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Season Finale: Weeds – “All About My Mom”

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“All About My Mom”

August 31st, 2009

“Something happens today, something else will happen tomorrow.”

That’s really the motto of this show, isn’t it? Shane, in his numbed and disconnected state, is the poster child for the series, accepting of the idea that if something goes bad today, you might as well just shrug it off and move onto tomorrow, when something similarly terrible is going to happen. Shane got shot, a shot meant for Nancy, but rather than send him into some sort of depressive state it seems like he sees this world (if not reality, which we know has little to no connection to this sensationalist fable of sorts) clearer than he’s ever seen it before.

Whereas Nancy Botwin, she has never seen this world clearly. She is impulsive and in over her head at every turn, making decisions that she knows she will eventually regret but struggling to stop herself, to really right herself on this particular journey. At the end of this, the show’s fifth season, Nancy finds herself surrounded by people who are suddenly seeing the world in a different light. Andy has grown up, purchased a minivan and proposed to Audra. Celia has decided she’s set on doing what Nancy did, and looks to regain power of her drug dealing future. And Shane, young and formerly naive Shane, decides to take matters into his own hands when it matters most.

What separates this finale from every other is that it seems as if the show has accepted its identity: it, like Shane, accepts that something happens today and something else happens tomorrow, and that this season’s cliffhanger will not be the last for the show. While this season has had its quirks, and has been perhaps the most different of any season, where it succeeds is in its clarity: the actions undertaken in the finale are cleaner, more precise, than they’ve ever been before, but with an opportunity for consequences as complicated as the show has ever dealt with.

Which, if not quite what drew me into the show into the first place, at least feels like a consistent and effective dramatic purpose for the aging series.

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Weeds – “A Distinctive Horn”

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“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.

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Weeds – “A Modest Proposal”

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“A Modest Proposal”

July 13th, 2009

Weeds is often a show that tends to drag things out, so I think there were more than a few collective jaw drops at the sight of a “Six Months Later” chyron early in “A Modest Proposal.” It isn’t that last week’s episode, which was quite good in its depiction of Nancy deciding for the tenuous safety of Esteban over Andy’s promise of safety, didn’t lend itself to skipping over the less interesting months of Nancy’s pregnancy, but rather that the show has never made this leap before and to do so seemed quite sudden.

In the end, it’s one of those decisions that allows them to skip ahead to where you could tell the storylines were going rather than having to build there gradually. It’s a narratological shortcut, and for a show that often tends to drag along I’d argue it’s probably a smart idea. I have some concerns over how things don’t appear to have actually changed, and how in some instances the eventuality of storylines were not nearly as interesting as the buildup would have been, but the show is in a better position to be more interesting with the current setting.

It’s added a healthy level of mystery and intrigue to the proceedings at the end of the day, and no one is really going to argue with that development.

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Weeds – “Super Lucky Happy”

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“Super Lucky Happy”

June 29th, 2009

Known for its rather glacial pacing (I was reading in Todd’s review from The A.V. Club last week that the show arguably has only taken place over the course of a year or so, which is probably accurate if often ignored by the show itself), Weeds has been operating at a pretty decent clip this year. However, that was bound to change, and we have our first bit of a thematic pause in “Super Lucky Happy.”

Now, let’s be clear: this isn’t a bad thing. Personally speaking, I’m a fan of Weeds episodes that try to capture a mood or a particular point of view, rather than those which feel like they’re being particularly sensationalist. What struck me about this episode, though, was that it arguably wants to have its cake and eat it to. The actual events in the episode are pretty major, but the show’s current milieu means that there really isn’t anything abnormal about Nancy taking people hostage, and so her reaction after the fact seems less like a major event than a necessary moment of reflection.

It has the show in a holding pattern, either way, but it’s ultimately a position that the show can manage thanks to the skill of Mary-Louise Parker and the need to place Nancy’s predicament into a slightly different light.

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Weeds – “Su-Su-Sucio”

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“Su-Su-Sucio”

June 22nd, 2009

Weeds always sits at a perilous crossroads of plot and character development, as the two often aren’t synonymous terms as they relate to the early part of each season. By the end of the season, sure, they usually match up: there’s always a few events that bring everyone together and have the Botwin family and company in a dire situation. But early on, there’s always a sense that the plot takes over, carrying characters off to their future destinations without really stopping and letting it change or affect them in any way.

I’d argue that, based on these concerns, “Su-Su-Sucio” is a fairly effective turn, maintaining a strong comic sensibility and offering a welcome respite from the darkness of the early parts of the season without abandoning it entirely. While it may be too simple a formula to repeat ad nauseum, the introduction of Nancy’s sister Jill has kept that particular plot development from becoming too disconnected from notions of characters, and Andy’s return to the fold has had similar effects in terms of giving Nancy some more levity as it relates to her situation.

The result is an episode that, although smack dab in the middle of the show’s usual march towards a plot of some kind, felt like it was rushing through the storylines it should rush through, and pausing on the ones that deserved a bit more time. The early season pacing is the fastest its been in quite some time (at least in terms of bringing the cast together), and that’ll make for an interesting extension into the rest of the year.

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Season Premiere: Weeds – “Wonderful Wonderful”

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“Wonderful Wonderful”

June 8th, 2009

There are not many cool things in Nancy Botwin’s life.

This isn’t something sudden: as each subsequent season has gone forward, things have become more and more tense. The show’s fourth season was yet another shift in a direction where things are decidedly uncool for Nancy Botwin, a suburban mother who has been removed from suburbia and in many ways was no longer a mother as one son grew up and the other drifted into his own awkwardness. It resulted in a different sort of show, one where we are asked to laugh at situations removed from our own experience and, in all honesty, that are actually quite dangerous. The threat of the Mexican mafia was almost entirely without the humour of Marvin (during the U-Turn arc of Season Three), or the injection of Conrad and Heylia to keep the business from seeming quite that dangerous.

I don’t think this is inherently a bad thing: I thought the fourth season was a strong one for Nancy’s character, even if it took her away from the show’s original intention or purpose, and we can’t begrudge a show evolution moving into its fourth season. The problem is that the show is as schizophrenic as ever, with Nancy’s storyline proving so dire and dramatic that the absurdist comedy feels dichotomous, splitting the show into two separate parts. I like both of those parts, depending on who’s involved, but the show goes out of its way in “Wonderful Wonderful” to emphasize that, at least at first, there’s no room for the two to interact, a problem that will need to be rectified sooner rather than later if the season is to get off to a strong start.

For now, it remains poignant and capable of some strong humour, which makes it an ideal dark comedy on paper if not quite in practice – now it just needs to build on that.

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Season (Series?) Finale: Flight of the Conchords – “Evicted”

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“Evicted”

March 22nd, 2009

While the title above is fairly ambiguous, and HBO hasn’t come out and said what kind of finale this was in the end, the actual content of the episode spoke quite clearly: while this was not the season’s musical or comic highlight, it had that air of finality not just of some sort of season-long storyline but rather the very setup of the show. Offering up a meta-commentary wherein the show’s Bret and Jemaine move closer, albeit more wackily, to the commercialization of the real Bret and Jemaine feels like the way you end this series, not just a season, and coming back from the episode feels like it might not just be impossible, but also inadvisable.

And yet, at the same time, it also captures the reasons why the show is so charming, and why this second season has remained a weekly highlight even when I’ve been disappointed by much of the season’s musical interludes. The show found itself quite the comic voice as it headed into this season, and that’s something it has maintained with startling efficiency. While parts of this episode returned to more simple forms of humour that the show used in its original premise, the supporting characters around it have evolved so much further that it’s an entirely different show, and a better one.

So HBO and the Conchords have a very tough decision to make – is it good to go out while you’re still making people laugh and when you’ve crafted a satisfying conclusion, or do you want to continue to tell the story of the band that starts at the bottom, continues along the bottom, and ends up at the bottom for another season?

I’m still not sure which camp I find myself in.

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