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Getting High on 'Weeds'
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Getting High on 'Weeds'

Arts & Life

Getting High on 'Weeds'

Getting High on 'Weeds'
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Showtime's highest rated series, Weeds, features actress Mary-Louise Parker as a marijuana dealer in a California suburb, who gets her supply of pot from an offbeat black family living on the other side of the tracks. The actress Indigo and executive producer Roberto Benabib talk about the show's evolution.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Showtime's highest-rated series, "Weeds," kicks off its third season tonight. The eccentric comedy features actress Mary-Louise Parker as Nancy Botwin, a marijuana dealer in an upscale California suburb. After her husband dies, Nancy starts selling pot to keep her kids in the lifestyle that they're accustomed to. So where does she get the weed? From an offbeat black family living on the other side of the tracks. The series and its cast have been nominated for Emmy's, Golden Globes, even an NAACP Image Award.

For more, we have actress Indigo, who plays Vaneeta, the daughter of the matriarch on the program, and Roberto Benabib, an executive producer and writer for the series.

Hey, guys.

Mr. ROBERTO BENABIB (Writer and Executive Producer, "Weeds"): Hey.

INDIGO (Actress): Hey.

CHIDEYA: So it's great to have you in studio. People are really feeling your show.

Roberto, first of all, tell us how the third series is being received. And secondly, just give us your description of what you think the show is about.

Mr. BENABIB: Well, the third season is being very well received at the moment. Some very nice reviews in the L.A. Times - and New York Times actually raves, if I might say so myself. And it's incredibly gratifying because the show is a show that has morphed. It has changed. It started season one being about a housewife who was trying to make ends meet by dealing dime bags to her neighbors in suburbia. And in season two, it grew. And she literally grew, started to grow and became more of an entrepreneur. And season three ended in quite a bit of - season two ended in quite a bit of mayhem. And season three is about the consequences of growing both as an entrepreneur trying to traffic in illegal drugs and also as a housewife who's turning into a bit of a gangster.

CHIDEYA: Indigo, you and your mom on the show are really hilarious in this very bitter way. How would you describe your role and her role?

INDIGO: I don't know. I always like to say, like, I'm like her little sidekick. If you notice, most of the scenes we have together, she will say something, and I'll like chime in, it's like we pick up on each other's thoughts. So it's a really nice dynamic. The writing is great. So it's always fun when we get the opportunity to speak the words that the writers write.

CHIDEYA: And how do people approach you - and I'm sure they do - about the show, fans who might meet you or see you?

INDIGO: They love the show. You know, I noticed, after season one, I used to get spotted a little bit. But after last season, it started happening all the time. And, I mean, they just love the show. They want to take pictures and they always tell you how much they love the show. And before season three, was getting ready (unintelligible) like when will season three coming back? I can't wait to see it. That season finale last year was crazy. So they really, really love the show.

CHIDEYA: Now, the show was nominated for an NAACP Image Award but some folks have also said, look, this is totally racist. Why did the black characters have to be dealers on TV? What do you say to that?

INDIGO: Well, the interesting thing about the show is I don't think anyone is necessarily portrayed in this completely positive light. You know, everybody has some type of dysfunction or something. And the other interesting thing is out of all the other families on the show, despite the fact that we sell weed, we're the most functional family. You know, we're close. We communicate with each other. We have each other's back. So I don't know. I mean, it's interesting to me when people want to try to take the conversation there. Because like as I said, everyone on the show is doing something, dealing drugs or doing something that they shouldn't be doing.

CHIDEYA: Roberto, I'm going to play a little bit of the season three premiere tonight. I want you to - get you to comment on this. So this clip features Nancy talking to her son Silas in a police station after he's been arrested. He took his mother's stash of weed and she uses the code word dry cleaning and tells him she's got an enormous problem.

(Soundbite of "Weeds")

Ms. MARY-LOUISE PARKER (Actress): (As Nancy Botwin) Silas, where is the dry cleaning? I need every last bag of clothing or my boss is going to kill me, just shoot me dead. You got that? Where is it?

(Soundbite of telephone ringing)

Mr. HUNTER PARRISH (Actor): (As Silas Botwin): It's on the trunk of my car.

Ms. PARKER: (As Nancy Botwin) Your car?

Mr. PARRISH: (As Silas Botwin) Yes.

Ms. PARKER: (As Nancy Botwin) Would that be the car Celia is driving?

Mr. PARRISH: (As Silas Botwin) That would be it.

CHIDEYA: And so Roberto, what's that all about?

Mr. BENABIB: That is the resolution to one heck of a cliffhanger last season where, literally, everyone was left hanging. Pot was missing. Poor Nancy had a gazillion guns pointed at her, and her son had stolen it. And that's just the starting point for this season. It actually takes us two episodes to kind of fully resolve literally just the cliffhanger. And then I would say in episode three, we kind of start our season normally and say, okay, as a result of all this, these are the consequences.

CHIDEYA: Well, let me ask you about writing - obviously, a very powerful role in the series. So when you write for Indigo, do you think of her as an actress as well as the character she's portraying?

Mr. BERNABIB: I think you think of the actor - their voice. I think you hear the actor's rhythms and the actor's voice in your head. And although the character is not the actor, the character speaks through the actor. And you try to play to the voice a little bit. Yeah, I will definitely hear Indigo's voice when I write the character Vaneeta. I will definitely hear Romany's voice when I write Conrad. It's a very strong tool in just making the dialogues sound conversational and natural.

CHIDEYA: So back to this whole question of stereotypes, archetypes, what do you see in Vaneeta that you like, and what do you see in Vaneeta that you don't like?

INDIGO: Vaneeta and I actually have some similarities. She speaks her mind. I'm probably not quite as blunt as she is, but I'm not one to bite my tongue either. What don't I like about her? I can't really say there's anything that I don't like about her. I think, overall, she's a likable person. I mean, I don't - even when I meet the...

CHIDEYA: She's got a sharp tongue though.

INDIGO: Oh, she does. But I didn't hear any fans complaining when she cursed out the guy - The Nation of Islam guy. They all seemed to enjoy it. So I don't know. I mean...

CHIDEYA: And, you know, when you guys think about being on Showtime, do you ever worry - I mean, in many ways, pay cable has become the place where television flourishes. At the same time, you do have a smaller audience. Roberto, do you worry about that at all?

Mr. BENABIB: No, I don' worry, but I think those two things are cause and effect. I mean, I think we have more freedom because the audience is smaller. I think if you're on a network like CBS, you have to invite a lot of people into the tent. A show that only gets 7 million viewers is considered a show that's about to be canceled.

As a result, it is our narrow casting that I think allows us to do amazing work and allows us to say, there are a group of people out there who want to see this kind of television. They may not be the exact numbers that want to see "CSI," but they'll pay for it and, apparently, Showtime is a great business model as is HBO for this kind of television.

CHIDEYA: What are you looking forward to playing Vaneeta?

INDIGO: Next season?

CHIDEYA: Yeah, exactly.

INDIGO: I don't know. You know what, with the writers, you're always up in the air. You don't know what they're going to do because their wheels are working so much that they'll have an idea and then it'll change in a matter of a few days. So that's the interesting thing about this show. You're kind of just -you kind of just sit and wait, and you get the script, and you just pull it back and you're waiting to see what you're going to do. So, I'd love to - I mean, I think the ensemble - the core ensemble is amazing, and I'd love to be able to interact with a lot of them a lot more. So we'll see. Hint. Hint. We'll see what happens.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: On that note, Roberto, Indigo, thanks for coming in to the studio.

INDIGO: Thank you for having us.

CHIDEYA: Roberto Benabib is an executive producer and writer for the Showtime series, "Weeds," and actress Indigo plays Vaneeta on the program. They sat down with me here in our NPR West Studios.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: That's our show for today, and thank you for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show or subscribe to our podcast, visit our Web site, nprnewsandnotes.org. No spaces, just nprnewsandnotes.org. To join a conversation or sign up for our newsletter, visit our blog at nprnewsandviews.org.

NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African American Public Radio Consortium.

Tomorrow, a special Roundtable on gun violence.

I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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