Live for a time in one of Southern California’s valleys and not only will you gradually know where everything is, and what supermarket is promoting the lowest prices for the week, but you feel the wisps of a microcosm that has formed long before you got there. Live for a long time in one of these valleys and that same microcosm envelopes you. You know which traffic lights give you the most stress. You know that parking at the local Wal-Mart Super Center is a real bitch on Saturdays. And most of all, you know that you’ve never seen people like the kinds that live in these valleys, especially if you’re an outsider to all of this.
Well, that’s me. Outsider status three years ago and now here at least long enough to know that the Santa Clarita Valley can get mighty strange, with lots of inanities and vapidity. The ever-present mountains and the shift in altitude wherever you go (which isn’t much, but who knows with what we got here), might be a cause for that but for all that the satirically deft “Weeds” accurately captures in the fictional suburb of Agrestic, we’ve also got a peaceful side which the show portrays with much aplomb.
Now heading for its second season, “Weeds” is one of the finest exports the Santa Clarita Valley offers, namely because the show is filmed here exclusively, using locations all around the valley as well as Santa Clarita Studios. That shot you see of that rotund office building in the second episode, “Free Goat,” is actually the library at College of the Canyons. Same with “The Fashion of the Christ” with the successful t-shirt sales until the principal of the elementary school charges towards it. And the same still in “Higher Education” with shots of a bustling college campus. Still COC, still the campus I attend classes at, and a testament to how interchangeable a lot can be in Santa Clarita. The series is right in that respect. If our library wasn’t there, that could very well be an office building.
The main hook of “Weeds” is Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker), recently widowed after her husband Judah (Jeffrey Dean Morgan in home video footage) drops dead of a heart attack while jogging in the park with their younger son Shane (Alexander Gould). As “Weeds” explains so well with Nancy’s career choice in order to keep money coming in, housing in the valley, the good housing anyway, isn’t cheap. So for the bills and the well being of her kids, she’s a pot dealer. The higher powers of the community do smoke it, as if it threatens to disappear the next day. Doug Wilson (Kevin Nealon), certified public accountant and city councilman, is one of her most supportive buyers, and Kevin Nealon has found, in some small part, his Will Ferrell role, the one to sustain him and keep him as fresh as he was on Saturday Night Live. Doug, and Nancy’s brother-in-law, Andy (Justin Kirk, who shared with Mary-Louise Parker one of the most haunting scenes in “Angels in America”, he as a drag queen and she just drifting through a dreamworld)—who appears later in the season and from the likes of him, will stay with the Botwin family for some time to come—are definitely the show’s Cheech and Chong. They love their weed and just wait until you see when it is learned that a rat chewed through part of Nancy’s stash. Just wait.
On the other side of Agrestic, there’s the revitalized Elizabeth Perkins as Celia Hodes, who I can attest does exist in many forms in Santa Clarita. In fact, it is thought that Agrestic is based on the Stevenson Ranch community, which has countless soccer moms as part of its populace. Celia isn’t so much a soccer mom as she is a quiet, ambitious bitch who just wants her share of the community and her share of perfection, first with being the president of Agrestic Elementary’s PTA and second, with her nastily chastising her young daughter, Isabelle (Allie Grant) for being overweight which leads to part of an episode you might not even believe as you see it, where Celia replaces Isabelle’s candy stash with laxatives and once Isabelle finds that out, she returns the favor by replacing her mother’s pills with Imodium AD.
Oh, and it gets better and better after that, as Nancy realizes that being a pot dealer isn’t as simple as giving part of the stash in exchange for cash. While at her supplier’s (sensational performances every time by Tonye Patano) house, a drive-by shooting forcibly shows Nancy that the business is never as easy as she believes. It may not get as extreme as that in her community, but there’s more to worry about. Her sons don’t know about her business and she tries to keep it hidden, but that becomes less and less possible as her housekeeper, Lupita (Renee Victor) also learns of her boss’s job. And just as intense still is the fact that grief over Judah’s death still runs within the house as Shane acts out in different ways, such as making a burning bush literal during a religious presentation by members of a Jewish temple (told to Nancy by the principal, but you can easily imagine how Shane did it with how Alexander Gould plays him), and Nancy’s older son, Silas (Hunter Parrish) gains a deaf girlfriend, breaks into one of the higher-priced houses, and tries ecstasy. It’s hard enough for Nancy to try to become the new rudder of the family as her husband obviously was, but it’s even worse when, as she rises in the pot-dealing business, her family is falling apart. So many broken pieces to try to catch.
All the satire that creator Jenji Kohan and her writers put forth is simply astounding, from dumb, dumb, dumb neighbors (I’ve seen ones like the fat woman who doesn’t know where her cat has gone after a mountain lion is reported in that area), to the futility of PTA meetings, especially in Agrestic, to all the opinions that lace every script. “The Passion of the Christ” is branded as a “straight-up snuff film.” Now that doesn’t sound different from what has already been disseminated in the media about it, but from the perspective of teenaged drug dealer Josh (Justin Chatwin) who’s been selling weed at a fast clip because of screenings of “Winged Migration” at the local movie theater, it’s made fresh again. Kohan has a lot more she makes novel, including the aforementioned peaceful side of the valley, which ultimately creates the most conflict for these citizens. Kohan and her cast and crew have that feeling down perfectly. There are days where it’s the most perfect time to be doing anything you want without being interrupted by whatever’s going on in your life and then blam! You’re interrupted and in even more emotional turmoil than you hoped to be. Those moments in this show are never marred by music that says that something unpleasant has happened to any of them. It’s simply happened, you take it, and you move on. Even when Nancy finds a new love interest in Peter, who she meets after Shane bites his son’s foot (Daryl Sabara as Peter’s son, proving that only in Hollywood can kids grow up faster than other kids) at a karate tournament, Peter’s simply there. He’s just part of this community, this valley, this lifestyle. Easily proven in Agrestic’s real-life inspiration. Things just happen in Santa Clarita. Whatever you do is your business, but you’ve got to do something, even if it seems close to nothing. With “Weeds”, there’s a lot that’s done and it truly is one of those rare shows that can combine everything it purportedly stands for and make it all work. Satire, bits of silly comedy, genuine drama, conflicted feelings, who do you like, who do you hate—it’s all here.
In the case of who you might hate on this show, it’s rather funny in how Celia suddenly becomes someone you think has been given a bad rap. Hey, she’s not the royal bitch after all! She’s just assumed the persona. Or has she? And inasmuch as I’ve found many parts of the Santa Clarita Valley roundly frustrating with all the dumbasses that come with it, I’m proud to be a part of it because of this show. If this is what this valley has been building up towards, then bullseye! We’ve been done proud.
The same can also be said about this DVD release, conveniently timed long before the second season premiere so curious parties can become addicted to it as well. Commentaries by Kohan as well as various actors from the show including Kevin Nealon and the inimitable Craig X (a weed expert who was the first to open a medical marijuana club in Los Angeles, and is a consultant for the show) outline how truly deep this show runs with its characters and all that goes into making this show run with the natural efficiency that comes with a satirical comedy unfortunately going too fast in its running time. Documentaries also line the rest of the second disc, exhibiting the appreciation through the knowing words the actors have for this show. They almost sound conspiratorial in their interviews, but it’s all in good fun.
Where Nancy Botwin will go with her business next is up to Kohan, but with how she’s positioned Nancy in the season finale, she’d better not drop it. This is too good to let go of, especially in how she intends to navigate her work. That second-to-last scene in the season finale is much more loaded because of what’s happened before, and hopefully it’s only going to get even better than what “great” usually stands for. It’s already part of what has made television great again over these past few years. And for poor saps like me who don’t subscribe to Showtime, it is also proof why DVDs are even more valuable now.