Tuned In: 'Weeds' picks up where last season's cliffhangers left off

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As season two of Showtime's "Weeds" ended, suburban pot-dealing widowed mom Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) was surrounded by thugs with guns, teenage son Silas (Hunter Parrish) had absconded with her stash and younger son Shane (Alexander Gould) was on a road trip to Pittsburgh, the promised land of family stability in his mind.

In the third season premiere (10 p.m. Monday), viewers rejoin all the show's cliffhangers right where they left off. By the end of the Aug. 20 episode, most of the dangling plots have been resolved, some only temporarily. By the fourth episode, new characters are introduced (Matthew Modine shows up, although still no sign of a character played by Mary-Kate Olsen) and new plots begin to develop, but series creator/writer Jenji Kohan needs the first three episodes to completely work her characters out of the corners she's painted them into.

Because there's so much ground to cover and so many characters to pull off assorted cliffs from which they hang, these early "Weeds" episodes are preoccupied with plot. There's some humor, but the comedy comes out more in later episodes once the tension dissipates.

Mark Seliger
Mary-Louise Parker returns with "Weeds" Monday night.
Click photo for larger image.

Related story

Read more about the new season of "Weeds" and its Pittsburgh connection at Tuned In Journal.

In its second season, "Weeds" became one of the best plotted shows on TV, routinely ending episodes on cliffhangers that TV's best dramas should envy. That continues this season, even though there's an unwelcome hint of season one's depressing ennui as trouble hangs over Nancy for an extended period.

Parker, so unlikably strident on "The West Wing," is a revelation in "Weeds," making Nancy sympathetic even when she's making terrible decisions, such as opting to sell drugs as a career. Even this anti-drug, "Just Say No" kid of the '80s can find humor in the plot and care about the characters. Then again, this is a character show, not a pot polemic by a long shot.

So, why does Shane long to live in Pittsburgh? During a talk at the University of Pittsburgh last fall, Kohan said it was an homage to Carl Kurlander, her longtime friend, screenwriter ("St. Elmo's Fire") and Pitt professor who brought her in for his "Pitt in Hollywood" speakers series.

"Carl returned to Pittsburgh, and Shane was looking for his Pittsburgh," she said. Last month she said Shane's love of Pittsburgh will continue to grow, particularly in the latter half of the third season. But don't expect the family to pick up stakes and move to Pittsburgh even though the show is produced for Showtime by Lionsgate, the independent studio that filmed Spike TV's "The Kill Point" here.

"Probably not. I don't think we will ever get Mary-Louise to Pittsburgh," Kohan said. "We're pretty entrenched" at the Ren-Mar Studios in Los Angeles.

'Californication'

David Duchovny ("The X-Files") stars in this alleged new Showtime comedy (10:30 p.m. Monday) that's more dramatic than "Weeds." He plays Hank Moody, a novelist coping with writer's block in the wake of the end of a long-time relationship with Karen (Natascha McElhone) that produced a now-preteen daughter, Becca (Madeleine Martin).

To cope, Hank embarks on a series of meaningless sexual conquests with the women of Los Angeles, even dreaming of an indecent proposal from a nun in the show's opening scene (remember, this is Showtime).

"Why is there a naked lady in your bedroom?" Becca asks upon returning home with her father to find one of his "friends" waiting for him in bed.

"Californication," written by Tom Kapinos ("Dawson's Creek"), isn't so much ha-ha funny as it is surprising in one particular plot twist and sad in the way Hank longs to get back with Karen, who's about to marry someone else.

Among Hank's sex partners is Mia, played by Madeline Zima. Viewers may remember her as adorable little Grace Sheffield on "The Nanny." In "Californication," her Mia shows off her breasts while having sex with Hank. How times change.

It's tough to get a sense of what "Californication" will be on a weekly basis from the pilot, the only episode sent for review. I didn't love it, I didn't hate it, but I do like Duchovny and am willing to see where it goes for a while. I hope one place it will go is back, to give viewers a better explanation of the character, which is fleshed out better in the show's press kit than in the pilot episode.

"From the beginning, it's always been about a guy who came out to L.A. almost as a sense of fulfilling some kind of manifest destiny," Kapoinos said during a Showtime press conference last month. "He wanted to come out here and seek his fortune. It could not be set in another state at all."

'Kill Point' ratings update

Pittsburgh-set drama "The Kill Point" continues to score good ratings by Spike TV standards.

After premiering with 2.1 million viewers, the show has averaged 1.9 million viewers over its first four installments, which is considered quite a good retention rate in the TV business.

Perhaps even better news, given Spike's demographic target of young men, "Kill Point's" young male demos increased both of the past two Sundays.

A decision on the show's renewal may not come until after the season finale later this month, but if the ratings continue to hold up, it seems likely that Donnie Wahlberg will be back to film another hostage negotiation crisis in Pittsburgh early next year.

Emmy clarification

The Mid-Atlantic Emmy folks are on my back about the coverage of last week's nominations, so in an effort to dislodge them, let me be clear about some details.

Last week I wrote that for many years "WPXI and KDKA did not submit station entries in the regional Emmy competition," which is true. WPXI has had a long policy of not entering as a station. Individual WPXI employees have entered their own work from time to time.

The Emmy folks would like me to say that "KDKA-TV has been an active participant in the Mid-Atlantic Emmy awards and our programs for over 17 years," but that's just not the case. Under previous management, KDKA-TV had a policy of making no station entries for many years. Individuals sometimes entered their work.

Under the current regime, KDKA has been entering station nominations for a couple of years. Judging by the nominations -- which, the Emmy folks note, are not always reflective of entries because you could enter and not get nominated -- it appears KDKA came fully "back on board" (the language the Emmy folks quibbled with in last week's story) in 2006, the year the station doubled its previous nomination count, including a nod in the then-new category of "station excellence," which is a station entry.

Channel surfing

USA Network has renewed "Burn Notice" for a second season. ... TNT has ordered an additional 15 episodes of "Saving Grace." ... ABC's "Boston Legal" will have a 90-minute fourth-season premiere at 9:30 p.m. Sept. 25. ... USA's "The Starter Wife" will air again in a marathon, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Aug. 22. ... FX's "Damages" will air a marathon of five episodes, 3 to 8 p.m., on Sept. 3. ... The rabid "save Dr. Carson Beckett" contingent of "Stargate Atlantis" fans have already said they won't be satisfied until the character is restored as a series regular, but Sci Fi Channel will throw them a bone when the character and actor who plays him, Paul McGillion, return for two episodes in the new season that begins Sept. 28.

TV Q&A

This week's TV Q&A responds to questions about "Scrubs" in syndication, sound on "The Kill Point" and humidity reports on local stations. Read it online at post-gazette.com/tv.

Kirk Edwards
David Duchovny stars in the new series "Californication."
Click photo for larger image.

TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582.


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