TV Review: 'Weeds' Season Three

Although those silly Emmy voters may not have recognized it, Showtime's Weeds is certainly one of TV's five best comedies and it's good to have the show returning on Monday (Aug. 13) night.

It's even nice to hear the strains of the show's familiar theme song, which manages to get wedged in my head for months at a time whenever Weeds is on. Monday's premiere features Randy Newman's cover of "Little Boxes," a pairing of artist and ditty so natural as to almost be redundant.

[From here, I'm going into spoiler territory. I won't reveal much about the early episodes of the third season, but if you haven't watched the end of the second, stop reading...]

It's been a long time since Weeds ended its second season, a spectacularly long time given how up-in-the-air things were when last we left. On the verge of unloading a huge amount of product, Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker) and Conrad (Romany Malco) were staring down the barrels of a variety of automatic weapons wielded by both a group of Armenians (who may have killed Nancy's DEA agent husband) and a gangsta named U-Turn (Page Kennedy), who aimed to take both the drugs (which were problematically missing) and the money (also absent).

Meanwhile, Nancy's brother Andy (Justin Kirk) had just joined forces with a super-sized Inuit bounty hunter to try to track down his crazy ex-girlfriend Kat (Zooey Deschanel) who had absconded with Nancy's youngest Shane (Alexander Gould), while her eldest, Silas (Hunter Parrish) was on the verge of being busted with a massive haul of weed in his trunk, pot he'd stolen from her mother in a fit of pique that led directly to the aforementioned standoff.

The new season begins with a pair of episodes that take place very nearly in real time and pick up in media res with Nancy in the middle of the sort of panic attack that no actress on TV does better than Parker. In season one, Nancy just wanted to sell a little pot to keep her family afloat after the death of her husband. In season two, she attempted to corner the suburban drug trade. It doesn't take long to see that the theme of season three is going to be embracing change and starting over, because creator Jenji Kohan and company obviously aren't interested in letting Nancy slide for any of the trouble she's gotten herself into.

One of the regular complaints about HBO's badly struggling Entourage is that there have never been any stakes for Vincent Chase, that no matter how big the screw-up, the boys always land in clover. Weeds had previously suffered from similar problems, that Nancy foolish, in-over-her-head choices never seemed to have any gravity, that she only ran afoul of the clumsy, funny friendly criminals. While U-Turn is a caricature of a thug, good for ample laughs (Fatso-Fasano's amiable henchman even moreso), he represents a threat. Always a 30-minute show with a rich vein of drama, Weeds feels darker than ever this season.

Perhaps too dark? At times, Nancy's jeopardy in these early episodes has a sexual element that may make some viewers a bit uncomfortable, particularly given how prolonged the early-season tension is. Things are so busy that Martin Donovan's apparently deceased Peter is barely mentioned until the third episodes and it isn't until episode four that Matthew Modine first pops up as the corporate planner behind the neighboring community of Majestic, a church-driven enclave that will seemingly be central to the overall arc of the season. And fans eagerly awaiting the twin-free debut of Mary-Kate Olsen? Well, I still haven't seen her yet.

Parker's ability to capture Nancy's blend of nervous energy and laconic suburban ennui remains the show's centerpiece and she's a bit of island in the early episodes, as the other characters are left to deal with their own serious problems. Andy's back on the military's radar. Dean (Andy Milder) and Celia (Elizabeth Perkins) are pushing on with their divorce (Carrie Fisher has a good early cameo as Celia's attorney). And everybody else is just making their way amidst those little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky.

Damn. Now I've got that pesky song stuck in my head again.