Weeding out archaic views on unconventional motherhood

by Beacon Staff • September 8, 2011

As Weeds nears the finish line of its seventh season — with no word yet on an eighth — I’m left worried about the legacy of a show that, since around season three, many have abandoned.

Once a critical darling and the highest-rated program on Showtime, reception of the show has been increasingly negative with each subsequent bad decision of protagonist Nancy Botwin, the unconventional, uncouth, pot-dealing single mother.

And that description, I think, is exactly the reason why the show has been decreasing in popularity and positive reception: America hates who Nancy Botwin has become.

It’s no surprise that the first season — wherein Nancy was a PTA mom who took her kids to grief counselors and petitioned against soda vending machines in the whitest suburb ever — was the most well-received. She was less consumed by her business dealings (and, consequently, the criminal avenues they took her down), and therefore more likeable. If you’ve kept up with the show since, you know that Nancy just isn’t that woman anymore.

Furthermore, Weeds isn’t the same show as it was then, either. It’s no longer a commentary on white upper-class suburbia, and thank God for that. If you aren’t encountering enough commentary on what it is to be white, live in the suburbs, and have a dirty secret, go read a Jonathan Franzen novel. That isn’t what showrunner/creator Jenji Kohan cares about as she holds the creative reigns of Weeds; not anymore.

Sadly, after Nancy uproots her children from the ‘burbs at the end of the third season, thereby making it more difficult for some viewers to see themselves reflected in their TV screen — heaven forbid — it seems that all anyone wants to talk about is how unconventional and awful Nancy is. Pilot Viruet for AOL’s PopEater had this to say: “Nancy has consistently proven that she’s only good at two things: drinking iced coffee and endangering her children.” In a season recap for Starpulse, contributor Chelsea Doyle calls Nancy “the worst mother in the world.” A mom moves her kids a little closer to the Mexican border, and everybody with a soapbox wants to vilify her?

I guess this rhetoric is to be expected considering that, in 2011, we’re still holding onto outdated, age-old views of what does and does not make a good mother.

That being said, there’s no doubt that Nancy Botwin is far removed from Leave it to Beaver’s June Cleaver. She’s more prone to making mistakes, to biting off more than she can chew. This is a mother who, over the course of seven seasons (roughly 10 years in the world Weeds operates under), unwittingly beds a DEA agent, opens a sham bakery as a drug front, and, at season three’s end, burns down her own house.

But all the proof I need that Nancy is a mother who cares fiercely about her children exists in a bit of narration from the terrific seventh season: “Any moment — eating lunch, washing my hair — I’m aware of all my people, wherever they are. I carry them, you know? Otherwise, they might slip away. And then what?”

As I said earlier, the evidence for her unconventionality is endless, but I still don’t see how any of it equates to bad mothering. However, anyone who suggests that Nancy Botwin’s sole motivation is something other than her children still mistakenly yearns for the PTA-era Nancy. Maybe Weeds just wasn’t intended for them.

Vincent Scarpa is a senior writing, literature, and publishing major.