As new states, territories and entire nations legalize cannabis — and as the conversation surrounding legal weed becomes more normalized — the more marijuana settles into the mainstream experience.
And since few American outlets are more mainstream than the programming of network and basic cable channels, it is time for legal weed to make its scripted debut on American television.
Yes, you’ve been reading about these shows for a couple years now — NBC and Adam Scott have one, Amazon and Margaret Cho do too; There’s HBO and “High Maintenance” and even hitmaker Chuck Lorre (the prolific comedy producer best known for “The Big Bang Theory,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Mike and Molly” and “Mom”) has a marijuana comedy in the works.
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Others have attempted the weed sitcom before, but this is the first graduating class to launch pot comedies in the legal era. (Note: Showtime’s “Weeds” doesn’t necessarily jibe in our fast-moving 2016 reality.) And the first of these shows is about to land on American television next week — the Snoop Dogg-produced “Mary + Jane” debuts on MTV on Sept. 5.
While “Mary + Jane” attempts to capture some of the “Broad City” 420-friendly feminism and girl-ganja power, the show too often stoops to lowest-common-denominator jokes about marijuana culture and life in Los Angeles’ ever-trendy east side.
When these weed sitcoms were first announced, real-life stoners and ganjapreneurs were cautiously excited. They were well aware of the rich comedy to be mined from their day-to-day experiences, but they were also cynical of how Hollywood would oversimplify the still-new cannabis industry. They were concerned the real stories would be overshadowed by ham-handed protagonists reaching for the easy jokes. They feared the shows would misrepresent the practices and procedures maintained by these legal (and semi-legal) businesses.
Put simply, they were worried Hollywood would blow it. And when it comes to “Mary + Jane,” the legit ganjapreneurs and marijuana aficionados were right.
Show producers Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont (who wrote and directed “Can’t Hardly Wait”) tell us that “Mary + Jane” “follows the (mis)adventures of two young women who want to be the great ganjapreneurs of the east side of Los Angeles. But because this show is a comedy, it’s about a lot more than that. It’s about the trendy culture of Los Angeles, exclusive restaurants, internet dating, trying to come up with money to pay the power bill, and the madness of trying to figure out love and life in your twenties. But above all else, it’s about female friendship.”
It is about female friendship, but this friendship seems like it was rushed into production — because series stars Paige (Jessica Rothe) and Jordan (Scout Durwood) don’t share the chemistry viewers will expect from gal pals who decided to go into business together.
According to MTV, Paige and Jordan “may be weed dealers, but in their eyes they are entrepreneurs. Their dope delivery app is quickly gaining popularity with foodies, celebrities and — the most particular and crucial consumer — trendsetters.”
Ah, trendsetters. It sounds obnoxious already.
And much of “Mary + Jane” is obnoxious. The supporting characters wear exaggerated hipster gear — think cowboy hats, Mexican ponchos, a flannel-clad man walking the streets while strumming a banjo and T-shirts that ironically read “Some band you’ve never heard of.” Paige and Jordan alternate between calling themselves “drug dealers” and “a mostly legal prescription delivery service.” They snap pictures of celeb clients and sleep with their customers while debating the definition of prostitution — all in hopes of propelling their weed-delivery service to the Green 15, a list of L.A.’s best marijuana-on-demand services.
But just as our antiheroines lack a believable connection, their harebrained misadventures fail to connect to most of the realities they portray. Their references to cannabis, as a recreational drug and a profession, are clumsy and ill-informed. Their over-the-top representation of East L.A. is cartoonish. Their somewhat-forced inclusion of Banksy-style street art culture misses the mark.
As our two protagonists walk away from a trendy L.A. eatery to the tune of a new Snoop Dogg jam at the end of the pilot, it’s clear that marijuana is a mere prop in their story. The writers aren’t aiming to capture what southern California cannabusiness looks like in 2016, just months before the state’s voters have their say on an historic recreational marijuana proposition.
No, they’re just making a show for MTV with marijuana as its loose framework. And they’re not likely alone.
While Margaret Cho has been vocal about her own pot use and activism, will her Amazon show opt for the cheap laughs — or will it take advantage of the weed-based humor beyond the funny strain names and stoner cliches? Hit producer Lorre has a history of taking niche subject matter and interpreting it through a digestible, middle-of-the-road lens; Can you imagine what that sitcom might look like — guys with closets full of tie-dye, every other sentence punctuated by “maaaan,” a protagonist with a spacey memory and a canned laughter track triggered by each mention of the word kush.
While “High Maintenance” will likely retain the intelligent writing and sharp wit that has been its signature since it was an indie web series, who knows what the future holds for these other weed sitcoms. Will they get the cannabis aesthetic right? Will they nail the right sensibility? Or will the marijuana matter be relegated to the background, giving generic TV comedies little more than a different venue for their zany hijinks?