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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
eason finales can be a tricky business. You have to deliver a cliffhanger that is going to keep people talking during the show’s absence, while still consciously preparing the story for the following year. Creator Jenji Kohan completely overlooked this necessary equilibrium when writing the Season Two finale of “Weeds,” and Season Three ultimately suffered because of it. Of course, some would say the Showtime series was in trouble long before that finale even aired – not due to the quality of the second season, but because the show had peaked far too early. Though that may be true, it’s Kohan’s brilliantly staged Mexican standoff that left the show stuck righting its wrongs for half a season, and by the time “Weeds” finally got back on track, everything had changed.
When we last left Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker), the suburban mom-turned-drug dealer was stuck in the predicament of the century. After striking a deal with U-Turn (Page Kennedy) to unload a massive supply of MILFweed, Nancy and Conrad (Romany Malco) were left staring down the barrel of his gun. U-Turn had plans to hijack both the marijuana and the money promised to the Armenians for killing Peter (Martin Donovan), but when he discovered a Drug Free Zone sign in their place, he held Nancy responsible. The sign was left by Silas (Hunter Parrish), who planned to use the drugs as a bargaining chip to get into the family business, but when Silas is arrested for vandalizing Cecilia’s (Elizabeth Perkins) security cameras, he’s hauled away to the police station to answer for his misdemeanor.
The new season picks up shortly after, with Cecilia left in charge of returning Silas’ car to the Botwin house. When she discovers the weed in the trunk, however, she decides to teach Nancy a lesson by drowning all of it in the pool. With her entire supply ruined, Nancy is forced to work off her debt to U-Turn by any means possible. Working days as the executive assistant of city planner Sullivan Groff (Matthew Modine) and her nights as U-Turn’s errand girl, Nancy’s life gets even more complicated when Peter’s DEA partner starts snooping around. Meanwhile, Conrad starts up a growhouse with Heylia (Tonye Patano); Cecilia and Doug (Kevin Nealon) fight for leadership of city council; Silas starts dating a bible-thumping pot enthusiast (Mary-Kate Olsen); Shane (Alexander Gould) is sent to summer school; and Andy (Justin Kirk) manages to escape military duty once again.
Unfortunately, though the setup may sound like classic “Weeds” shenanigans, it’s anything but. The main story involving Nancy’s servitude to U-Turn is so over-the-top that you can’t help but wonder if the writing staff was pushing the envelope simply for the sake of upholding their reputation. I have no problem with the series getting darker, but when you force your characters into uncharacteristic situations like stripteases and drive-by shootings, it makes it even more difficult to connect with them. The season two finale is mostly to blame, because not only did it make things virtually impossible to resolve (more on that later), but it greatly decreases the chance that we'll ever see a finale (or a season) like that again.
The series definitely returns to form following U-Turn’s unexpected departure midway through the season, but just as things start to get good again, “Weeds” turns into a pot-friendly version of “John from Cincinnati.” The ultra-liberal commentary is so heavy-handed that it comes off more like parody than satire, while the addition of Mary-Kate Olsen to the cast does little more than earn the show some much-needed publicity. It’s a shame that so many people still haven’t seen the show, because when “Weeds” is at its absolute best, it’s one of the finest comedies on television. Season Three might not be the greatest gauge of its potential, but even with its flaws, it's still better than most network shows. Here’s hoping the next season will offer a clean slate, because though it may be a little early to begin talking reinvention, it really couldn’t come at a better time.
Special Features: Showtime has always been better than HBO about including special features on their TV-DVD box sets, and the season three release of “Weeds” is no different. Highlighting the three-disc set are eight commentary tracks with the cast and crew, seven trivia tracks on the remaining episodes, and a gag reel. Also included is a brief look at Justin Kirk’s three-season journey (“Uncle AWOL”), a short interview with Mary-Kate Olsen, a behind-the-scenes promo about Randy Newman’s cover of “Little Boxes,” and a series of hit-and-miss episodes of Shane’s fake public access show, “Good Morning Agrestic.”