`Weeds' is back with more grass

Showtime's quirky comedy continues its pothead version of life in the suburbs


Weeds went to pot early in its first season, and beginning next week, the dark comedy fires up for a second.

Here's to a half-hour in the suburban underworld where PTA meetings and city council elections look hilarious from an off-angle. Crime doesn't pay, except in comedy dividends. Without tempting a horde of angry letter writers, please, let's wish this soccer mom and her ganja long life.

Even for those who don't inhale, Showtime's quirky series is a guilty pleasure. The show that "puts the herb in suburb," as the slogan says, is fun but not deep.

Mary-Louise Parker is compelling as recently widowed middle-class mom Nancy Botwin. With neither job nor husband to support the family, Nancy has taken to selling marijuana to her wealthy friends in the superficially perfect, fictional but oddly credible California suburb of Agrestic.

Elizabeth Perkins is a riot as Nancy's cocktail-swilling friend Celia Hodes, head of the local PTA and hapless housewife and mother. Last season she was humiliated because she thought her daughter was fat; this season she's humiliated because she thinks her daughter might be gay. For her, keeping up appearances is a full-time job.

Kevin Nealon nails a particular stereotype as the perpetually stoned baby boomer, an accountant and city councilman who finds creative ways around doing actual work.

The uniform McMansions seem idyllic. The secrets festering inside them are not.

The winking comedy is a great escape, less soap operatic than ABC's Desperate Housewives, another series that pulls back the curtain on suburban lives.

As Weeds begins its second season Monday on Showtime, Nancy finds herself accidentally dating a DEA agent (played by Martin Donovan). Her good-for-nothing brother-in-law Andy (Justin Kirk of Angels in America) is trying to get into rabbinical school to avoid being deployed to Iraq with his Army Reserve unit. Nancy's pot connection and friend, or maybe more than a friend, Conrad Shepard (rapper Romany Malco), is growing a specially designed hybrid plant; Conrad's mom Heylia James (Tonye Patano), a bigger dealer, has forbidden him to talk to Nancy, hoping to freeze her out of the business. And Celia has decided to run for city council against Doug Wilson (Nealon).

Nancy's financial state remains the same: She needs to sell pot to make ends meet. That supposedly excuses the central character's illicit behavior.

The goal, according to series creator Jenji Kohan (Tracey Takes On), is to explore the gray areas in the lives of Americans behind the manicured lawns and impeccable exteriors of modern suburbia. Despite well-appointed appearances, the interior lives are empty. Morality is relative. And etc., etc., as we've learned from Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives), Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) and other cultural anthropologists.

Kohan adds the woman's perspective to this dissection of life, not to mention some pointers about underground commerce. Nancy's conversations with the maid are priceless.

Zooey Deschanel (Almost Famous) joins the cast in this season's final three episodes as Uncle Andy's highly disturbed ex-girlfriend. And Snoop Dogg plays himself in an episode, recording a song about marijuana.

Showtime doesn't get the spotlight the way HBO does. But the network is putting forward some interesting new work (Brotherhood and Sleeper Cell) and deserves a look.

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