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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
n my Season Three review of “Weeds,” I declared that the show was in serious need of a little reinvention, so imagine my surprise when Season Four delivered exactly that and more by shipping off the Botwin family to the Mexican border. It was a natural progression considering Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker) had just burned down her house before running from the law in the season finale, but apart from the new setting, it also allowed series creator Jenji Kohan to make up for the many shortcomings of the previous season by taking “Weeds” in a different direction. For the most part, it works, and though some might feel like Kohan reacted too soon by essentially rebooting the show after only three years, it was ultimately for the better.
The Botwins may only be a hop, skip and a jump away from Tijuana, but they’ve technically relocated to Renmar, California, where they hope to set up camp at the house of Judah and Andy’s grandmother. When they arrive, however, Nancy discovers that her father-in-law, Lenny (Albert Brooks), has already beaten them to the punch. And though Lenny would rather not help the woman he believes caused the rift in his relationship with Judah in the first place, he allows them to stay. Nancy’s master plan is bigger than just finding a new home, though, and before long, she’s working for Guillermo (Guillermo Díaz) – first as a drug trafficker, and then as manager of a maternity store. Of course, there’s more to her job than just selling clothes to pregnant women – the shop is also a front for an underground tunnel to Mexico that allows her employers to move anything (drugs, guns, women) across the border.
While Nancy continues to get deeper and deeper in trouble, her friends and family try to start new lives of their own. Andy (Justin Kirk) and Doug (Kevin Nealon) launch a coyote business; Silas (Hunter Parrish) hooks up with the mother (Julie Bowen) from next door; and Celia (Elizabeth Perkins) agrees to narc on Nancy for the DEA after she’s left shouldering the blame for the grow house. It's Celia's subplot that gets the most attention of all the supporting characters (which is strange, since her move down south feels the most forced of the group), but Justin Kirk remains the show's most valuable player. Whenever the story becomes too serious, Kirk is called on to lighten the mood.
Also delivering great comic support are Guillermo Díaz (Romany Malco’s unofficial replacement) and Albert Brooks, who brings a nice dynamic to the Botwin household – though Diaz is hardly around for the second half of the season and Brooks is gone for good by Episode Five. Still, the key to the show’s success has always been the writing, and it’s as crisp and funny as ever. Though there are some pretty dark subplots throughout the season (Alexander Gould’s Shane masturbating to naked photos of his mother comes to mind), dark is what “Weeds” does best. Though it never quite reaches “Rescue Me”-type heights, Showtime’s flagship series continues to deftly blend comedy with drama, and though last year’s frustrating season could have very well marked the beginning of the end for the show, Kohan has smartly evolved “Weeds” into a completely new beast; one that raises the stakes without looking like it’s trying too hard.
Special Features: Continuing in the tradition of the previous seasons, the three-disc box set is loaded with bonus material like audio commentaries (though you should probably avoid the ones featuring creator Jenji Kohan), a gag reel, and a short featurette where the cast and crew discuss the major changes in the new season (“Burbs to Beach”). Other extras include interviews with child actors about growing up on set (“I’m a Big Kid Now”), production design featurettes on Bubbie’s House and the Mexico sets, and a montage of the new title sequences with commentary by Kohan (“Little Titles”).