Pubdate: Tue, 09 Aug 2005
Source: Mail and Guardian (South Africa)
Copyright: Mail & Guardian, 2005
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


A smartly-dressed young mother, the head of the healthy children's 
committee, stands before the parent-teacher association to demand that 
fizzy drinks be removed from the school vending machines.

Moments later she is negotiating a deal to buy a large quantity of 
marijuana to sell to teenagers and their parents.

Welcome to Weeds, the latest sitcom to delve into the dark side of American 
suburbia. But where Desperate Housewives deals with the fantasy of life and 
death in a gated community, Weeds, set in the fictional Californian town of 
Agrestic, sticks closer to the real world -- and is likely to make 
conservative America seethe.

The main character is Nancy Botwin, whose husband dropped dead while out 
jogging with their eight-year-old son. To keep herself in the manner to 
which she has become accustomed Nancy turns to one of the oldest 
professions in the world: drug dealing.

Weeds, which premiered in the US on the cable channel Showtime at the 
weekend and will be the centrepiece of Sky One's autumn season, is the 
brainchild of Jenji Kohan.

"I pitched it as suburban widow, pot-dealing mom," she told critics in Los 
Angeles. For the writer, who has worked on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, 
Friends, and Sex and the City, it was an opportunity to deal with "grey 
areas, because I had been working in black and white for so long".

While Weeds obeys the conventions of the US sitcom, it is far edgier than 
the complacent high-gloss universe of Desperate Housewives. The tone is set 
with the opening credits, as suburban stereotypes go about their daily 
business -- jogging, getting a latte, driving the SUV -- to the strains of 
veteran folk singer Malvina Reynolds's tribute to suburban dystopia, Little 

"I just thought it was kind of unapologetically dark and the morality of it 
was skewed from the beginning, so you can't necessarily make judgements on 
the characters," said Mary-Louise Parker, who plays Nancy.

The show's title has already brought it to the attention of the cultural 
watchdogs. Noting that Weeds was one of several mainstream programmes to 
feature marijuana, Steve Dnistrian of the Partnership for a Drug-Free 
America told USA Today: "These are trendsetting shows ... When 
glamourisation of drugs has climbed, changes in teen attitudes followed."

But it is the banality and pervasiveness of marijuana smoking as depicted 
in Weeds that will surely cause conservative America the most headaches.

James Baker, controller of Sky One, suspects that Weeds is closer to the 
truth, and closer to home, than we may acknowledge. To accompany the 
programme, Sky is broadcasting a documentary on what it terms "marijuana 
mums" titled Stoned in Suburbia.

Weeds, he says, "feels like a pretty accurate satire on sterile suburban 
life, the shiny surface and the interesting things going on below.

"Marijuana is essentially decriminalised here. It will be interesting to 
see how people will pick up on it."

Although Kohan was given a free hand by the production company, Lions Gate 
TV, there was one taboo she could not break. "There was an earlier version 
where I had Shane shooting a cat, and that was the one thing. Someone said, 
'You can't kill a cat."
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