The opening of Weeds makes me want to scream. Sing-songy lyrics croon about ”boxes made of ticky-tacky…and they all look just the same” as joggers, coffee seekers, commuters — all eerily identical — wend their way through a tidy, lifeless suburb. Ironic, isn’t it, that commentaries on conformity are always set in the same pastel-y suburbs? If a writer (in this case, creator Jenji Kohan, whose credits include Will & Grace) wants to tout diversity, freethinking, and uniqueness, shouldn’t she do some freethinking herself, drop the Olive Garden jokes, and not set her series in a suburb? It’d be nice to see a satire on joyless homogeneity set among, say, vintage-T-shirted New York hipsters who flock to Starbucks and quote Dave Eggers to each other. Just a thought.

That said, Weeds is a dozen times more creative than its opening credits. Suburban California mom Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) is left with two kids to raise after her husband drops dead of a heart attack. Fairly skill-free, she discovers the only way to hold on to her McMansion, SUV, and maid is to sell pot. Between PTA meetings, she deals to the likes of soccer dad and local politician Doug (SNL‘s Kevin Nealon, playing it straight quite handily), who’s also her wily accountant. The series — which boasts directors like Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) — makes the most of this dichotomy. Nancy runs straight from lobbying against sugary drinks at her kids’ school to squabbling with her tart, grandmotherly supplier (Tonye Patano) over a Baggie of dope.

When not dealing or parenting, she chats with her catty friend, Celia (Elizabeth Perkins…you’ve been missed!). Celia is the type of pissed-off housewife who’s launched a thousand male midnight panic attacks. While she can be a bit too WASP-fabulous — torturing her pudgy daughter into dieting, avenging her husband’s infidelity with an electric razor, and spouting lines like ”I don’t like dealing with things, I much prefer to pretend they don’t exist” — Perkins is so perfectly, nastily desperate that she gets away with it.

Adding just the right amount of mischief (and testosterone) is Nancy’s debauched brother-in-law, Andy (Parker’s Angels in America co-star Justin Kirk), who floats into episode 4 wanting a wedge of the new family business. Andy plays Fun Uncle to the kids and arrives with gifts like nunchakus (for one of the boys) and a vibrator (for the lady of the house).

Emmy winner Parker always has a nice, pointy delivery — here she has de-staccatoed just enough to seem like a suddenly single, slightly sheltered suburbanite who’s actually got brains and a dose of gumption. The fact that pragmatic Nancy chooses to dabble in criminal enterprise rather than simply downsize a bit makes for a nice jab at our acquisitive American lifestyles. Think of Nancy as the newer, more pathetic Jean Valjean, stealing what’s necessary for survival. In this case, it’s no loaf of bread, but a life of luxury autos and guesthouses — excesses that, thanks to credit cards and triple mortgages, are setting a new, ridiculous, miserable standard of living.

Episode Recaps

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