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WEEDS: SEASON FOUR (Showtime)
(Mondays at 10:00/9:00c starting tonight)
The network's description: "Produced by Lionsgate in association with Tilted Productions, WEEDS stars Parker in her Golden Globe(R)-winning portrayal of Nancy Botwin, a suburban mom who turns to dealing marijuana to make ends meet after her husband dies unexpectedly. Last season, viewers saw Nancy venture from hesitant but determined toe-dipper in the unpredictable waters of drug dealing to confident, full-fledged queen-pin entrepreneur. But with each promotion on the crime ladder, the danger and threat to her family has increased exponentially, especially with her son Silas now in the family business. In the third season's cliffhanger, Agrestic and the neighboring mega-church community Majestic, along with Nancy's customer base, were hit by wildfires and were rapidly burning to the ground, along with the Botwin home."
What did they leave out: Tonye Patano (Heylia James), Romany Malco (Conrad Shepard) and Andy Milder (Dean Hodes) have all been dropped as series regulars.
The plot in a nutshell: On the run following the events of last season's finale, Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker), Silas (Hunter Parrish), Shane (Alexander Gould) and Andy (Justin Kirk) opt to hide out at Andy's grandmother's house in Del Mar. There they are surprised to learn that Andy's estranged father Lenny (Albert Brooks) has been using it to crash while "Bubby" rots away in a vegetative state. And it's far from a joyous family reunion - Lenny, still the sad sack gambler from Andy's youth, blames Nancy for diluting his family's gene pool by marrying the late Judah not to mention Andy for his current misfortune after he pocketed the money for what would have turned out to be a $20,000 wager to buy a Boba Fett action figure when he was a kid. Nevertheless, said wounds aren't big enough that a couple hundred dollars won't make a few days amicable. Meanwhile back in Agrestic, Celia (Elizabeth Perkins) finds herself taking the fall for Nancy's illegal enterprises as Andy, Doug (Kevin Nealon), Isabelle (Allie Grant) and Sanjay (Maulik Pancholy) are more than willing to point the finger in her direction. As for the business, Nancy is tasked by her on-again/off-again partner Guillermo (Guillermo Diaz) to help him smuggle drugs across the border - with "surprising" results.
What works: Those worried about the show's shift in locale, cast and (apparently) theme song can exhale a bit - this is still very much the "Weeds" they've grown to know and love. Whether it's the comic banter of the latest drug lord's underlings, the out-of-nowhere dramatic twists or even Nancy's insatiable love of iced lattes, all the show's staples are here. It's definitely a credit to the cast and crew that so much of the show's narrative has changed and yet so much of the central core appeal of the show remains intact. Albert Brooks likewise proves to be a fun addition, as he amusingly refers to Nancy as Francy, the name of the nice optometrist girl he thought Judah should have married; horrifies Andy during Bubby's latest diaper change; and provides some interesting color to the Botwin family history.
What doesn't: And yet despite all of said changes, additions and subtractions, it's not quite the "new gear" I'm sure the show was hoping to find. ("We had played out the whole suburbia thing," notes executive producer Roberto Benabib in the screener's press materials. "It was fun, but with so many other shows covering the topic on television today, we wanted to explore fresher and more timely issues.") Nancy is still relearning the same lessons over and over about her "career" path (there's a reason "surprising" is in quotes above), all despite the increasing danger to herself and her family. Andy is still resident jokester (he'll brag about the latest bathroom graffiti he discovered) slash selfish coward (he'll tell Silas he's lucky he doesn't have a dad after a fight with his own) slash puppy dog (he'll admit that Judah once showed him naked pictures of her). That, coupled with some odd plot holes (Nancy tells everyone they can't stay at a hotel due to their potential wanted status and yet she goes ahead and crosses the Mexico border - with only her driver's license) and the loss of the "isn't this funny it's in suburbia" irony, makes it feel like the edges are starting fray. In any case, I'm still hopeful for the next 11 episodes...
The bottom line: ...to prove me wrong.