Category Archives: Opinion

Scott Picks Five: Things Hollywood Believes About Romance

Scott Picks Five: Things Hollywood Believes About Romance

I’m not really a regular viewer of romantic movies as a genre (for arguments sake, a movie that sells itself as a love story, be it dramatic or comic); I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in theatres alone (which is typically how I see movies) and I don’t think I’ve seen more than maybe four or five in theatres in my life.  I do, however, somehow wind up seeing a lot of them at home.  Draw your own conclusions about why that is, but I generally find that they do have a certain escapist appeal.  When they’re done right, you’ll witness clever dialogue and exceptional on-screen chemistry.  When done wrong, however, you’ll realize how little Hollywood appears to know about romance.  And when you spend a good amount of time mulling it over, it becomes clear that these tropes seem to be sending out some rather bizarre (and maybe even alarming) messages about true love.

1. Not being killed by bad guys gets you chicks
One thing about action movies that’s always bugged me is the way they try to tack on a love story.  I’m not really an expert on counter-terrorism, and while I’m sure it’s impressive to a lot of women, but it seems like most people involved in fighting off bad guys of any stripe should really only be concerned with the task at hand.  Logistically and realistically, there’s a lot about “save the day, get the girl” that doesn’t really work, make sense or even seem practical.  But in the world of action movies, suspension of disbelief is key.  What annoys me about this one is that it’s usually just bad writing; sometimes distractingly bad.  In Speed, Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock fall in love by facing and surviving danger and little else.  It’s a fairly ridiculous (but enjoyable) action movie that probably deserves some credit for both making Reeves and Bullock’s eventual romance somewhat believable (when not talking about how awful it is to be on a bus with a bomb, they do banter and flirt a fair bit), but for addressing this issue head-on by declaring that “relationships based on intense experiences never work” many times.

So this has been a known ridiculous plot device for over 15 years, yet it persists.  In Transformers (sort of my go-to example for most types of silliness in film), by virtue of not being killed by giant fighting robots (from outer space!), Shia LeBeouf is transformed from the kind-hearted geek that Megan Fox tolerates to the kind-hearted geek that Megan Fox loves without much happening in between aside from the aforementioned averted death-by-robot.  My understanding of the fairer sex is by no means encyclopedic, but if not dying from explosions was all it took to have women fall in love with you, I would have had a very different social life in college.

2. Men never have to settle
Actors and actresses are, at least as far as Hollywood cares, a pretty good-looking bunch.  So naturally, complaints about “only pretty people fall in love in the movies!” are a little misguided.  However, there’s a fairly high number of “everyman” actors, such as Tom Hanks, Jack Black, Seth Rogen and Vince Vaughn.  While these men are by no means “ugly”, they aren’t, to the best of my knowledge, sex symbols.  And when they appear in romantic roles, they’re generally romancing women who could be considered as such.  An obvious example of this is Knocked Up, where Rogen romances the statuesque Katherine Heigl despite it being against the odds.  Couples Retreat features this in spades; Jason Bateman, Vince Vaughn, Faizon Love and Jon Favreau are all married or attached to women significantly younger and more attractive than they are.

Since most filmmakers are male and not conventionally attractive, I suppose there’s a certain degree of wish fulfillment going on, but there’s virtually no female equivalent to this.  I had difficulty naming unconventionally attractive actresses who appear in romantic roles, and I honestly can’t think of any movie where a woman romances a man who is clearly out of her league.  I suppose Bridget Jones would qualify (thanks to the normally attractive Renee Zelwegger gaining weight for the part), but that’s one example against the countless examples of chubby guys with inexplicably attractive spouses.  So with those numbers in mind, and if Hollywood is to be believed, men can always land the perfect ten if they’re lucky and play their cards right, but women really only have the option of slumming it.

3. Lonely people need extraordinary partners to make them believe in love again
Nathan Rabin of the AV Club famously coined the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” to describe the sort of woman who appears as the leading lady in romantic films with a male protagonist.  She’s impulsive, quirky, probably a little unstable, quirky, intellectual, quirky, and just what the lovelorn male lead needs to believe in love (or anything at all) again.  While it seems like only yesterday that Natalie Portman stole our hearts with her vintage motorcycles and Shins mixtapes in Garden State, in film, this is almost as old as technicolor.  Remember when an impulsive Austrian nun stole the heart of a widowed father with assorted types of song and dance?  The problem called Maria would later be diagnosed as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

I feel that there’s a male equivalent, but I’m having a hard time putting my finger on a name.  The Sensitive Cowboy Dream Boy?  The Heartfelt Rebel Dream Boy?  The Matthew McConaughey?  In any case, if your protagonist is a woman, odds are, it’s not a sensible man with sterling character and a nice wardrobe who wins the day.  It’s an unshaven rogue with abs of steel who consistently rubs you the wrong way but is inexplicably charming and worth falling in love with.  He’s usually played by Matthew McConaughey, but he showed up in The Ugly Truth, Leap Year, and countless others just in the last year played by someone else.  Since again most writers and filmmakers are male (and probably look more like me than Gerard Butler), this might not be wish fulfillment and might just be lazy writing (or a complete misunderstanding of the opposite sex).  But I digress…

In both the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and (until a better name comes to me) the Matthew McConaughey archetype, the message is clear: you don’t need someone who shares your views and values or provides mutual support and affection, you need someone who is unpredictable and zany to show you how to feel again by driving you crazy by virtue of being obnoxious (though oddly charming) or acting out domestic fantasies in Ikea because life is too short not to, gosh darn it.

It seems like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl at least is now ripe for deconstruction, however.  (500) Days of Summer took a perverse pleasure in pinpointing both the potential downfalls of romance with the charmingly impulsive and the lack of emotional maturity that plagues the men who stop thinking rationally once they realize that Zooey Deschanel loves The Smiths as much as they do.

4. Fate excuses anything
A common theme in romantic movies is the seemingly insurmountable obstacle.  Be it a career, an ocean or two between them, a language barrier, or most commonly, a pre-existing relationship, there’s always something stopping our hero and heroine from living happily ever after.  Sometimes this is portrayed as a test of the strength of their bond.  Sometimes it’s a means of proving how truly in love they are.  And sometimes it’s a test of character that they fail miserably.  And when it is, the movie won’t recognize that.

This is most common when the obstacle is a pre-existing relationship.  In the world of the romantic comedy, true love is true love and following your heart means you’re always right.  It’s a little odd that nobody in romantic comedies ever thinks that someone willing to drop everything, cancel a wedding or two, break the heart of their current partner and potentially alienate friends and family might not be entirely trustworthy.  Sure, these films might show characters agonizing over the decisions, but they always choose the path of most destruction and it never raises a red flag.

Perhaps someday there will be a film following Bill Pullman, Dermott Mulroney, Dylan McDermott and all the other straw-fiances from the last 20 years of romantic comedies as they commiserate about being left with the burden of telling 300+ wedding guests that their brides to be left them for Matthew McConaughey at the last minute, slowly pay off the non-refundable deposits made at those exclusive reception halls, and play wingman to each other, slowly rebuilding their collective self confidence one desperate hook-up at a time.  But until then, it seems as though true love means never having to say you’re sorry.

5. Opposites attract.  Always.
They don’t.  I’ve looked into it, done my share of field research and they don’t.  See you next column!

Okay, fine.  I will concede that a certain degree of tension and spark can be healthy in a relationship, but the usual song and dance is that the protagonists in a romantic comedy are often adversaries who treat the other with ambivalence more than affection.  This is not the behaviour of adults who seek companionship, it’s the behaviour of an eight-year old boy who thinks Sally has cute pigtails but doesn’t quite understand why.

At worst, this cliche is dumb but harmless.  And honestly, with the right pairing of actors, it can be a lot of fun to watch.  But all the same, I keep hoping a background character will call them out on this and tell them that if they have to cover their feelings this way, they’re probably not ready for a relationship with smooching and other grown-up things.

Or better yet, the recognition that sometimes people act like they don’t like each other because they actually don’t like each other.

Scott Picks Five: Things Hollywood Believes About Romance

I’m not really a regular viewer of romantic movies as a genre (for arguments sake, a movie that sells itself as a love story, be it dramatic or comic); I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in theatres alone (which is typically how I see movies) and I don’t think I’ve seen more than maybe four or five in theatres in my life.  I do, however, somehow wind up seeing a lot of them at home.  Draw your own conclusions about why that is, but I generally find that they do have a certain escapist appeal.  When they’re done right, you’ll witness clever dialogue and exceptional on-screen chemistry.  When done wrong, however, you’ll realize how little Hollywood appears to know about romance.  And when you spend a good amount of time mulling it over, it becomes clear that these tropes seem to be sending out some rather bizarre (and maybe even alarming) messages about true love.

1. Not being killed by bad guys gets you chicks
One thing about action movies that’s always bugged me is the way they try to tack on a love story.  I’m not really an expert on counter-terrorism, and while I’m sure it’s impressive to a lot of women, but it seems like most people involved in fighting off bad guys of any stripe should really only be concerned with the task at hand.  Logistically and realistically, there’s a lot about “save the day, get the girl” that doesn’t really work, make sense or even seem practical.  But in the world of action movies, suspension of disbelief is key.  What annoys me about this one is that it’s usually just bad writing; sometimes distractingly bad.  In Speed, Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock fall in love by facing and surviving danger and little else.  It’s a fairly ridiculous (but enjoyable) action movie that probably deserves some credit for both making Reeves and Bullock’s eventual romance somewhat believable (when not talking about how awful it is to be on a bus with a bomb, they do banter and flirt a fair bit), but for addressing this issue head-on by declaring that “relationships based on intense experiences never work” many times.

So this has been a known ridiculous plot device for over 15 years, yet it persists.  In Transformers (sort of my go-to example for most types of silliness in film), by virtue of not being killed by giant fighting robots (from outer space!), Shia LeBeouf is transformed from the kind-hearted geek that Megan Fox tolerates to the kind-hearted geek that Megan Fox loves without much happening in between aside from the aforementioned averted death-by-robot.  My understanding of the fairer sex is by no means encyclopedic, but if not dying from explosions was all it took to have women fall in love with you, I would have had a very different social life in college.

2. Men never have to settle
Actors and actresses are, at least as far as Hollywood goes, a pretty good-looking bunch.  So naturally, complaints about “only pretty people fall in love in the movies!” are a little misguided.  However, there’s a fairly high number of “everyman” actors, such as Tom Hanks, Jack Black, Seth Rogen and Vince Vaughn.  While these men are by no means “ugly”, they aren’t, to the best of my knowledge, sex symbols.  And when they appear in romantic roles, they’re generally romancing women who could be considered as such.  An obvious example of this is Knocked Up, where Rogen romances the statuesque Katherine Heigl despite it being against the odds.  Couples Retreat features this in spades; Jason Bateman, Vince Vaughn, Faizon Love and Jon Favreau are all married or attached to women significantly younger and more attractive than they are.

Since most filmmakers are male and not conventionally attractive, I suppose there’s a certain degree of wish fulfillment going on, but there’s virtually no female equivalent to this.  I had difficulty naming unconventionally attractive actresses who appear in romantic roles, and I honestly can’t think of any movie where a woman romances a man who is clearly out of her league.  I suppose Bridget Jones would qualify (thanks to the normally attractive Renee Zelwegger gaining weight for the part), but that’s one example against the countless examples of chubby guys with inexplicably attractive spouses.  So with those numbers in mind, and if Hollywood is to be believed, men can always land the perfect ten if they’re lucky and play their cards right, but women really only have the option of slumming it.

3. Lonely people need extraordinary partners to make them believe in love again
Nathan Rabin of the AV Club famously coined the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” to describe the sort of woman who appears as the leading lady in romantic films with a male protagonist.  She’s impulsive, quirky, probably a little unstable, quirky, intellectual, quirky, and just what the lovelorn male lead needs to believe in love (or anything at all) again.  While it seems like only yesterday that Natalie Portman stole our hearts with her vintage motorcycles and Shins mixtapes in Garden State, in film, this is almost as old as technicolor.  Remember when an impulsive Austrian nun stole the heart of a widowed father with assorted types of song and dance?  The problem called Maria would later be diagnosed as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

I feel that there’s a male equivalent, but I’m having a hard time putting my finger on a name.  The Sensitive Cowboy Dream Boy?  The Heartfelt Rebel Dream Boy?  The Matthew McConaughey?  In any case, if your protagonist is a woman, odds are, it’s not a sensible man with sterling character and a nice wardrobe who wins the day.  It’s an unshaven rogue with abs of steel who consistently rubs you the wrong way but is inexplicably charming and worth falling in love with.  He’s usually played by Matthew McConaughey, but he showed up in The Ugly Truth, Leap Year, and countless others just in the last year played by someone else.  Since again most writers and filmmakers are male (and probably look more like me than Gerard Butler), this might not be wish fulfillment and might just be lazy writing (or a complete misunderstanding of the opposite sex).  But I digress…

In both the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and (until a better name comes to me) the Matthew McConaughey archetype, the message is clear: you don’t need someone who shares your views and values or provides mutual support and affection, you need someone who is unpredictable and zany to show you how to feel again by driving you crazy by virtue of being obnoxious (though oddly charming) or acting out domestic fantasies in Ikea because life is too short not to, gosh darn it.

It seems like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl at least is now ripe for deconstruction, however.  (500) Days of Summer took a perverse pleasure in pinpointing both the potential downfalls of romance with the charmingly impulsive and the lack of emotional maturity that plagues the men who stop thinking rationally once they realize that Zooey Deschanel loves The Smiths as much as they do.

4. Fate excuses anything
A common theme in romantic movies is the seemingly insurmountable obstacle.  Be it a career, an ocean or two between them, a language barrier, or most commonly, a pre-existing relationship, there’s always something stopping our hero and heroine from living happily ever after.  Sometimes this is portrayed as a test of the strength of their bond.  Sometimes it’s a means of proving how truly in love they are.  And sometimes it’s a test of character that they fail miserably.  And when it is, the movie won’t recognize that.

This is most common when the obstacle is a pre-existing relationship.  In the world of the romantic comedy, true love is true love and following your heart means you’re always right.  It’s a little odd that nobody in romantic comedies ever thinks that someone willing to drop everything, cancel a wedding or two, break the heart of their current partner and potentially alienate friends and family might not be entirely trustworthy.  Sure, these films might show characters agonizing over the decisions, but they always choose the path of most destruction and it never raises a red flag.

Perhaps someday there will be a film following Bill Pullman, Dermott Mulroney, Dylan McDermott and all the other straw-fiances from the last 20 years of romantic comedies as they commiserate about being left with the burden of telling 300+ wedding guests that their brides to be left them for Matthew McConaughey at the last minute, slowly pay off the non-refundable deposits made at those exclusive reception halls, and play wingman to each other, slowly rebuilding their collective self confidence one depressing night on the town at a time.  But until then, it seems as though true love means never having to say you’re sorry.

5. Opposites attract.  Always.

They don’t.  I’ve tried.  Too many times.

I will concede that a certain degree of tension and spark can be healthy in a relationship, but the usual song and dance is that the protagonists in a romantic comedy are often adversaries who treat the other with ambivalence more than affection.  This is not the behaviour of adults who seek companionship, it’s the behaviour of an eight-year old boy who thinks Sally has cute pigtails but doesn’t quite understand why.

At worst, this cliche is dumb but harmless.  And honestly, with the right pairing of actors, it can be a lot of fun to watch.  But all the same, I keep hoping a background character will call them out on this and tell them that if they have to cover their feelings this way, they’re probably not ready for a relationship with smooching and other grown-up things like mutual funds and deciding to get a tankless water heater.

Or better yet, the recognition that sometimes people act like they don’t like each other because they actually don’t like each other.

The Oscars: Some Snubs

The Oscars make mistakes.  A lot.  Granted, they are subjective awards, but Stanley Kubrick never won an Oscar, and nothing changes that.

This year, the biggest snub is generally considered to be The Dark Knight receiving neither a Best Picture nor Best Director nomination.  While I agree with the masses that it’s deserving of both nominations (Slumdog Millionaire should win both in my opinion), it still received eight well-deserved nominations, and will more than likely win (and deservedly so) Best Supporting Actor for the late Heath Ledger.

The other big snub was Wall-E for Best Picture.  Again, I agree, especially since the Best Animated Feature has devolved into a Pixar Appreciation award.  But it will win, and it stands a pretty good chance of winning Best Original Screenplay and Best Song.

My biggest beefs with the academy are found within those two categories though.

First and foremost: Best Song.  I’m not convinced there are any rules for this category anymore. Any film with more than one song generally has all of them nominated, and it leaves a number of songs in the dust.  This year, though not agregious as Enchanted or Dreamgirls dominating the nominations, two from Slumdog Millionaire were nominated, while Bruce Springsteen’s song of the same name from The Wrestler was ignored entirely.  Likewise with Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino.  Only three songs were nominated from two movies this year, and those two songs wound up ignored.  Madness.

My second beef is that In Bruges only recieved a single nomination.  Yes, it absolutely deserves at least a Best Original Screenplay nomination, but it’s a challenging and satisfying movie that ranked on a lot of critical top-ten lists and earned Colin Farrell a Golden Globe.  It’s not a movie that’s easily categorized (it ranges from laugh-out-loud funny to bittersweet to downright tragic), but it’s an incredible movie.  Perhaps it proves that there’s a real need for a Best New Filmmaker award, as it was Martin McDonogh’s first theatrical effort, and proof that there’s still a lot of great stories left to be told.

Beyond that, I don’t have any major issues.  It’d be nice if the nominations for blatant Oscar-bait (I’m looking at you, The Reader and Milk) would once and for all give way to validation of more original and creative works like In Bruges, but the movies I’ve enjoyed most this year have, by and large, been nominated.

Che W and political filmmaking

Though there are exceptions, films with inescapable political content are generally kept in the realm of the documentary.  There’s a number of reasons for this, or at least a number of reasons why I think this is.  First and foremost, movies are generally escapist by nature.  Even films that are heavy on realism are escapist.  Something about how the characters are written, portrayed, or how the story is told makes it more than just re-enactments.  Exceptions to this are generally fairly limited.  Unless you’re looking at the collective filmography of Steven Soderberg and Oliver Stone.

This fall presents what could prove to be a very interesting compare/contrast in political film-making.  By the numbers, it looks less interesting though.  On September 9th, Steven Soderberg’s 268 minute, all-spanish epic Che (presented in two parts; The Argentine and Guerrilla for those without iron bladders or attention spans) gets it’s North American premiere (it officially premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May) at the Toronto International Film Festival.  And then on October 17th, Oliver Stone’s W is set to be released, mere months after shooting began this May.  Stone promises it to be similar in tone to The Queen (which is a remarkable film in nearly every respect, but particularly it’s reverence), but based on promotional material, appears to look quite irreverent.  Here’s some more numbers for you:  W will be released roughly 3 months before George W. Bush leaves office; Che was released 41 years after Che Guevara’s death.

Biopics are old hat to both Soderberg and Stone though.  Soderberg directed Julia Roberts to an Academy Award in Erin Brokovich, and W will be Stone’s sixth biopic, as well as his second on a President of the United States.  Politically-themed films are also familiar territory for both.  Soderberg’s touched on political issues in Traffic, which explored nearly every aspect of the war on drugs over a 147-minute running time.  His HBO series K-Street, co-produced with George Clooney, explored the political landscape leading up to the 2004 Election.  As for Stone’s political films, it might be easier to just list them:

  • Salvador – dealt with the El Salvador civil war and US involvement therein
  • Platoon – dealt with the Vietnam war, won Best Picture in 1986
  • Wall Street – one character’s philosophy is “greed is good”.  You do the math
  • Talk Radio – about a controversial radio host
  • Born on the Fourth of July – biopic about maimed Vietnam Veteran Ron Kovic
  • JFK – arguably Stone’s most controversial work, famously explored conspiracy theories about John F. Kennedy’s assassination
  • Heaven & Earth – another Vietnam war centric film, this time from the perspective of a young woman caught in the crossfire
  • Natural Born Killers – dealing with media reaction to violent crime.  The film arguably inspired copycat crimes, despite it being intended as a criticism of the media more than a glorification of violence.  Again, arguably Stone’s most controversial work
  • Nixon – take a wild guess

Interestingly, World Trade Center his biopic about two fallen NYFD workers on 9/11 had little to no political content and was praised for it’s reverence.  In short, it would be more surprising if Oliver Stone didn’t make a movie about George W. Bush.  The surprising, and frankly disappointing thing about W is how soon it’s come to pass.  Too soon.

That’s a major problem with Stone’s effort, something that just can’t be avoided.  It also undermines his declared intentions.  It’s incredibly difficult to properly explore the legacy of a major political figure on film.  Stone’s own Nixon was made after Richard Nixon’s death in 1994, and over 20 years after Nixon resigned the presidency.  Long enough after the fact to properly assess his legacy?  I’d say so.  Steven Soderberg’s Che also comes fairly long after the events it depicts.  It even comes around a decade after the American commercialization of Che Guevera, largely thanks to Rage Against The Machine.  Che Guevera has come a long way since the overthrow of Cuba’s regime in the 1950′s.  Having spent some time in Latin America, it goes without saying that Che is beyond iconic at this point.  Soderberg is wise to take four hours to tell his story, as is Hollywood for leaving previous perspectives on Guevara to documentary filmmakers.

The main thing about W that bothers me is that it’s release comes not just before Bush has retired from public life, but before he’s even retired from the executive office.  Quite frankly, any attempt to be reverent is damaged by this.  While The Queen was released at a time when both Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth II were both in power (Blair would resign his post shortly after), the events it details happened nearly a decade beforehand, and the action was confined to roughly a week in history.  That tragic chapter of British history has closed.  Bush’s story as president, let alone as public figure, remain unfinished.  Stone’s film, (which as I understand, goes as far into his presidency as the invasion of Iraq) tells an incomplete story no matter how you slice it.

Since I haven’t seen either film, my criticism of W shouldn’t be taken as anything other than theoretical.  As easy as it might be to dismiss Oliver Stone as a zeitgeist chaser and opinion-peddler, it’s difficult to dismiss him as a filmmaker.  He’s earned two Best Director Oscars (that’s two more than Stanley Kubrick and double Martin Scorcese’s count).  His films have been nominated for Best Picture three times, and won once.  He might be controversial, but a hack?  Absolutely not.  He’s a shit disturber, but he’s an incredible talent.

Likewise, Che might be too overblown for it’s own good.  While I absolutely believe that Che Guevara’s story essentially demands a 4-hour, 8 minute run time, there’s a good chance that Soderberg’s ego will overtake the project, or it’ll be a 4 hour marxist propaganda piece.  The latter seems unlikely, as Che has been called both “not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age” and “the butcher of La Cabana”.

So there you have it.  Two hot-button figures approached by two well-respected directors in familiar territory.  Very different approaches, but hopefully two films that will raise questions about the legacy of the most polarizing American President I can think of, and perhaps one of the most complex figures of the 20th centuries.

In the meantime, I’d recommend the documentary The True Story of Che Guevara, produced by the History Channel in the US.  It’s only 90 minutes, but covers a great deal of territory and demonstrates how complex Che’s legacy really is.  And The Queen just because it’s fantastic.  It’s been roughly a year since I’ve seen it, but it’s easily an A or A+, and Michael Sheen’s performance very nearly overtakes Helen Mirren’s.

Raise the stakes

If I remember anything from Ray Louter – one of my theatre professors and my primary acting and playwrighting instructor – has ever told me, it’s this:  Raise the stakes.  Storytelling is most interesting when there’s something that hangs in the balance.  Something including and in between embarrassment and death.  Anything.  It’s made me a better actor, a better writer, and a better director.  Believe me when I say that while I may forget the bulk of my education, I could never forget this.

Unfortunately for Jenji Kohan, she appears to have done so with her show Weeds.  You know the pitch:  suburban mom turns to pot dealing after the untimely death of her husband.  Hilarity ensues.  And for three seasons, it was one of my favourite shows.  Mary-Louise Parker is terrific as Nancy Botwin, who balances less-than-legal entrepreneurship with single parenthood.  It was the kind of show that could switch from high drama to low comedy in the same scene without missing a beat.  The supporting cast, including Justin Kirk as her brother in-law Andy and Kevin Nealon as disgraced accountant Doug Wilson, meshed in such a way that it was rarely, if ever, a dull show.  The third season stands out particularly, as it began with a mexican stand-off and somehow managed to never lose steam until it’s finale saw Nancy and her family literally rising from the ashes to fight another day.

Season 4 saw many changes.  Major characters like Conrad Shepard were gone.  Most of the background players didn’t follow the Botwins to the border town of Ren-Mar.  Neither did a good chunk of what made the show great.  The stakes, raised close to the highest they could be given the circumstances, are now worse than low.  They’re unclear.

That’s been my major beef with Weeds this season.  It’s still a well-written, well-acted show.  But great dialogue and actors to make that dialogue great will only get you so far.  Despite the sheer volume of illegal activities taking place (up to and including human smuggling, as well as the usual drug rackets), I have yet to care what happens to Nancy and company next.  Because while I know what’s theoretically at stake (jail, Silas and Shane homeless, etc), I’m not convinced the characters do.  I don’t live in their world.  Their world is defined by many things, but only the things expressed onscreen.  The threat of Nancy getting caught is long gone, as is so much as a reference or two per episode of her vocation.  And with few circumstances remaining constant from episode to episode, it’s simply too unclear what’s at stake.  I rarely have a sense of what their worst-case-scenario is.  And when I do (and when it comes to pass), it resolves itself with little to no consequence.  So as such, my level of empathy is dropping.  Andy and Doug have been smuggling immigrants across the US-Mexico border for much of the season, but it seems as though Doug not getting laid is their worst case scenario.

For a show that’s fundamentally about criminals, it’s alarming how little risk seems to be present.

I don’t want to discount Weeds entirely though.   It’s made me laugh out loud, gasp, and have difficulty waiting a week to see the next episode over.  It’s a show I’ve spent whole days marathoning DVD box sets with.  It’s made an Olsen twin not just watchable, but interesting.  Weeds is an A+ show having a C- season though.  Eleven of Thirteen episodes down, and I’m still waiting for so much as a return to form, let alone something that raises the bar.  While I can understand that the show needed to establish a new order (new location, new characters etc), it’s been handled in such a way that it’ll take an incredibly strong season finale to keep me around for a fifth season.  But for now, I’ll be waiting for a season finale that’ll make this post redundant.  If there’s anything Weeds does absolutely right, it’s those.