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Weeds

What initially sounded like a simple premise -- "Pot Mom" -- has blossomed into one of TV's busiest series, a one-hour dramedy crammed into a half-hour. Buoyed by the mid-first-season arrival of Justin Kirk as the protagonist's roguish brother-in-law, "Weeds" still isn't quite funny or startling enough to become a compulsion but delivers enough tantalizing hits to merit the TiVo "season pass" treatment.

With:
Nancy Botwin - Mary-Louise Parker Celia Hodes - Elizabeth Perkins Doug Wilson - Kevin Nealon Andy Botwin - Justin Kirk Heylia James - Tonye Patano Conrad Shepard - Romany Malco Silas Botwin - Hunter Parrish Shane Botwin - Alexander Gould Dean Hodes - Andy Milder

What initially sounded like a simple premise — “Pot Mom” — has blossomed into one of TV’s busiest series, a one-hour dramedy (with more emphasis on the “dram” than “edy”) crammed into a half-hour. Buoyed by the mid-first-season arrival of Justin Kirk as the protagonist’s roguish brother-in-law, “Weeds” still isn’t quite funny or startling enough to become a compulsion but delivers enough tantalizing hits to merit the TiVo “season pass” treatment.

Much of that has to do with Kirk, who, as Andy, has become the equivalent of the Ari character on “Entourage” — someone who bursts onto the screen and delivers laugh-out-loud moments on a program that otherwise generates little more than wry smiles. Even saddled with a subpar plot line — he’s desperate to get into rabbinical school to avoid being shipped off to Iraq — Kirk’s performance shines.

The various parts, in fact, generally surpass the series as a whole, though Jenji Kohan’s creation feels somewhat more assured this season based on the first five episodes.

For those who skipped the first year — or are too stoned to remember — suburban mom Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) turned to selling pot after the sudden death of her husband, leaving her to raise two sons: teenage Silas (Hunter Parrish), who is madly in love with a deaf classmate; and prepubescent Shane (Alexander Gould), who, this season, discovers the joys of masturbation. (A highlight comes in episode three, when Andy has “the talk” with his nephew, brightly telling him, “There’s no such thing as polishing the raised scepter of love too much.”)

Nancy’s life is complicated by a fling with another single parent, Peter (Martin Donovan), who turned out to be a DEA agent. This doesn’t sit well with her supplier, Conrad (Romany Malco), forcing Nancy and her band of dope-dealing misfits to explore other options.

Meanwhile, Nancy’s friend Celia (Elizabeth Perkins), having battled cancer, has opted to run for City Council against Doug (Kevin Nealon), one of Nancy’s partners. Celia also finds time to torment her overweight daughter (Allie Grant), whom Celia drags to “boot camp” so she won’t look embarrassingly chubby at fat camp.

Parker is constantly interesting, though within the show’s peculiar world she often finds herself simply reacting to her loony family and friends. Adding a love interest and expanding her small-business woes allows the character to be more proactive than she frequently seemed last season.

The rest of the cast is also fine, although accommodating them all makes the pace a bit too frenetic. Another concern is that despite pay cable’s permissiveness, the sheer weight of sexual situations involving teens and a preteen feel dicey — pushing an envelope perhaps better left closed. (Showtime’s “Huff” tiptoed up to this line as well.)

Parker has already earned a Golden Globe for the show, which, under pay TV’s formula, is the sort of prestige that temporarily renders ratings semi-moot. And if “Weeds” doesn’t deliver belly laughs, to say it’s moderately addictive isn’t just blowing smoke.

Weeds

Showtime, Mon. Aug. 14, 10 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Tilted Prods. In association with Lionsgate. Executive producer, Jenji Kohan; co-executive producers, Roberto Benabib, Craig Zisk; supervising producers, Mark A. Burley, Shawn Schepps, Devon K. Shepard; producer, Matthew Salsberg; co-producers, Barry Safchik, Michael Platt, Paul Cajero.

Crew: Camera, Michael Trim; production design, Joseph P. Lucky; editor, David Helfand; music, Gwendolyn Sanford, Brandon Jay; casting, Amy McIntyre Britt, Anya Colloff. Running time: 30 MIN.

Cast: Nancy Botwin - Mary-Louise Parker Celia Hodes - Elizabeth Perkins Doug Wilson - Kevin Nealon Andy Botwin - Justin Kirk Heylia James - Tonye Patano Conrad Shepard - Romany Malco Silas Botwin - Hunter Parrish Shane Botwin - Alexander Gould Dean Hodes - Andy Milder

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