“A Distinctive Horn”
July 27th, 2009
As you’ve no doubt noticed as of late, things have been a touch slow around Cultural Learnings when it comes to summer programming reviews. This is due largely to a combination of extra-special T.V. events (Last week’s Torchwood: Children of Earth blogging, for example) and some personal academic commitments that have been particularly demanding on my time (or, more accurately, my sanity). But in many ways, I think it’s because each summer show (Royal Pains, Burn Notice, Nurse Jackie, etc.) have fallen into a pattern that hasn’t really changed. When an episode is good it’s good, but as fun summer fare as opposed to meaty content worth sinking my teeth into. I’ve shared a few thoughts on Twitter here and there, but it’s been a slow summer when it comes to television to really analyze in a critical framework.
However, what I find really interesting about Showtime’s Weeds is that the reasons I haven’t been blogging about it this year are fundamentally different than last year. Whereas usually Weeds struggles to have something to write about in each individual episode, as its plots tends to be fairly easy to choreograph but almost painfully drawn out, this season the show has the exact opposite problems: due to a newfound unstable temporality that saw the show leap into the future a few weeks back, the show has gone further than I expected them to go all season. I’ve been tentative to write about it simply because I’ve been waiting to see when the pace will slow down, and when things would go back to normal. At this rate, part of me thinks that the kid is going to a toddler by the time we get to the finale.
Ultimately, the end of “A Distinctive Horn” is probably the point where the pace begins to slow, but I figured a “State of the Weeds” address was probably in order.
Weeds has, effectively, given up on slow burn character development, and the ultimate example of this is Andy Botwin. I love Justin Kirk, and think he’s done a lot of great work this season, but the problem with Andy is that he has had so many storylines that have never gone anywhere and yet when he finally gets one that appears to bring on legitimate change it’s so rushed that it doesn’t even sink in. When Andy was impersonating Judah, it seemed like a chance to get into his relationship with his dead brother. When Nancy refused to run off with him and chose the “safety” of Esteban instead, there was a chance to show the depths of his despair. And then last week, when Nancy suddenly needs him again, there was a chance to see their tension really come to the surface.
However, in the efforts to get to every single one of these story beats, none of them really get a chance to sink in: we got only a single episode of Andy as Judah (and it was played more for gross laughs than for anything all that dramatic), Andy’s despair was turned into a kitschy collectible spending spree and an enormous beard, and his attempt to free himself from Nancy post-baby lasted all of a single episode before he was calling the child his own and making it Jewish. Kirk continues to give a great performance, but part of what made Weeds work early on was how things were always bubbling under the surface waiting to explode, so that when they did you felt as if you were seeing something climactic and deeply personal. And while I can understand how that became repetitive, I think that the pace has kept Kirk from really being able to play the parts of Andy’s story that are a bit more daring for the character.
All of this being said, I thought Andy’s recurring storyline with Alanis Morissette in this one was really charming. Alanis is very capable as a comic actress, understated but not so understated as to feel like a straight woman in this universe. Her stark honesty was a nice contrast to the usual batch of under the surface insanity that Weeds tends to depict, and while she was a bit too quick of a wakeup call for me personally (her observations about Andy kind of prematurely sent him running back to Nancy and child) it was certainly more of a performance than I expected of her when she was first cast, and even when she first appeared.
It’s really not that any of these storylines are particularly bad, it’s just an example of things moving so quick that things almost don’t feel natural, although in some instances the speed is a breath of fresh air. Take, for example, Celia working at Foot Locker, and then selling cosmetics, and now selling drugs. Everyone saw this coming as soon as she got suckered in to one of those salesperson jobs (In Plain Sight did a similar storyline in one of its ill-conceived first season attempts to make Mary’s family interesting, actually making them insufferable), and for Silas and Doug’s business to fall into a situation such that Andy has a bone to slam with a drawer and Celia is in need of cash flow seems far too convenient. However, in this instance, it’s almost better that things move quicker so we’re not sitting around waiting for the planets to align: while with Andy I feel like we missed some important character moments and dramatic (and even comic work) for the actors, all we did here was speed up a pretty straightforward process.
As for Esteban, I don’t really even know what the show wants to do with him. They’ve given themselves the out as to why he wouldn’t remain in Nancy’s life, as his political career is threatened by his son’s existence and now he isn’t even on record as being the boy’s father. The show got some mileage out of some circumcision humour, but there was something about that last scene that seems so wrong: Esteban just storming out, Nancy and Andy defiantly naming the child a traditional Hebrew name, it all seems kind of cruel. Esteban is not quite an evil supervillain here, and there’s an extent to which he’s actually a tragic victim of the political process, but it’s all been thrown into the mix so quickly that I’m not sure where we go in the final set of episodes.
Which I guess is a good thing, that the main storyline has so much uncertainty, but I just don’t quite have faith that it will all come together in the end. We’ll have to wait and see, I guess.
- Put Andy and Doug in a room together, and someone will be reaching into their pants – be assured of that much.
- Silas really does get a bum rap, really – the kid has been responsible, decent, and not the least bit annoying all season. After trying to turn him into the new male lead last year (giving him a love interest, making him (or a body double) get naked), they seem to have settled into a side role for Silas as Doug’s straight man, and I give Hunter Parrish credit for pulling it off.
- Shane’s pretty well lost floating around, so I’m not really sure where they go from here with him – methinks next week will be required to get a sense of where individual characters other than Celia are heading.
- Want more on the episode? Todd VanDerWerff’s got it @ The A.V. Club.