Growing a business and dealing with grief

Dave Bartlett
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First season of ‘Weeds’ still a powerful dramedy eight years later

Some members of the large cast of “Weeds” are shown in this promotional image from Showtime. From left, Romany Malco (Conrad), Tonye Potano (drug kingpin Heylia), Mary-Louise Parker (Nancy), Kevin Nealon (Doug) and Elizabeth Perkins (Celia, Nancy’s affluent neighbour). — Submitted photo

The wet weather this week meant some guilt-free time to curl up with a good show and, after finally finishing Season 1 of  “Orange Is The New Black” (Wow! How long before Season 2?), I decided it was finally time to revisit the show Jenji Kohan was previously known for: “Weeds.”

I watched that dramedy pretty religiously when it first aired, but got bored somewhere along the way. A buddy of mine confirmed my feelings when he remarked recently that “Weeds” withers after a few seasons.

Still, I’ve wanted to write about it for a while so I could have an excuse to remind myself what made the show so good at its start, and if it has stood the test of time.

It has. Here’s a partial list of why the first season of “Weeds” is worth a watch:

Cast. While the principal actors are all great, led by Mary-Louise Parker as protagonist Nancy Botwin — the young, yuppie widow who becomes the “Suburban Baroness of Bud” as a way to support her two kids and their upper-class lifestyle — it’s the supporting cast that really make “Weeds” work.

On top of that list is underrated “Saturday Night Live” alum Kevin Nealon as Nancy’s accountant and No. 1 customer Doug Wilson. Besides consuming cannabis in copious amounts, Doug is also a city councillor in the fictional, gated community of Agrestic, Calif., where Nancy starts her career by dealing to the dope fiends of cookie-cutter (pre-recession) America.

Nealon is a loveable pothead who’s too stoned to care about much, beyond his ever fading buzz, but he’s got business acumen, something Nancy doesn’t have a lot of, at least during the first 10 episodes.

I forgot that Uncle Andy (Justin Kirk) doesn’t move back in with sister-in-law Nancy until well into the first season. When Andy and Doug get high together, anything can happen and the two drive the comedy portion of the story.

Andy is both the one thing Nancy’s business doesn’t need right now, while also filling a domestic role that allows her to try to manage a too-quickly expanding bud barony.

Romany Malco also gets a big nod for his portrayal of drug-dealing green-thumb Conrad, and I love anything with Martin Donovan and his stoical steeliness.

Donovan, who plays Nancy’s ill-fated boyfriend Peter as Season 1 comes to a close, is certainly no household name, but he was in a pile of films directed by Hal Hartley (also not a household name) in the ’90s including “Trust” and “Amateur,” which have a unique tone that is both dark and tender.

I could fill a full column with how good this cast is, including guest performances by the likes of Jeffrey Dean Morgan (in flashbacks as Nancy’s late husband Judah Botwin) and in later seasons Andy’s wacky girlfriend from Alaska, Kat, played by Zooey Deschanel (“New Girl”). Mary-Kate Olsen is even in the show at one point. Unlike some shows, the young cast of “Weeds” can keep up with its veterans.

Music. From it’s opening theme, performed by ever-changing artists in later years, to each episode’s carefully selected ending song, the music of “Weeds” makes me love this show.

For an aging indie-rocker, who was always looking for the next new — which often meant old, but obscure — thing, the show presents a great variety of music and uses it to enhance mood in just the right way. And it doesn’t hurt when guitarist Joey Santiago of Pixies is picking the tunes.

Though its not in Season 1, one of the most memorable scenes in the show ends as Nancy reaches a real breaking point and she casually walks by her screwed-up, stunned family, chugs a beer, strips to her underwear, tosses the beer can unceremoniously on her manicured lawn and then jumps into her swimming pool in absolute meltdown, screaming underwater while The Thermals’ “Here is Your Future” plays in the background.

Conflict and coping. Ultimately, the real success of the show is that it’s about grief, loss, coping and change when it is forced upon you; about making decisions under stress that aren’t the best ones to make and about the people that get you through these difficult times.

Yes, it’s also about the domestication of pot, and the seriousness of running a clandestine enterprise, but “Weeds” also shows how Nancy, her two young sons, her brother-in-law and his best friend Doug handle the loss of their social glue after an untimely heart attack.

I wonder if Doug’s binge smoking is a coping mechanism since Judah’s death, though the subtext of one conversation is that he’s in a sexless marriage and may be numbing other pains.

“Weeds” can be intensely dark and outrageously funny; it has moments of sad sentiment and everyday moments of normalcy. It hasn’t lost any of its punch eight years after its debut.

You can find the first four seasons of “Weeds” on Netflix.

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Geographic location: Agrestic, Alaska

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