Back for its third season, “Weeds” remains an exasperating show — one with fine and funny moments that somehow keeps delivering less than the sum of its parts. Fortunately, those parts include Mary-Louise Parker, Elizabeth Perkins, Justin Kirk, Romany Malco and Kevin Nealon, who consistently milk more from the material than it tends to deserve. The latest crop adds another layer of intrigue to the “pot mom” premise, but this still isn’t the show it can or should be.
Indeed, the third year finds the family of Nancy Botwin (Parker), the widowed mom who began selling pot to pay the bills, in considerable jeopardy. That begins with Nancy herself, who has run afoul of squabbling drug dealers, which, unfortunately, leads to recurring, distasteful references by African-American, Armenian and Hispanic men as to whether or not they should rape her.
Last season, Nancy shared a kiss with her grower, Conrad (Malco), and the two find themselves imperiled when her stash of pot turns up missing at the most inopportune of times. Meanwhile, Nancy’s ne’er-do-well brother-in-law (Kirk) is seeking her youngest son, while persnickety neighbor Celia (Perkins) sorts through a shattered marriage after her affair with Doug (Nealon), one of Nancy’s suburban clients.
Series creator Jenji Kohan clearly has some fun with putting unexpected riffs of dialogue in the mouths of gun-toting gang members, as well as rapid exchanges where the word “fuck” is used more often than Joe Pesci in a Martin Scorsese film. A new extended plot thread, meanwhile, hinges on another planned community being constructed next to Agrestic (dubbed Majestic, naturally) by an unctuous developer, played by Matthew Modine.
Heavily serialized, this series obviously wants to live on the edge, but there are moments in the first batch of episodes where the stories risk toppling over, including Kirk’s character being called up by the Army Reserves. The near-saving grace remains the quality of the actors, with Parker able to convey her situation’s absurdity and still infuse Nancy with pain and humanity, despite operating in a near-constant state of bewilderment.
Beyond that, however, the show is ultimately a pretty thin porridge — one whose plaudits have consistently exceeded its merits. Credit Showtime with accentuating the assets of what’s a perfectly respectable half-hour, but every time I see “Weeds” hailed as one of TV’s best, it’s hard not to wonder, “Geez, what were they smoking?”