In a prim Californian suburb, looking much like those in the Brady Bunch or Desperate Housewives, Nancy Botwin, played by Mary Louise-Parker, is trying to get by. Any similarity with any other show ends there.
I didn’t get it when I watched it as a non-widow. Maybe I was expecting Mary Louise-Parker to be playing her character, Amy Gardner, from The West Wing. Weeds is much, much badder than The West Wing.
Despite the name, this is not a show about drug-fuelled escapism. Quite the opposite. Nancy meets her ever-evolving reality head on. If the least disruptive way of maintaining her family’s lifestyle after the sudden death of her husband, is to sell marijuana, then she will do that. If defending her income means evading law enforcement then she accepts the challenge. And if her new line of work means dealing with a very different type of colleague and competitor then she takes a deep breath and gets on with it.
She is never fearless, despite the wisecracks. She quakes, occasionally cries, but she is pragmatic.
We see the attempts of her frenemy, Celia, to walk over her and the bitchy neighbourhood women to criticise and condescend to her but she clutches an iced coffee with straw as if it were holding her up and she does whatever has to be done.
The husbands of her fellow PTA-attendees are her dopey clients and allies. There is much humour in the form of Nancy’s delinquent brother-in-law, who moves in with the family. And privileged white people are always the butt of the joke with their Latin American employees and Nancy’s African American suppliers.
The show is not sentimental about her situation. In a conversation between Nancy’s suppliers, about Nancy’s son seeing his dad die, one says:
“That would fuck a kid up.”
To which the other replies,
“You show me who ain’t fucked up.”
When Celia tries to quote something that implies the way Nancy is handling her children’s grief is wrong, Nancy cuts her off with:
“Celia I had no idea you read books!”
I should own up here that I’ve only watched four out of the eight series. But partly this is because I’ve watched season one three times.
We know that the death of a partner breaks the parameters of what seems possible and acceptable. And that this shift requires us to see the world differently and bring forward aspects of ourselves that we might not have used before and now need to depend upon for basic survival. Most widowed people experience this to some degree. As penned by Jenji Kohan, creator of Orange Is The New Black, Nancy Botwin has even more than her fair share of these things but her sardonic affability and newbie vulnerability make her the most watchable widow in box set land.
words by Caz4Cromarty
[First published in issue 7, June 2015]