Season Premiere: Weeds – “The Birds Are After Her”

“The Birds are After Her”

June 16th, 2008

If I were to make a list of the things I enjoy about Weeds, which began its fourth season tonight on Showtime, at the end of last season, it would have included a number of things. It would have included the most infectious theme song since The O.C., the no-nonsense attitude of drug maven Heylia James, the foul-mouthed criticism and blind romanticism of her nephew Conrad, and the narrative potential of a series set within the depths of American suburbia.

As Season Four begins, let’s take inventory: the theme song is played for one last time before being replaced by a new credits sequence, Heylia and Conrad are no longer series regulars and will rarely if ever appear, and the show has moved from its original setting to an oceanside border town. The end of the third season foretold these changes, in a way, but seeing them all happen is a whole other story. Yes, the show was perhaps getting complacent in its current setting, but such a drastic set of changes needs to be justified.

The course correction, however, comes with its benefits, including the introduction of Albert Brooks (Who rarely does television) as Nancy’s father-in-law, so the show is certainly surrounding itself with the right people to gain its footing. It also means that Silas, who got a bit of a short straw in the third season in that his love interest was a barely-used Mary-Kate Olsen, will slowly be able to emerge as a leading player in his own right, and it will also mean more screentime for the criminally underused Justin Kirk whose Andy has a new lease on life himself.

The premiere, like all episodes of Weeds is a total tease, barely even poking at whatever potential they’re creating for themselves. The result is that while I think the change will be for the best in the end, at this point it’s hard to know how all of the pieces will come together.

Central to the episode is birds, who seem to be out to get Nancy Botwin as she runs away from suspected drug trafficking and arson in the wake of the Agrestic fire. She’s got a lot to think about, this mother does: she has no livelihood, no home, few friends, and the fact that the fire was kind of her fault to begin with considering that Guillermo was the one who started it partially on her behalf. Of course, in true Nancy fashion, she responds by piling everyone into the cars and visiting Judah’s Grandmother Bubbie, all the while smelling of gasoline and acting mighty suspicious.

At the end of the day, it’s a quick way of getting the Botwins to their new home, but the half-hour format really puts a dent into our ability to really see the inside of Nancy’s panic. Weeds always gets off to a slow start because the end of every season is a build-up of multiple weeks of tension and drama for the characters and the premiere is always a reaction to something. It’s hard to live up to that note perfect final shot of Season Three, a perfectly content Nancy Botwin driving her segway realizing that she has a whole new life ahead of her. Picking that thread up here with her eating a bag of chips and growing increasingly paranoid about birds doesn’t quite have the same poignancy, nor can it with so little time to develop.

Nancy’s journey here is our requisite return to Judah (The oft-unseen Jeffrey Dean Morgan, whose absence is probably for the best since flashbacks would eat up a lot of time), Nancy’s deceased husband. Returning to a place of his childhood brings up Nancy’s usual concerns, about whether he loved her and all of that. There’s something to be made of Nancy having nowhere else to turn but to her husband’s past in this moment of need, continually dependent on this family that never really wanted her, but the show can’t spend too much time on it when there’s other things to service.

First and foremost is the introduction of Albert Brooks as Judah and Andy’s father, Len Botwin. He’s a poker-watching, horse-gambling nutjob who refers to Nancy as “Not Francie” due to his disappointment in Judah not marrying the nice eye doctor instead of her, and who clearly has about the same amount of respect for Andy. Brooks is funny but not overbearing, handling the show’s dialogue well and in a way that injects it with a bit more life than we are perhaps used to with our regular players. How his involvement, along with his dying mother, plays into the story in the weeks ahead remains unseen, but he’s sticking around for at least four episodes as far as I’m aware.

The other side of the storyline stays in Agrestic/Majestic, where we find that Celia is in a bit over her head when it comes to her role in the drug scandal. Her attempts to pin it all on Nancy don’t turn out as planned, of course, and with rapid fire precision all of the other key players (Doug, Dean, Sanjay) all finger Celia as the ringleader. It’s really all a shortcut to putting Celia in jail, but damnit if it wasn’t also very funny – I could have done without the dim-witted detective, but Elizabeth Perkins in particular was on a roll in this one. Her line reading of “There was Conrad, and Heylia…I don’t know their last names, but they were black!” had me guffawing, and I am most intrigued to see where she, Doug and likely Isabel (Continuing they stayed in the credits while Andy Milder, who plays Dean, didn’t) end up reconnecting with the Botwins in the future.

The problem with all of this, of course, is that it did sideline a few characters: we got Celia and Nancy pretty down, but we don’t really have a glimpse into what’s in store for anyone else. Casting spoilers lets us know that Silas has a new love interest incoming, and based on both pre-release images and foreshadowing here we know he’ll both get a haircut and take up surfing, but we get nothing else. Ditto for Shane, who at least seems mentally stable this time around (Which is for the best, really, I never did enjoy his insane period). The show often spends so many episodes setting up its premise for the season that the characters take a backseat, which really makes me wonder if an hour-long premiere might not have been the more logical route.

Here, we get a tacked on coda where Nancy discovers from Guillermo that he’s in need of her assistance as an unlikely drug trafficker across the Mexican border. This seems to be the premise, shockingly similar to Nancy’s fish out of water opening to last season. The real difference is that here Nancy is at the very least making these choices on her own, and that she actually wants a fresh start. Her own blind enthusiasm is enough to buoy this move, at least for the time being – over the next few episodes, the rest of the series will have to pick up the pace to prove that it was all worth it, and that show can get more than its swagger back in order.

Cultural Observations

  • Really enjoyed Nancy and Andy’s conversation both for its humorous banter from Andy and its stark poignancy in an episode that rarely let its characters sit down and talk about things. The show has never been good at that, to be honest, so finding a few minutes for it in an otherwise overstuffed episode was key.
  • The most audacious line was without question the elaborate and almost too choreographed line about Nancy bringing German food into the house of an Auschwitz survivor while smelling like Gasoline. It seemed like too much, and never jumped off the screen like it might have on the page.
  • I’ll be honest with you: the show already had too many characters, so cutting Conrad and Heylia actually makes a lot of sense. Yes, I will miss both actors and what they bring to the series, and I will always want to see the Celia/Heylia team back in action in a spinoff, but the fact of the matter is that this is a Botwin narrative and it was time to move on.

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