves her adorable blond moppet twin daughters breakfast to see what I mean.) Yet, Nancy's returned presence in her life (even from far) throws off this delicate balancing act and pushes Jill into taking a risk for the first time in her entire life. Look for some major sparks between her and Andy as they bond over their mutual love/hate for Nancy, whom they blame for all the wrongs in their life.

I'm much less thrilled, however, about the return of Hayley Hudson's long-lost Quinn to the series in an extremely cartoonish twist that sees Quinn and her Mexican rebel boyfriend kidnap Celia (Elizabeth Perkins) and hold her hostage... only to discover that Celia is so universally loathed that no one will pay the ransom, much less even speak to her kidnappers.

I didn't really feel that Celia's storyline last season meshed very well with that of Nancy and the Botwins (not to mention Doug, Dean, and Isabelly) and I'm not really sure what her reunion with Quinn (look for the latter to consider chopping up her mother and selling her organs) will portend for her participation this season. Dean (Andy Milder) and Isabelle (Allie Grant) still seem somewhat tangential to the plot and I'm not sure it really makes sense for them to even be in Ren-Mar much less moving in the same circles as Nancy Botwin. Doug (Kevin Nealon) at least seems somewhat more back on his game than last season and is pushing Silas (Hunter Parrish) to include him in his latest business venture: a secret pot farm in a national park... which then transforms into a medical marijuana dispensary after a run-in with some well-armed thugs.

I think Weeds works best when it reins in a little of its out-there OTT energy and grounds the series a bit more. It's become somewhat manic in recent seasons and it's harder and harder to find characters to root for amid the madness and chicanery. As noted before, Nancy has become even more tough to like and these opening episodes do little to make me root for her, especially as she crosses some lines that should not be crossed, endangering herself, her unborn child, and her family.

All in all, the first three episodes of Season Five of Weeds demonstrate a marked increase in tension and danger as Nancy attempts to keep spinning a growing number of plates even as her original impetus--keep her family together--seems threatened by her own actions. Will this season miraculously make us fall in love with Nancy again? I'm not sure but I do hope that Kohan and Co. at least find a way to make Nancy sympathetic again.

Season Five of Weeds launches Monday night at 10 pm ET/PT on Showtime.


Jenni Lou said…
Thanks for the review! I still love the show. A LOT. But I can't argue that Nancy hasn't become a bit morally suspect (is what I am calling it.) Because she certainly has. BUT MLP is so brilliant. She just makes me love the character in spite of Nancy's questionable antics.
Martin said…
I agree. I'm enjoying Jennifer Jason-Leigh on the show but Nancy is kind of irritating me and I find her situations becoming increasingly unbelievable.
Kathy said…
Thanks for the peeks at "Weeds" and "Nurse Jackie" - you helped me make up my mind to tape NJ and whack "Weeds" off the DVR. These past couple of seasons, I kept wishing that Nancy had a goal (pay off a huge debt, protect her children, something/anything) that would focus her and help me identify with her, but all the former Agresticans seem aimless, soulless, and charmless. Why bother with such a show?

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