Mary-Louise Parker underplays more beautifully, and convincingly, than just about any other actress today. Set her on a marble bench surrounded by statues—just set her there—and after a while you'll think the statues are overacting and you'll want to ask them please to knock it off with all the voguing. So there's some anticipatory pleasure at the start of this series as Parker teases out the dimensions of her role. Nancy Botwin, a suburban mother of two in a fictional California town called Agrestic, begins selling marijuana after her husband dies and leaves her strapped for money. Parker smiles drolly at the absurdity of her position and occasionally tenses with panic at the dangers of it. From time to time she laughs bitterly through tears—but the tears are small, and her bitterness is tartly bite-size, like Starbursts of unhappiness.
But where's the show? Weeds feels like a stoned Desperate Housewives: The pupils are dilated wide, as if able to pick out in sharp relief every detail of this suburban America, yet nothing really seems in focus at all. Annoyingly incongruous elements drop in: A cougar comes down from the hills and prowls the yards. Then in comes Nancy's brother-in-law (Angels in America's Justin Kirk), a grinning, loping, wheedling idiot with a fondness for porn, pot and troublemaking. Someone get that cougar in here, and make sure it's hungry! Elizabeth Perkins, as a neighbor soured by disappointment, smirks and drinks. She may be on the right track.