In 2005, Showtime was an up-and-coming network with not many major hits, especially ones that captured the zeitgeist of the time. But the network took a risk when they bought writer Jenji Kohan’s concept for Weeds, a comedy-drama that goes to some dark places.
Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) lives in an affluent gated community in Southern California, but her husband, Judah (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), suddenly passes away from a heart attack. She’s raising two sons and needs to find a way to make money, so she starts dealing weed. For eight seasons and 102 episodes, viewers followed the exploits of the Botwins, from Nancy being a suburban dealer to her marrying a drug lord/mayor of Tijuana, Esteban Reyes (Oscar nominee Demián Bichir).
Her brother-in-law Andy (Justin Kirk) comes along for the ride, as do accountant friend Doug Wilson (Kevin Nealon), critical neighbor Celia Hodes (Elizabeth Perkins), weed grower Conrad Shepard (Romany Malco), and guest stars Albert Brooks, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Alanis Morissette. Of course a lot of weed was smoked on the show, which Bichir revealed to GQ was actually lettuce.
In September 2012 the show finally concluded, with the family remaining intact. A year later, Kohan created another female-fronted show, Orange Is the New Black. Here are 10 blunt facts about the Golden Globe Award-winning series.
1. JENJI KOHAN WAS INTERESTED IN WRITING AN “OUTLAW SHOW.”
“I wanted to do an outlaw show,” Kohan told LAist. “From there I needed to find an outlaw and a crime.” She picked pot because it was a hot topic with the passing of Proposition 215, which decriminalized medical marijuana in California. “It was the perfect vehicle because while it’s illegal, no one takes it that seriously," Kohan said. "It’s the funny drug. Plus there’s a pot smoker in every family—it crosses all social, religious, economic, political, [and] racial lines. Nancy just came out on the page.”
Inspired by The Sopranos and The Shield, Kohan wanted to explore gray areas. In 20015, she told the Toledo Blade that those shows dealt with “people who are functioning outside of society’s moral code ... How do you convince yourself that you are still a moral person if you are doing something illegal?,” she said.
2. THE TITLE ALLUDES TO MORE THAN JUST POT.
In a 2005 interview with the Toledo Blade, Kohan explained what the title meant. “Weeds are hardy plants that pop up everywhere and survive despite desperate climate and inhospitable environments,” she said. “There is also the expression ‘widow’s weeds,’ referring to a time when widows wore hats made of weeds. Mainly, though, it refers to hardy plants struggling to survive.”
3. HBO PASSED ON THE SHOW.
Kohan had come from the writers’ room of the network sitcom world—including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Friends—but wanted to create a show for cable. Initially, she pitched the idea of a “suburban widowed pot-dealing mom” to HBO, but they said no. So she pitched the idea to Robert Greenblatt at Showtime, a network Kohan said “was looking to make noise.” “They just went with it,” Kohan told The Wall Street Journal. The success of the female-led show caused the network to commission more woman-centric shows, such as Nurse Jackie and The Big C. “It's not like we had some great strategy: ‘Let’s do a series of shows about flawed women,’” Greenblatt said. “Weeds was a great idea and it started a trend.”
4. MARY-LOUISE PARKER KNEW WEEDS WASN’T JUST A COMEDY.
“I never treated it as a comedy. I thought it was a drama,” Parker told The A.V. Club. “It’s somewhere in between, but they said the network had bought and expected a comedy, so it was something we needed to fulfill.” She said at first they tried to deliver the comedy but didn’t want to push too hard. “I never felt like or even wanted to feel like we were trying to push to be some flat-out crazy comedy, because you lose things.”
5. TRACT HOUSING INSPIRED THE SONG “LITTLE BOXES.”
Singer-songwriter Malvina Reynolds wrote the song “Little Boxes” in 1962 and Pete Seeger covered it in 1963. The song's title refers to a housing development Reynolds came across in Daly City, California, where she thought all the homes looked the same. Because the show changed locations, the theme song evolved, too.
Reynolds’s original version is used during the first season credits, but during the second and third seasons each episode features a different artist covering the song, such as Elvis Costello, Death Cab for Cutie, Billy Bob Thornton, Joan Baez, and Regina Spektor. When the Botwins abandoned their little box at the end of season three, the theme song disappeared, too. But Kohan resurrected it for the final season, with people like Kevin Nealon, Steve Martin, and Aimee Mann covering it.
6. ELIZABETH PERKINS HOPED THAT HER CHARACTER, CELIA, WOULD BE KILLED OFF.
The actress received an Emmy nomination for playing Nancy’s former neighbor, Celia Hodes. Perkins left the show after season five, but was asked to return for the final episode. “I just felt like, no, Celia should die,” Perkins told Yahoo!. “I was actually also busy shooting a new show and couldn’t really have made it work. But, it just seemed like Celia deserved a better send-off. I always thought at least just to blow her head off or something, blow her up in a car or something. She was such a vital part of the show for so long that I was a little surprised that they didn’t do her in.”
7. PARKER AND KOHAN WEREN’T ON SPEAKING TERMS FOR MOST OF THE SERIES.
In a candid interview with The New Yorker, Kohan admitted that for most of Weeds’s run, she employed a “talent whisperer” to communicate with Parker. According to the profile, the two barely spoke, and once Parker lobbed a script at her boss. Parker yelled “My mother can’t watch this!’ Kohan shot back, ‘I don’t write it for your mother.’” Still the two managed to work around their differences.
8. KOHAN DIDN’T THINK EIGHT SEASONS IN THE SUBURBS WOULD’VE WORKED.
The first three seasons saw the Botwins living in Agrestic, but when Agrestic burns down, they move to a fictional San Diego suburb called Ren Mar, in season 4. “I don’t think we could have sustained eight years in the suburbs,” Kohan told TV Guide. “People’s lives change and evolve and I think we reflected that in the show.” In other seasons they find themselves in Seattle, Dearborn, Michigan, then New York City and Denmark, and then Connecticut.
9. NEITHER PARKER NOR KEVIN NEALON SMOKE.
You’d think a show about pot smoking would mean the actors would be stoners, but that’s not the case. During a Reddit session, Parker revealed she doesn’t smoke but once ate a pot lollipop, which had no effect on her. “It was very disappointing. I’m not opposed to the idea of smoking pot, it just never seemed liked the right time, and I have an addictive personality.”
Nealon admitted that he isn’t a smoker either, but people are constantly offering the herb to him. “I can’t tell you how much pot I’ve been offered over the years,” Nealon told CNN. “I was in Haight-Ashbury a couple of years ago and I came out of there probably with a truckload of pot that was given to me. I literally threw it in the garbage can.”
10. PARKER DRINKS ICED COFFEE LIKE NANCY.
A recurring image on the show is Nancy’s attachment to iced coffee. In most episodes she’s seen holding at least one plastic cup of iced coffee, chopping on the straw.
“I started holding the cup like a claw around the top, and that carried over into my real life,” Parker told Reddit. “Sometimes I see people smirking at me when I’m walking down the street holding a cup of coffee like that, and now it’s kind of ingrained in me.” IGN asked her how many cups of coffee does she think Nancy drank per day, and Parker responded with, “I would say four per day.”