Weekend Review: Weeds, Episodes, Endeavour
Like a particularly stubborn strain of kudzu, Weeds is one of those shows that seemed as if it would never go away. I bailed nearly two seasons ago, when it had drifted so far away from the subversive suburban satire of its original premise that I couldn't tell — or care — where it was heading. Weeds was a very significant show in rebranding Showtime as a serious competitor to HBO, but whatever they've been smoking lately, the fun was no longer contagious.
With Showtime's announcement that the eighth season would be its last (kicking off Sunday at 10/9c), I checked back in, hearing it was going out with a literal bang. Said bang being a gunshot that ended last season in a cliffhanger, as Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker, quirky as ever) gathered her dysfunctional brood around a Connecticut backyard in their new digs to make a toast: "Everyone's a little happy, everyone's a little miserable. It's family." At which point an unseen stalker takes aim and: Bang.
Being spoiler-averse, there's little that can be said about how the first two episodes of this season play out without giving away who got shot, who did the shooting (and why), and how this bloody incident impacts what one character calls the "before" and "after" Botwins. At least one character has a significant epiphany that "It's not right to profit from pain," but it soon becomes painfully obvious that these are still the same awful, selfish opportunists I'd banished to memory long ago. "I'm dark and dry in a crisis. You can't hold it against me. We all have our ways," says one of the bystanders, smug and proud in their self-aware misanthropy. I'm pretty sure there aren't drugs strong enough to get me to the bittersweet end of this series.
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On a somewhat happier note, Weeds is being paired with the second season of the Hollywood send-up Episodes (expanding to nine episodes, airing at 10:30/9:30c), which continues to tickle the ugly underbelly of a TV industry that continues to churn out hopelessly wretched sitcom flotsam like last season's Work It — a fairly apt parallel to the rotten show-within-a-show that causes all of Episodes' characters such grief. Episodes' first season was a gas, as married British writers Sean and Beverly (deliciously droll Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig) are wooed to the States to adapt their award-winning comedy about a portly British schoolmaster, which to their horror is mutated into a comeback vehicle for Matt LeBlanc (doing a daringly unsparing and disarmingly beguiling version of himself), who becomes a high-school hockey coach in a piece of retro claptrap titled Pucks.
Watching things go to hell was great fun. Being stuck in sitcom hell turns out to be a bit more trying, as the story picks up four months later when Pucks opens to deceptively strong numbers which quickly plummet — trounced by a talking-dog comedy (not to be confused with Wilfred) the network passed on, to the eternal chagrin of the venal entertainment boss (John Pankow, egged on to new depths of depraved vulgarity that grow quickly tiresome).
This is a world where when an exec tells you "not to worry," you know to worry. And as the desperation grows, Episodes regains its comic balance, asking not only if the show can be saved or is worth saving (doubtful), but also wondering if there's hope for the marriage of Sean and Beverly, shattered by Beverly's drunken and misbegotten tryst with Matt in last season's finale. (To Matt, who begins a surprising new affair as the season opens, he can't believe they can't get past it, trying to win them back with shiny new cars.)
The show feels much cruder this season, especially anything involving the network and its unctuous suits. The Brits-out-of-water are better company, as they struggle to keep making a show they despise in a company town they don't respect, all while dancing around the mutual attraction they can't deny. (Why aren't they making that show, you might wonder.) But this season belongs to LeBlanc, whose frustration mounts as the network tries to make him a scapegoat for Pucks' woes: sidelining him in favor of a breakout teen with floppy bangs — "It always comes down to the (bleep)ing hair!" he cries, one of many stinging Friends references — criticizing his weight, leaning on him to score a fellow Friend for a sweeps stunt (leading to one of the series' better running gags and punch lines). "I'm not good enough for this piece of s--- show?" he rants.
Actually, Matt, you're plenty good. Good enough to have earned an Emmy nomination for last season, and to deserve another. I devoured these nine episodes in two sittings, but even so, I'd be OK if Showtime followed the British model (exemplified by Sean and Beverly) and wrapped Episodes after two seasons, instead of dragging it out like ... well ... Weeds.
AN ORIGIN STORY: Think of Endeavour (airing Sunday on PBS' Masterpiece Mystery!; check local schedules) as A Portrait of the Inspector As a Young Man. "You won't make much of a detective if you're not prepared to look death in the eye," a wizened medical examiner advises the squeamish young constable at a grisly crime scene. This affable, red-haired lad would go on to do quite well — as Oxford's renowned Inspector Endeavour Morse, immortalized by the late John Thaw as a Mystery! staple for more than a decade (living on in the exploits of his sidekick-turned-Inspector Lewis, whose next series of episodes begins next Sunday). A treat for the faithful, the prequel Endeavour is set in 1965, introducing us to Morse (Shaun Evans) as a boyish but hardly clueless constable. His affinity for crossword puzzles and opera is already well established, and it comes in handy, along with his unpretentious and impulsively aggressive nature, to solve an especially tricky and emotionally surprising case. Even if we didn't already know who he would become, it's clear this kid has a future.
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