Release Date: June 2, 2009
3 ½ ½
Starring: Mary-Louise Parker, Elizabeth Perkins, Hunter Parrish, Alexander Gould, Allie Grant, with Justin Kirk and Kevin Nealon, and guest appearances by Albert Brooks and Andy Milder
Series Created and Executive Produced by Jenji Kohan
Weeds: Season Four is a 3-disc DVD collection of the Showtime dark comedy starring Mary-Louise Parker as suburban mother Nancy Botwin, who traffics in marijuana, and is now branching out into all sorts of new ideas. For the fourth season, the series is essentially restarted as the suburban environment of the prior three years is now reduced to ashes as a result of the fire helpfully set by Nancy’s new associate in crime. Nancy and the series are now relocated to a beachside town near the Mexican border, thus opening up new plotlines on both sides of the line. Some of the supporting cast has returned to follow Nancy down south, including Kevin Nealon as Doug Wilson and Elizabeth Perkins' busybody character of Celia. As a nice touch, the season begins with Celia finding herself in jail in Nancy’s place when everyone fingers her for last year’s dealings. Given the change in scenery, the trademark “Little Boxes” opening is only seen in the first episode (with an appropriately fiery presentation), and is then replaced with a series of clever title presentations where the series name will appear on a border highway sign, a gift basket, a packet of pudding, etc. The series continues to demonstrate strong writing, directing and acting. And the inclusion of Albert Brooks as Nancy’s dead husband’s father is an inspired touch. He’s only in four episodes, but he pretty much steals each one.
As with last year, Lionsgate has released the fourth season on both standard definition and Blu-ray. This review only covers the standard definition release, but don’t let that dissuade you. As with the third season, this release is reasonably loaded with special features, including commentaries, a gag reel, and multiple featurettes. And then there’s the 13 episodes, which receive sparkling transfers. (For some reason, season 4 runs two episodes and almost 30 minutes shorter than season 3...) There’s not quite as much as the prior season, in that there are no subtitle trivia tracks this time around, but there’s still plenty of material.
As with my earlier series reviews, I will take the discs in order, detailing what episodes and features can be found on each. THERE ARE SPOILERS HERE, in the interest of letting fans of the series know where they can see key developments.
This disc contains the first five episodes of the season:
“mother thinks the birds are after her” – The season opener establishes the new locale for the series and introduces Albert Brooks’ degenerate gambler Lenny, who also happens to be Andy and Nancy’s dead husband’s father. Ostensibly, the family has headed down to this house to live off the largesse of Andy’s grandmother Bubbie, only to find her pretty much on her deathbed with Lenny supposedly looking after her between gambling binges. Back in the ashes of Agrestic, Celia’s attempt to inform on Nancy backfires when everyone else tells DEA Agent Hill it was Celia’s grow house. This episode features a scene-specific commentary by series creator Jenji Kohan.
“lady’s a charm” – Nancy makes her first run for her new boss, Guillermo, driving over the border and then doing the worst possible job of trying to get back through the border checkpoint. At the same time, Celia winds up in jail.
“the whole blah damn thing” – Nancy starts to get the hang of working for Guillermo, while the family debates what to do about Bubbie’s unfortunate outburst. And Celia gets released from jail by Agent Hill, under the condition that she follow Nancy down to Ren Mar and gather information about Guillermo’s operation and Nancy’s part in it.
“three coolers” – The aftermath of the Bubbie situation comes into play here, and Celia gets caught spying on Guillermo. The opening sequence of the seven days of Shiva, including the party crashing by Doug Wilson, is worth the price of admission by itself. I should also include the unfortunate moment where Nancy leaves Andy on the other side of the border in the middle of the night. This episode features a scene-specific commentary by writer Roberto Benabib.
“no man is pudding” –Andy runs afoul of coyotes and finds himself a new career, while Silas inadvertently discovers the joy of beehives while creating a grow room in Bubbie’s house. Nancy tackles the problem of both Celia and Hill, and gets a new position from Guillermo as the proprietor of a maternity store with a special bonus in the back room. This episode features a scene-specific commentary by Kevin Nealon and Justin Kirk.
Special Features –
Gag Reel - (8:26, Non-anamorphic) – A non-anamorphic gag reel is included here, starting with a full five takes of Mary-Louise Parker attempting to back up her Prius. On the final take, when it FINALLY reverses, you can hear the crew break into applause...
Trailers - Two brief non-anamorphic advertisements for SHOWTIME are presented, the first of which holds a special offer for ordering the channel, and the second of which focuses on the new Edie Falco series “Nurse Jackie”.
On the second disc, we find four more episodes, and more special features:
“excellent treasures” – Nancy dives through the floor of the back room and discovers a border tunnel, and the man running it – Esteban Reyes, who turns out to be much more than he seems (played nicely by Demian Bichir). Andy and Doug plot to be the “Jet Blue” of coyotes, and the family holds an estate sale at Bubbie’s house. This episode features a scene-specific commentary with Elizabeth Perkins and Allie Grant.
“yes i can” – Andy and Doug try to be nicer as coyotes, Shane and Isabel find revealing photos of Nancy taken by her first husband, Celia tries to fill her prescriptions south of the border, and Nancy gets her prescription filled by Esteban.
“i am the table” – Celia’s addiction grows, Silas admits what he grows, Doug and Andy get more attention for their work, and Nancy learns more about Esteban. This episode features a scene-specific commentary with Kevin Nealon and Justin Kirk.
“little boats” – Nancy confronts Shane about what he’s been doing with the photos of her, Silas continues what he’s been doing with Lisa, and Doug and Andy continue with their business. Celia’s addiction continues to spiral out of control.
Special Features –
I’m a Big Kid Now - (9:33, Anamorphic) – This is a group interview with Hunter Parrish, Alexander Gould and Allie Grant, discussing the evolution of their characters and performances as of the fourth season.
The Real Hunter Parrish - (6:02, Anamorphic) – This is a sort of extended interview with Hunter Parrish (and his puppy huskie Kanik) outside the stage. There’s nothing too deep here, in all honesty.
Tour of Bubbie’s House - (2:46, Anamorphic) – Set Decorator Julie Bolder leads a tour of the set of the new house for the fourth season, built on the same stage as the suburban home used for the first three seasons. The cast and Bolder discuss the intricacies of the new set, including things like Justin Kirk’s baby pictures being used.
Little Titles - (5:30, Anamorphic) – Jenji Kohan narrates a collection of the title sequences seen in the fourth season, beginning with the burning Agrestic of the first episode and proceeding through the various motifs seen throughout the season. Kohan’s discussion is specific to each vignette, showing how they worked in the series title and the trademark pot leaf. To my mind, this is the best featurette in the DVD set.
On the third disc, we find the final four episodes of the season, and another round of special features:
“the love circle overlap” – Celia gets put in rehab for her addiction, while Shane discovers new activities with his two female friends. Nancy discovers the tunnel is smuggling more than she thought.
“head cheese” – Nancy has a handful of issues to deal with, Doug’s “Mermex” has issues with him, and Silas needs help from Nancy with his business. This episode features a scene-specific commentary track by Hunter Parrish.
“till we meet again” – Nancy spills to Agent Till about the tunnel, leading to some unfortunate consequences and a creative use of power tools. Celia tries to make amends with her family, and Shane shows his girlfriends his abilities with the family business.
“if you work for a living, then why do you kill yourself working?” – This year’s season cliffhanger finds Nancy in serious trouble with booga after the revelation that she’s been talking to the DEA. Her solution to the problem is an interesting revelation that should have ramifications for the entire next season. This episode features a scene-specific commentary with Jenji Kohan.
Special Features –
Moving Weight - (9:27, Anamorphic) – Actor Guillermo Diaz, who plays drug dealer Guillermo in the series, hosts this featurette about the reality of marijuana trafficking across the border. For most of this featurette, he interviews defense attorney Bruce Margolin about the law and public policy about the situation.
One Stop Chop Shop - (5:34, Anamorphic) – This featurette deals with the portrayal of Tijuana in the series, particularly in terms of the sets and backlot areas used to represent Mexico. The smuggling tunnel gets a thorough examination here, led by production designer Joseph Lucky.
The Weed Wranglers - (6:05, Anamorphic) – Set Decorator Julie Bolder introduces this featurette, which focuses on the fake marijuana used as props in the series. Sad to say, all those beautiful plants are just plastic... Prop Master Jode Mann discusses the various prop cannabis plants and joints seen and used on the show. (She also admits to being known as the “Weed Wrangler” of the series.) At the close, Kevin Nealon offers his own assessment of whether marijuana should be legalized. Given his character’s behavior on the show, his answer may surprise you. This featurette probably comes in second to the “Titles” montage in terms of interest and substance, no pun intended.
burbs to beach - (6:32, Anamorphic) – This featurette covers the effective reset of the series done during the fourth season. Jenji Kohan discusses the notion of reinventing the show to stave off creative boredom, and the cast and producers discuss how this worked out.
There is also a screen showing the credits for the team that assembled this DVD set, and the various companies that contributed to the process.
VIDEO QUALITY: 3/5
Weeds: Season Four is presented in a colorful anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer that shows off an accurate range of fleshtones and a variety of environments. The scenes in Bubbie's house tend to be darker, while the scenes in Mexico are appropriately warm to the eye.
AUDIO QUALITY: 3/5
Weeds: Season Four is presented in an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and an English 2.0 mix. As with the prior season, the 5.1 mix mostly lives in the front speakers, with the rear channels being used for the songs and background music. There are some atmospheric and directional effects used in the rear speakers from time to time.
Each disc comes with a full set of menus and an episode guide. The episodes each broken into 6 chapters, but there is no chapter menu per episode. The episodes themselves are available with English and Spanish subtitles, but the special features are not subtitled. Of course, any time you activate a new menu, the onscreen transition is a puff of smoke and the expected coughing... As an added bonus, the packaging for this set has been made from recycled materials – essentially going green in another way than the series usually does.
IN THE END...
Weeds: Season Four continues to be an interesting and enjoyable series. And it’s approachable by pretty much anyone, even in the fourth season, as the resetting of the plot starts everyone in the audience off at practically the same place. Some people have not responded as well to the new direction of the show (and the abandonment of the suburbia premise of the series), but I am pleased it to recommend it for both rental and purchase.
June 5, 2009