Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Weeds: The Injustice of Premium Cable

Sorry I’ve been gone for the last week and a half. I’ve been doing research. I’m now officially caught up on Friday Night Lights, Weeds, In Plain Sight (thanks, Sophie!), and Pushing Daisies. And believe me, I’ve got something to say about all of ‘em. Anyway, this is a blog I’ve wanted to write for a long time.

As a longtime Emmy enthusiast and devotee of all things peacock, I’ve spent many an Emmy Sunday disappointed that my favorites lost to a pay-cable series. Edie Falco, Rachel Griffiths, Sarah Jessica Parker…these women were on my shit list for a long time. In fact, I still hold a slight grudge against them. Although I have come to appreciate Sex and the City through TBS reruns, I still cringe when I recall SJP’s Golden Globe win one year (she took that award four times), in which she adjusted her breasts on the walk up to accept her statuette. And Rachel Griffiths is one of the reasons why I just can’t tolerate Brothers and Sisters.

In my mind, I worked to explain these horrific injustices.

My biggest complaint about the Emmys was—and continues to be—that premium cable series were included in the competition in the first place. With shorter seasons, bigger budgets, and freedom from the FCC, I have always felt that comparing Sex and the City to Friends is a serious case of apples and oranges.

Part of what’s so amazing about network television is that so many series manage to crank out 22 or 24 episodes every year. It takes awesome creative energy to get that done, and, yeah, I imagine it’d be ridiculously mind-blowing if all of Lost’s budget and all of Darlton’s brainpower was crammed into an eight-episode season. But, to me, an eight-episode season is a miniseries.

Then there’s the whole thing about how premium cable isn’t under the confines of the Federal Communications Commission or family-friendly advertisers; thus, its characters can curse, commit excessive acts of violence, and have graphic sex with each other. It’s a freedom that HBO and Showtime series are more than happy to take advantage of.

Premium cable television series are an entirely different animal from network series, in my opinion. And it frustrates me to see network series get schooled at the Emmys while they’re at such an obvious disadvantage.

So while I was sitting around bitching about The Sopranos and Six Feet Under beating the crap out of Alias, I was also decidedly not watching premium cable. I protested.

I protested until one of my favorite actresses decided to get herself a series on premium cable.

Why couldn’t Mary-Louise Parker have just taken Teri Hatcher’s role on Desperate Housewives?

Anyway, I originally tuned in to Weeds because of her. I’ve grown to love some of the other characters—Shane, Dean, Conrad, and I loved that crazy girl Kat—but my tether to Weeds is little more than MLP herself.

It’s the first premium cable show of which I’ve seen the entirety. There’s cursing, drug use, lots of sex, and I have to say…I was right.

Weeds only shows cursing and graphic sex because it can.

I mean, seriously.

First of all, the sex rarely involves the characters we really care about. MLP has a no-nudity clause in her contract (as did SJP on Sex and the City), which you’d think would preclude dirty sex. But no. If producers can’t get it from the leading ladies, they’ll just default to the supporting cast.

Cynthia Nixon and Elizabeth Perkins have been shown completely naked more times than I can count.

I’m not being prudish and saying that sex is always unnecessary on television. Sex furthers the romantic storyline of the characters we know and love. But most of the sex they’re showing on Weeds isn’t, you know, Nancy and Conrad.

Last season on Weeds, there was a whole subplot involving Andy getting a job catering on the set of a porn film. This subplot did absolutely nothing to advance the storyline. They showed a LOT of naked people—scratch that, naked women—and it was totally useless to the show at large.

I seriously think it’s a case of writers sitting around wondering how they can use their pay-cable freedom next, when they should be sitting around wondering how they can create quality television. It’s not even “pushing the envelope” anymore, because it’s nothing that hasn’t been seen or done before. It’s just gratuitous.

I will confess that I doubt Weeds is of the caliber that Six Feet Under was. I mean, one has Peter Krause and the other has Kevin Nealon—you do the math. Weeds isn’t making off with loads of Emmys. I’m not generalizing in that respect, but I am generalizing the pay-cable folks as far as their use of excessively graphic sex.

Okay, so that’s not my only problem with Weeds right now.

Having just watched the third season, I’m falling out of love with Nancy Botwin.

Yeah, she finally got herself a “real job,” but nobody took it very seriously.

Here’s the thing. In the beginning of the show, she kept saying that she was a temporary drug dealer. It was supposed to get her back on her feet. Remember how she hoped to eventually make her cover business her real business?

Not so anymore.

If I was a temporary drug dealer and my frienemy drowned all my pot in my pool, or my drug lord crime boss died, or I got $110,000 after my DEA husband died, I’d think, “Hallelujah! I can stop being a temporary drug dealer!”

Instead of seeing opportunities to get out of the business, Nancy dug herself deeper and deeper with every crisis. My mom had a problem with Weeds from the beginning, believing Nancy to be putting her kids in unnecessary danger week after week, and I find myself coming to the same conclusion at this point. We see her struggle momentarily with bringing Silas into the business, but it’s a short-lived angst.

I’m only partly intrigued to see what lies in store for the Botwins in Mexico. I mean, as long as we’re talking about opportunities to change your life, how about now? Maybe I’ve been watching too much In Plain Sight in the last few days, but I’m pretty sure Nancy could strike a sweet witness protection deal, turning over Guillermo (drug lord and starter of the damn wildfire!) in exchange for a quiet life in Pittsburgh. She’s not going to change, though. She’s going to become an even bigger deal dealer in Mexico.

And that’s dumb.

Premium cable is not of a higher quality than network television. Both media have their strengths; both have their weaknesses. I’ll continue to contend that we should go back to Emmys and CableACE Awards, and until then, I’ll bitch and moan when pay-cable takes home statues. And with Weeds not offering much except for nudity and drug use, I think I’m done with it. I’ll catch up with Mary-Louise Parker later.

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