Is “Disjointed” better if you’re stoned? Well, of course. Pot has been adding another dimension — and improving the flaws of bad television — for almost as long as we’ve had the medium. And “Disjointed,” in particular, seems designed to satisfy a mellower state of mind. It’s slow and spacey and visually kinetic, with a, well, disjointed format that frames traditional multi-camera set pieces with fake commercials, animated segments, and fictional YouTube videos. For a show on Netflix, it’s amusing how much effort “Disjointed” has put into looking like something syndicated on a forgotten cable channel; it makes use of visual nods to technologies that the streaming service has effectively made obsolete, like commercial breaks and VHS fast-forwarding. But that is part of what makes “Disjointed” so bizarrely intriguing, especially to the high among us; it’s so scattershot that it appears to imply meaning, when the fact is, it might also just be random.
Kathy Bates plays Ruth Whitefeather Feldman, owner of Ruth’s Alternative Caring, a legal pot dispensary in Southern California. She is a longtime activist for legalization, a self-described shaman and rabbi, and, of course, pretty much always stoned. “Disjointed” is about the only occasionally rational lives of Ruth and the employees at her shop, including an on-site grower, a few “budtenders,” and her son, Travis (Aaron Moten). When we meet the team at Ruth’s Alternative Caring, they are trying to expand the dispensary’s footprint to the digital realm. This takes the form of a YouTube series that includes the pretty ridiculous “Strain O’the Day” review, where a couple of the employees put some hash on a dish and expound upon its unique characteristics. (For the brilliantly named varietal Rutherford B. Haze, the employees display the pot on a picture of Rutherford B. Hayes’ face. The green makes up his abundant beard.)
“Disjointed” is ultimately trying to do too many things at once, and as a result just feels sloppy. The streaming service’s freedom with language, sex, and jokes about bodily fluids are incredibly unappealing when mixed with the homey feeling of a multi-camera sitcom. What those elements should do is make a show feel vital and edgy, but in “Disjointed” it just makes the whole show feel seedy, crass, and dank, as if the smell of bongwater and low-hanging smoke is seeping into the walls. An animated segment in each episode nods to psychedelia, but seems otherwise pointless, like an Adult Swim bumper accidentally attached to a Nick at Nite rerun. And though Bates is funny, “Disjointed” opts for broad humor — it’s unapologetically dumb funny. It’s so committed to the tawdry lifestyle of smoking up that “Disjointed” is almost radically charming. But it’s not, really. It’s just enjoying the freedom of being honest about being stoned.
There are astonishing threads in the show — including an ongoing and probably incredibly necessary conversation about what it means for marijuana to be legal overnight. Ruth’s security guard Carter (Tone Bell) is a Iraq war veteran, and one of the most affecting stories in the episodes released to critics is about Carter, who has never smoked, considering using pot to alleviate some of his post-traumatic stress. This leads the other employees to share with him why they started using marijuana, and the responses are varied and touching. Yes, “Disjointed” features a crass pair of stoned vloggers who do a supercut of the many times they’ve coughed while taking bong hits. But it also features Chinese-American Jenny, who lies to her parents about what she does, telling Carter about her first time smoking up: “I wouldn’t even say it was good or bad — just that, for the first time in my life, I felt like I was living in the moment.”
Coming from Chuck Lorre, the titanic executive producer behind beloved multicam sitcoms like “The Big Bang Theory,” “Disjointed” takes his well-worn family-sitcom model and exposes it to the hairy realities of living with marijuana. Bates’ Ruth is the butt of the joke half the time, and doesn’t seem to know or care. Most of the jokes in the show are about people being stoned, which is not exactly the cutting edge of comedy. But the sitcom is an unexpected, rickety bridge between the past and the future — the sanitized broadcast sitcom of yore and the streaming comedy about getting a newly legal high. And it likely arose from the simplest of all explanations: Couch-bound stoners watch a lot of Netflix, so the platform decided to make something just for them.