As the sixth season of Showtime's half hour dramedy "Weeds" kicked off last week, the series ushered in a new adventure as drug-dealer/Mom Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) was forced to deal with the repercussions of her son Shane (Alexander Gould) having committed murder in last season's finale. What will Nancy do as the season unfold? First, she flees (of course!) along with Shane, son Silas (Hunter Parrish), her newborn infant and brother-in-law Andy (Justin Kirk) with the plan of wiping clean their identities and starting fresh and new to save their lives. To find out how things will unfold as the bad guys begin sniffing around to find their hidden trail, our Jim Halterman rang up Executive Producer Roberto Benabib to talk not only about the dark direction of young Shane but also how the show has evolved from its origins in suburbia and how upcoming guest stars like Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Richard Dreyfuss will be folded into the storyline.
Jim Halterman: From a series perspective, 'Weeds' has changed so much since it started. How have you navigated the changes in the show and still kept the heart of the show?
Roberto Benabib: With the first three seasons in Agrestic, we felt we had explored that world of suburbia as much as we wanted without repeating ourselves. The other thing we felt was that suburbia was also being dealt with on so many other shows; at the time 'Desperate Housewives' was doing it and other shows, too. We wanted to try something else so we ended up going down to Mexico. One of the things we realized was that our subject in the end wasn't so much suburbia but drugs and that led us to where it was really happening, which was Mexico. We're on Showtime with an enormous amount of creative freedom and so many shows on television find the episode that works for them and do it over and over again. We weren't under that edict so we felt we owed not only ourselves but to anyone working under creative restraints of the network or anywhere else to really explore the freedom we had and kind of change up venues when we felt one certain venue had been explored.
JH: In the season premiere, Nancy says that she still wants to have a 'normal' life but I can't imagine any of the 'Weeds' character ever being normal.
RB: I think that was empty rhetoric on her part. One of the things we know about 'Weeds' is that the Nancy that was dropped in Agrestic as a housewife and mother was not really who she was. The conceit of the show was that we were going to find out who she really was. What she started with was what she became but not who she was.
JH: How much research did you do on people who abandon their original identity and create new ones?
RB: We did an enormous amount of research on Mexico and we did a huge amount on growing marijuana and finally this season we did an enormous amount of research on losing your identity and going underground.
JH: The Shane character has obviously changed so much since the beginning. Can you talk about the choice to take his character down such a dark road?
RB: You know what? It wasn't a choice but it was where his character always was. If you go back and study the pilot you'll see a very troubled young boy. He was a boy whose friends called him 'Strange Botwin.' For us, much like Nancy, what you are going to see is the real Shane emerging. Nancy is kind of a thrill-junky dipping into the adrenaline [and] because Shane looks like Nancy he's more like a chip off the old block and they have more in common than pretty much anyone else on the show.
JH: So far in the new episodes, he hasn't had much remorse about committing murder in the season finale. Is that going to catch up to him?
RB: I think it's something that he's been able to rationalize and I think that when it catches up to him it will be when he's a little older. He's young enough to have committed the act but not to understand its full implication. A lot of people were thinking the implication would hit him immediately and what you'll see is that it hits him over the long range, not the short range.
JH: Alexander Gould and Hunter Parrish are both bringing so much to the table but did you see that in them when they started the show and were so much younger?
RB: We are overjoyed by Alexander and Hunter. They started out good but they became great and we marvel now at how good those two actors are now and how far they've come.
JH: A lot of the characters on the show, including Nancy, don't always do nice things but we always stay on their side. How do you make sure they don't go too far to alienate the viewer?
RB: You're on their side because, to a certain extent, you can relate to them. When I got interested in movies and television it was the 70s and movies like 'Five Easy Pieces' with Jack Nicholson and what you ended up doing was identifying with the actor's weaknesses and not their strength and that was really wonderful. We're not all Rocky. We're not all winners who do the right thing all the time. I think the portrayal of heroes actually does us more harm than good because it's kind of bullshit. Everyone fails so failure is more relatable than success.
JH: So far this season we've seen Alanis Morissette return as well as Linda Hamilton start appearing and then Richard Dreyfuss is coming down the pike. How do you incorporate a well-known actor into the show?
RB: The character always comes first. People tend to like the show and actors see it as a quality show so when we write a character and have our dream list, we're very fortunate that all the people on our list want to do it.
JH: What will Richard Dreyfuss be doing on the show when he appears for four episodes later in the season?
RB: He's someone from Nancy's past and he shows up again for the last four episodes. With the Richard Dreyfuss character it was more about Nancy and where she was.
JH: And what will Mark-Paul Gosselaar be doing when he guest-stars?
RB: All I can say is that he and Nancy get pretty hot and heavy. [Laughs.]
JH: Even though I miss the original titles that you did the first couple of years, do you all contribute in coming up with the titles you do now?
RB: We all go in about a third of the way in when they have to be shot and we'll just come up with a list and pick things from the actual episode that could be used. We find the best ideas on the list and shoot them. We knew that the 'Little Boxes' titles were really awesome but when we left suburbia we couldn't really use them anymore. We loved them so much that we didn't want to compete with them so we went with the idea to make them shorter and honor how great the old titles were but also to do something interesting.
JH: Whenever the series does come to an end, do you have a place where Nancy is going to end up?
RB: We do but we keep moving it. As the show continues we take where we thought everything was going to end and make it our season ender and we go on from there.
"Weeds's" sixth season is currently airing at 10:00/9:00c every Monday on Showtime.