Although HBO may be king when it comes to original programming on premium cable, rival movie channel Showtime has turned in a number of its own high-profile and critically acclaimed series over the last few years, including 'Brothers,' 'The L Word,' 'Queer as Folk,' and 'Fat Actress.' In 2005, the channel introduced a new series called 'Weeds' that was equal parts quirky family dramedy and surreal morality tale. As it prepares to launch its third season in August of 2007, the show debuts on Blu-ray with this release of the series' first ten episodes.
As the series opens, suburban housewife named Nancy (Mary Louise Parker) loses her husband to a heart attack and is hurled into a financial crisis. The debt dropped on her shoulders is seemingly insurmountable -- at least until she discovers the untapped market for marijuana in her community. The show follows this newly single mother as she works to keep her family afloat, hide her extracurricular activities from her best friend (Elizabeth Perkins), and boost pot sales among clients like her city councilman (Kevin Nealon). Along the way, she gets help from her brother-in-law (Dean Hodes), a supplier named Heylia (Tonye Patano), and Heylia's nephew (Romany Malco).
While the second season of 'Weeds' delves deeper into the dark and dangerous corners of Nancy's suburb, Season One is a lighter, more airy affair with laughs in almost every scene. Parker is actually the straight player in this comedy as she fumbles through the underbelly of her community. She handles the role perfectly, injecting an authentic disenchantment to each step of her journey.
The comedic meat of the show lies with the supporting cast. Nealon is golden for the first time since his days as a cast member on "SNL." His portrayal of councilman Wilson is hilarious. Meanwhile, Perkins is sickeningly sweet and neurotic as the uptight head of the PTA, while Malco is a reservoir of token black rage that turns that particular stereotype on its ear more than once. But the show doesn't just add quirkiness for the sake of laughs -- in reality each character is a caricature of a person in everyone's home town. While I constantly find myself chuckling at the characters on the show, I can't help but feel most of them are strangely familiar.
At a healthy 283 minutes, this first season's episodes consistently clip along and the dialogue is a treat. Admittedly, the characters don't always ring true, and for all of its idiosyncrasies, the show can be somewhat simplistic (it basically boils down to a fairy tale of a family in crisis that must be led into the light by a strong-willed mother), but even if it's a tad chiched at times, there's more than enough originality here to keep the show feeling fresh.
If you haven't seen 'Weeds,' it's certainly worth watching an episode or two from this first season to see if you enjoy the direction of the show. If you do find yourself intrigued, keep watching -- it gets progressively better as the tale unfolds (especially once it reaches its more daring second season). But I'd almost guarantee that those who make it through the first season will be hooked -- I'm personally counting the days til the arrival of its third season this August.
Presented in 1080p using the MPEG-2 codec, 'Weeds: Season One' features ten episodes that are a clear improvement over their HD broadcast counterparts. The compression artifacts that haunted every scene on TV are much better (although still occaisionally present) and the pixilated noise that filled the bright skies is gone. Colors are generally solid, stable, and well saturated -- I expected to find a stagey television palette that robbed the image of its depth in high definition, but I was pleased to see this wasn't the case. Fine object detail is sharp for the most part and the black ranges are generally nice and deep.
Unfortunately, the consistency of the presentation is another issue. The contrast levels seem to randomly spike in some scenes, the darkest shots drift into dark-gray territory, and a few scenes are duller than others (even when the lighting is the same). Even more problematic are character close-ups -- they're often great, but sometimes they're disarmingly soft. In short, while this Blu-ray is still a clear step up from the series' HD cablecast, 'Weeds: Season One' just doesn't have the impressive polish of other similar high-def television releases, and I couldn't help but be disappointed.
'Weeds: Season One' features a Dolby Digital EX 5.1 surround mix (640kbps) and a DTS 6.1 surround track. The type of DTS track used, however, is unclear. The back cover of this release lists this 6.1 mix as a DTS-HD audio track (3.0 Mbps). Independent readings on computer programs that measure realtime audio bitrate (such as PowerDVD) suggest this is correct.
That being said, the 'Weeds' audio menu labels the track as a DTS-ES 6.1 mix with a 1.5 Mbps bitrate -- a figure verified by both of my BD players bitrate readout (a standalone Sony BD player and a PS3). While we don't have a definitive answer to this discrepancy, we felt it was important to detail it for anyone noticing the same conflicting numbers.
Either way, I'm not sure why 'Weeds' needs a 6.1 track, but far be it from me to complain. The DTS and the Digital EX mixes sound nearly identical -- the only difference is that sounds are distributed across three rear channels on the DTS mix instead of two. The overall impact isn't noticeable enough to really sell the benefits of the DTS track and you'll probably only catch the difference if you have a large home theater.
As you might expect, the soundfield here is fairly subdued -- after all, this is a dialogue-driven television show -- but still it handles the audio in stride. Dialogue is clear, the soundscape is well prioritized, and the dynamics are impressive when they need to be. The show's soundtrack is where I most frequently noted the quality of the soundmix. Bass beats are thumpy, treble blasts are crisp, and the music spreads across every speaker. The only problem I had was with channel movement -- even on the 6.1 track, it's a bit choppy when sounds pan across the soundfield. The tracks could use a boost in subtlety, but hopefully that will improve in future seasons.
Porting over all of the supplements from the previous standard-def release of 'Weeds: Season One,' the sheer number of extras included on this release is certain to leave fans smiling.
First up are three hours worth of commentaries spread over six different episodes. The commentary track for "You Can't Miss the Bear" features Jenji Kohan, the creator of the series. Kohan has a lot of good information to share, but she also happens to have a newborn in the room -- what, she couldn't afford a baby sitter? Unfortunately, as is, for every great anecdote or behind-the-scenes detail, a shrill whine or cry erupts in the room. It's frustrating to say the least.
There are also another two production-centric commentaries: one that features actor Tonye Patano on "Lude Awakening" and a second track with Kohan for "The Godmother." Both tracks are packed with lots of information that fans of the show will appreciate, but they're also slightly dry and largely driven by technical details.
More entertaining are the other three commentaries. First, "Good Shit Lollipop" includes a track with a pot advisor named Craig X, who is employed by the show for his particular expertise. I could listen to this guy all day -- he's like that friend you may have had in high school that knew way too much about illegal substances, and was willing to share the craziest stories you've ever heard at the lunch table. Second, "Dead in the Nethers" has a track with Romany Malco that's both biting and revealing. His descriptions of the behind-the-scenes process of the show made it sound like everyone really has a blast during production. Finally, "The Punishment Light" showcases Kevin Nealon in all of his glory. As a fan of his "SNL" glory days, I had a grand time listening to his underhanded jokes layered with multiple levels of humor.
Next up are a series of oddly amusing featurettes. "Smokey Snippets" (3 minutes) includes quick comments with the crew, "Smoke and Mirrors" (13 minutes) is less of a "marijuana mockumentary" and more of a behind-the-scenes look at the show, while the "Showtime Original Special" (4 minutes) is basically an extended trailer for the series. Wrapping up the featurettes is a mini-doc called a "Special on Suburbia" (14 minutes) that examines the development of the suburban culture and how it evolved between the extremes of rural and urban America.
Lastly, this Blu-ray release includes a text feature called "Agrestic Herbal Recipes" (use your imagination), the "More than a Friend Music Video" (4 minutes) set to scenes from the show, and the "Showtime Original Series Shorts" (4 minutes) which is a promotional video highlighting various other original programming on the network.
'Weeds' is painfully funny, fairly unique, and gets better with every episode. The earlier episodes are slightly weaker than the later ones, but 'Weeds: Season One' is a perfect opportunity to see what the hype is all about. This Blu-ray release has a great audio package and a host of supplemental features. Its only misstep is some slight inconsistency with the video quality. Still, this presentation is a definite step up over series' HD cablecast, and its great introductory price ($29.99 list) makes it an absolute steal on Blu-ray.