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First Puff of 'Weeds' Now Available on DVD

Bruce Dancis , Scripps Howard News Service, 12th July 2006

How did "Weeds" ever get on the air? I'm not complaining, mind you, because the Showtime series starring Mary-Louise Parker is one of the freshest and most audacious comedies on television.

But in a political climate in which a censorious Federal Communications Commission is fining networks and local TV stations for perceived bad taste and offensive behavior, how could a comedy about a widowed suburban mom who sells marijuana to pay her bills survive?

The first season of "Weeds" is out on DVD this week (10 episodes on two discs, Lions Gate, $39.98, not rated), prior to the Season Two premiere in August, so it is now available to many potential fans who don't get Showtime.

However, those who might be offended by the series' premise and its non-judgmental perspective on pot are advised to avoid it. So should those who would not appreciate its generally sardonic attitude towards suburbia, the PTA and authority figures, its free use of language, its tolerance of unusual behavior and its open approach to sexuality.

"Weeds" provides a showcase for the enormously talented Parker, an Emmy-winner for HBO's "Angels in America" and a bright light on Broadway ("Proof"), television ("The West Wing") and movies ("The Client," "Boys On the Side") for the past 15 years. She won a Golden Globe for her performance here as Nancy Botwin, brilliantly conveying the fears and sadness as well as the joys and spirit of a woman in difficult circumstances.

Her husband having died suddenly of a heart attack, Nancy is left with many bills and a large suburban house in the mythical, affluent community of Agrestic, Calif. She lives with her two sons - a 15-year-old (Hunter Parrish) who is mostly interested in getting physical with his girlfriend and a 10-or-so-year-old (Alexander Gould) who is mostly interested in being himself, however odd that may seem to anyone else in the world - plus a housekeeper (Renee Victor) and, after a few episodes, a slacker brother-in-law (Justin Kirk).

Nancy goes into business as the community pot dealer, obtaining her goods from an African American family in a nearby city headed by a sharp-tongued matriarch (Heylia James) and her helpful nephew (Romany Malco).

Filling out the lineup of characters whose types have seldom been seen before on TV are Elizabeth Perkins as one of Nancy's friends and neighbors whose awful parenting skills and dishonest spousal behavior is leavened somewhat by her sense of humor and honesty, and Kevin Nealon (of "Saturday Night Live Fame"), who portrays Nancy's accountant, a member of the Agrestic city council and one of Nancy's best customers.

It's all the creation of Jenji Kohan, who discusses some of the series' background in her commentary on the premiere episode, which served as the pilot. She originally took the idea of "Weeds" to HBO, but the network rejected it, she says, because the series "had kids in it." Her second choice, Showtime, thought otherwise.

"Showtime wanted to make some noise," Kohan says. Although the series received generally excellent reviews and three Golden Globe nominations (including Parker's win), it did not generate the "noise" expected.

"We were prepared for a backlash," Kohan says, but was surprised by "how little negative response we've gotten."

Of course, the lack of a response to "Weeds" could also be the consequence of the relatively few TV viewers in America who subscribe to Showtime.

In addition to several episode commentaries, the DVD includes a number of Showtime promos featuring snippets of interviews with key cast members, a list of "Agrestic Herbal remedies," which are recipes for a variety of foods that include "herb of your choice."

As mentioned above, "Weeds" won't appeal to everyone. My guess is that if you enjoy Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" or the British comedy shows of Ricky Gervais ("The Office," "Extras"), you'll appreciate the sardonic humor and bite of "Weeds." It's genuinely funny, challenging and always surprising, and how often can you say that about a TV sitcom?

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