Weeds’ Series Finale: How the Botwins Overstayed their Welcome

I’d like to call bullshit on this whole show.

Yes, that was a direct line from one of the characters in the Weeds series finale, “It’s Time.” And yes, the same could be applied to the series finale itself.

After spending eight years with the Botwin family, one would expect the final hour to amount to some sense of closure. A sense of revelation. A sense of catharsis. A sense of something. But no, in typical late-season Weeds fashion, the series finale was nothing more than wild, messy leaps of logic and implausibility, wrapped up in a winking cleverness, that led up to… what exactly? This unsatisfying journey simply wasn’t worth it in the end. So much of “It’s Time” just didn’t work, that the elements that could have created an emotional impact, became swallowed up in a narrative mess.

The time jump roughly eight years into a future where marijuana was legal and Nancy Botwin was now a successful businesswoman may have seemed like a sweepingly clever gesture on paper, but in execution, it did little to anchor the series into its final hour. Rather than reflect on the past eight seasons, the leap forward created more gaps in narrative logic than it cared to fill in, which the show then proceeded to tidily clean up. Just like in any of the recent seasons of Weeds, the reset button was pushed yet again.

The conceit of this time jump gave easy and illogical excuses for many characters to make a final inexplicable appearance at Stevie Botwin’s bar mitzvah. Just how necessary was it for Dean Hodes to show up yet again and give news that Isabelle Hodes had undergone a sex change? (UGH.) Why did Nancy’s attempted assassin, Tim Scottson, become Nancy’s personal assistant? Who cares about all the children sired by Sanjay and Clinique? These character callbacks felt unearned and perfunctory. And speaking of the time jump, all the references to the future (hologram cell phones! high carb diets! automatic dry cleaning!) were embarrassingly undercooked and uninspired.

Looking at the players in the finale, the weakest link was, hands down, Doug Wilson. Doug is simply the worst aspect of Weeds, and the finale did nothing to change my mind otherwise. Why the show insisted on keeping this useless character around after season five is beyond me, and the final hour failed to answer this question for me. His antics were shoehorned into painfully unfunny side stories, such as his dealings with Vehement Capital Partners or his makeshift homeless shelter. Doug’s weekly crass sex jokes and irritatingly stupid behavior built up to him creating a successful cult?! Give me a break! There was no character development here to speak of, and for goodness’ sake, we didn’t even get to see the conversation between Doug and his estranged son, Josh (who we haven’t seen since the pilot episode) that led to their reconciliation. This storyline related to the finale’s heavy-handed theme of fathers and sons, but was disconnected to Doug’s behavior previous in the season. Once again, Doug was forcibly injected into the narrative when all he amounted to was dumb dead weight.

All of this attention paid to Doug Wilson, what felt like one-fourth of the finale, could have been better spent focused on an actual Botwin member. Poor Shane Botwin. After he killed Pilar and the show spent its fifth season exploring his lack of remorse and his fierce devotion to his mother, Shane’s storylines in the final two seasons never fully lived up to these potentials. Shane became increasingly removed from the Botwin core, spending very little time in the final season with the Botwin clan, instead spending his time marginalized with the caricatured corrupt cop Ouellette. Unfortunately, Alexander Gould had none of the charisma to sell this dud of a storyline, as his acting tools consisted than no more than a furrowed brow here, and a creepy stare there. By the time Nancy and Shane shared a seemingly heartfelt moment in the finale, with Nancy confronting her son about his alcoholism, it became painfully obvious that these two hadn’t spent any significant amount of time together in a long time. Their relationship became as unfamiliar and out-of-place as Gould’s mustache.

What did work well in “It’s Time” was the resolution of Silas’ character arc, or rather, his series of character stops and starts. Having finally come into his own as an adult, Silas asserted his independence from his mother, not out of spite or vengeance, but out of the natural extension of experiencing a life outside the Botwin home with his wife, Megan. The scene between Silas and his mother reflects maturity from his character that actually felt earned and one that the audience could respect. Kudos to Hunter Parrish on delivering the right amount of gravitas that Silas has accumulated throughout the years. The time jump served the character the best out of everyone, allowing space for character growth scarcely seen on Weeds.

As for Andy and Nancy, I actually admired that Weeds kept these two characters apart for all these years (in so far as “all these years” translates to half an hour). Nancy’s void left by Andy was palpable and were the only clear and high enough stakes the series managed to care about in its final hour. This gap felt by both Nancy and the audience paid off beautifully in the final scene between Mary-Louise Parker and Justin Kirk. Nancy finally learned that she needed to start life anew and truly find herself, separate from the men in her life: from her son Silas, who now has Megan; from her son Shane, who will check into rehab; from her son Stevie, who will go off to boarding school; and from Andy, who gave her the space she needed, telling her it’s “time for you to face yourself.”

What disheartened me the most is that Weeds grossly overstayed its welcome, a commonly-shared view, and this final hour did nothing to show why it was kept on the air for so long after its creative juices dried up. After the first two buzzworthy seasons of this Showtime hit, Jenji Kohan and her writers kept reaching unsuccessfully and outlandishly for new scenarios for Nancy Botwin to escape using her feminine wiles. And after a while, every joke, every new setting, every season felt uninspired and retread.

I will always assert that the season six finale would have been the perfect series finale: Nancy taken into custody, finally paying for actions, while her family leaves the country, open to the possibilities of a life with Nancy. It was the highest stakes and the most emotionally charged the series ever was in its eight year history.

But alas, we will have to settle for the warm, if not tired, image of the Botwins (plus dead weight Doug) sitting together as a family, as the white snow leaves a crisp, clean finish around them. The final tableau posits that the characters of the Botwin family, in spite of the numerous repeated implausible scenarios they encountered, were the beating heart of the series. But when the characters’ potentials are wasted in pointless journeys with little payoff, what is the legacy of the series as a whole?

If anything, the closing song embracing a full-circle moment to the pilot, Rilo Kiley’s “With Arms Outstretched,” was gangbusters.

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Sorry-Grateful: Desperate Housewives To End May 2012

I know what you’re thinking: “Desperate Housewives is still on the air?!”

Once you find out the answer is “Yes,” you immediately ask, “Who’s still watching that show?”

The answer to that query would be that last year’s seventh season averaged 11.9 million viewers, a far cry from its 23.7 million viewers in its first season back in 2004/05. So that audience of Desperate Housewives would consist of all those millions of viewers. And me.

This past Friday, ABC announced that Desperate Housewives would end this upcoming May, after eight seasons. Eight seasons of high drama, low slapstick, cat fights, and an ever-rotating line-up of lovers for Bree Mason/Van de Camp/Hodge. Eight seasons of  supermarket shootouts, tornadoes, crowded club fires, plane crashes, and neighborhood riots (and that’s just for November sweeps). Eight seasons of episodes titles inspired by Stephen Sondheim songs and lyrics (hence this post’s title, drawn from Company).

The cast of "Desperate Housewives"

Anecdotally, it would seem that those who once tuned into this soapy series gave up at one point or another. Even I sat out on the latter half of season three, when Mad Men’s Roger wooed Eva Longoria to win the Hispanic vote on his quest to become mayor of the Eagle State. (Where does Desperate Housewives take place, anyway?) And to be sure, Desperate Housewives will never again be the cultural zeitgeist it once was. I still remember the Good Morning America segment airing after the eighth episode of the series, after a worn-out Lynette experiences a mommy meltdown and fantasies about killing herself due to the stresses of motherhood.

But something in the series still strikes a chord even today. How many television series can we point to that feature an ensemble of seemingly well-rounded female characters? And how many series have attempted and failed at recreating Desperate Housewives’ signature blend of zingy, sassy one-liners (cue Eva Longoria!), tense and often violent crises, and heart-wrenching emotional moments? That is Desperate Housewives at its effortless best: pure campy fun.

Before we look to the show’s future, I’d like to quickly look back and acknowledge a strength of its past. I think it’s fair to say that a majority of Desperate Housewives’ emotional weight lies squarely on the shoulders of Tom and Lynette Scavo. Perhaps it’s the every-couple aspect to Tom and Lynette Scavo that so resonates with the audience and has become the emotional cornerstone of the series. Perhaps it’s that Emmy Award-nominated Felicity Huffman acts the hell out of her dramatic pleas and confrontations. I will always consider one of the show’s shining moments to be in the fourth season finale. Tom confronts a cold-footed Bob and Lee on the merits of commitment, and in the process reaffirms his love for his wife. That despite a tornado tearing up their home, a secret lovechild, cancer, and everything else the show has thrown at them, nothing can tear them apart. I may or may not have shed a tear during this incredibly moving speech.

Now onto the upcoming season wherein Tom and Lynette have since split. (Oh, the perils of long-running serialized television!) I must admit, before the news that this would be the final season, I had my reservations about returning Desperate Housewives to my weekly rotation. At the Television Critics Association press tour this past weekend, showrunner Marc Cherry stated:

I wanted to go out when the network still saw us as a viable show and doing well in ratings. I’ve worked in TV for 23 years and I’m very aware of shows that overstay their welcome. I wanted to go out in the classiest way possible… Harder than creating a hit show is knowing when to end it, especially when you have such an amazing cast.

And just like that, I am returning to Wisteria  Lane one final time this fall. I was reeled back in: hook, line, and sinker. Bravo, Cherry and ABC.

True to form, there will certainly be a fair number of intriguing mysteries worth investigating in this farewell season:

  • Will Tom and Lynette reconcile and get back together?
  • Will Desperate Housewives see a ratings boost? While this is the final season, the series faces a formidable time-slot opponent in CBS’ The Good Wife.
  • Will there be a new ABC series to take the soapy reigns once Desperate Housewives leaves the tv landscape? Calling Good Christian Bitches Good Christian Belles G.C.B.!
  • Will Brenda Strong (Mary Alice) win an Emmy for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance? Yes, Desperate Housewives is nominated in a category long-dominated by animated series.
  • And most important of all, will Vanessa Williams get a halfway-decent story line?

Women, and Pratfalls, and Gays! Oh, My! A Farewell to infoMania

infoMania, Current’s long-running satire of news and pop culture, ended its tv reign this past week.

I’d like to pay tribute to infoMania by sharing some of my all-time favorite segments from “Target Women,” “That’s Gay,” and “Viral Video Film School.”

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TARGET WOMEN

“Target Women,” hosted by Sarah Haskins, focused on how marketing and mass media shamelessly pander to women.

This particular segment skewers skin care commercials, demonstrating how commercials use visual representations of science (Molecules! Microscopes!) and complex-sounding science-y jargon (Collagen biospheres!) in order to obtain a position of truth and authority. (We sound smart, so you can trust us! Buy our skin products!)

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THAT’S GAY

Bryan Safi’s “That’s Gay” explored gay issues and stereotypes as they are portrayed by the clueless media.

In the following feature, also centered around tv ads, Bryan dissects the use of homosexuality as a punchline and the subtle and not-so-subtle ways major companies create “separate but equal” commercials.

Sometimes, all it takes is one word to make something acceptable versus terrifying… Saying “honey” is like saying “strap it on and stick it in my p*ssy, you lez.”

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VIRAL VIDEO FILM SCHOOL

“Viral Video Film School,” hosted by Brett Erlich, celebrated the very best and the very worst of viral videos.

Below, Professor Brett Erlich teaches you about the dos and don’ts on selling yourself, in a segment showcasing the worst demo reels.

You mean anyone’s who’s test-driven a Coupe de Ville in the Bay Area has talked to a salesperson whose boss attended an event you hosted?!?!

And who doesn’t love epic stunt fails?! Srsly.

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Thank you for all the thought-provoking laughs, infoMania.