Showtime, the pay-cable giant owned by Viacom, must be seeking a perfect schedule of "edgy" sleaze. They have shows for the gay men, and shows for the lesbians; they feature Penn and Teller's snarky show for the cocky atheists who want to use the F-word to describe Mother Teresa; and now they've added a new one, a "dramedy" series centered on a lovable suburban mom who's also a drug dealer.
"Weeds" is the new show, starring Mary-Louise Parker as a suburban California homemaker who's shocked by the sudden death of her husband. To make ends meet, the sympathetic widow with no income becomes the town marijuana merchant. Predictably, "Weeds" has earned the adoration of TV critics, who can never seem to get enough of what they call "splendid dark satire." One critic said it made "Desperate Housewives" look like "Leave It to Beaver." Parker said she loved doing the show because it was "unapologetically dark" and so "you can't necessarily make judgments on the characters."
For example, one pot-head character extols a new "medical marijuana" facility nearby as better than Amsterdam, "because you don't have to visit the Anne Frank house and pretend to be all sad." Another example: our star sells marijuana to a teenager on the compassionate condition that he not re-sell it to any younger kids.
"It seemed like exactly the right thing for us," says Robert Greenblatt, Showtime's president of entertainment. "It was something that was inherently dangerous and edgy, and we had to approach it in the right way, but we never shied away from it."
Corrupting society and championing illegal acts as harmless is all in a day's work at Viacom. It's always fun to squeeze a few laughs out of selling sandwich bags of dope. Pot is "so in the zeitgeist," claimed series creator Jenji Kohan, and "I thought of a female sort of anti-hero who did something risky, but not too offensive. She couldn't be a coke dealer." In other words, trafficking in one illegal substance is beyond the pale; in another, it's "edgy" and "exactly the right thing for us."
Kohan proclaimed to critics that she wanted to explore "postconventional morality" and is "perfectly comfortable saying that I believe [pot] should probably be legalized, regulated, and taxed." But she still thinks making cute giggly pictures about drug-dealing at the kids' soccer games isn't pro-drug, and says with a straight face: "We don't vilify. We present them as is, and I'm really proud to have remained neutral."
The funny thing is that in the real world, pot ain't so hot. The Supreme Court recently quashed the effort to spread the fad of "medical marijuana" around, and drug czar John Walters, who's focused quite a bit of energy on marijuana, says that decision has taken the wind out of the sails of medical-marijuana bills in state legislatures. According to a major 2003 study, use of marijuana among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders has declined significantly from 2001 to 2003.
The federal government also just issued a report explaining how we can curb drug abuse through advertising. The vast majority of youth ages 12 to 17 are receiving drug and alcohol prevention messages from TV, radio, posters, and pamphlets, and those who have been exposed to such messages are significantly less likely to abuse drugs. But isn't it somewhat perverse that our tax dollars need to go to drug-prevention messages on television, in part to counter our drug-glamorizing TV programs?
Deep at the heart of "Weeds" (and the shows that it apes, from "Desperate Housewives" to "The Sopranos") is a very cynical notion that
You can almost feel the hate coming out of Kohan against suburban neighborhoods: "They all look pretty, but they're built like crap. It's the same house over and over, all style, no substance. Everything in their world is mass-marketed. There homes are full of condo furniture, which looks perfect at first, but it's just trash." Left unspoken:
How insulting. These Hollywood writers are entering the American household while condescendingly trashing its values, not because they're not grounded in sound moral principles, but because they are. Get over yourself, you pompous haters.
But maybe I'm overreacting. It should be noted that Showtime did exercise some restraint in its pursuit of shock. At least, the drug dealer doesn't sell....cigarettes.