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Showtime Scores With Black-Humored 'Weeds'

Desperate? You want to see desperate? Check out Weeds, the new comedy series on Showtime. It makes those broadcast “housewives” look as calm and rational as monks.

Mary-Louise Parker (Angels in America) stars as Nancy Botwin, an upscale suburban widow who's determined to hold onto her leased Range Rover, daily mocha frappa-whatever and other status accoutrements. Rather than scale down her life and move out of the fictional community of Agrestic, she's making ends meet by surreptitiously selling the title herb.

This is a dense comedy about shallow people, saturated with pop-culture references and great, scene-appropriate music. The tone is set from the opening titles: a visual montage of the community lifestyle to Pete Seeger's slam of conformity, Little Boxes. From there, you have to pay attention to both the foreground and the jokes in the background, such as a scene where Nancy's negotiating for more drugs from her supplier Heylia James (Tonye Patano), while other members of Heylia's family argue in the background whether “tsunami” is a good name for a baby.

Nonetheless, the dealer's family provides Nancy with more “normal” interactions than in her “real” life. At least within that group she doesn't have to hide anything. In her suburban orbit, Nancy has to deal with her son Shane, bearing the shame of being the school spaz; hormonal son Silas; and the housekeeper Nancy, whom she just can't bear to let go. (If there's something naggingly familiar about Shane, played by Alexander Gould, it might be that parents have heard his voice a million times as the title cartoon fish in Finding Nemo.)

Nancy's best but most annoying friend is PTA president Celia Hodes (Elizabeth Perkins), perhaps the angriest woman ever. Celia spends her days spying on her sexually active daughter, her cheating husband and her poor overweight daughter, whom she chides with the nickname “Isabelly.” (The body image police are already onto this plot line, and the show hasn't even debuted yet). Kevin Nealon plays Nancy's best customer, accountant and an Agrestic city councilman.

Despite the loss that is at the heart of the conflict in the series, the show is long on black humor and short on pathos. This is a family, and a neighborhood, that is coping by not coping. They are doing it with sex, vile language and, occasionally, mayhem. This is not a Red State comedy. But at times, it is laugh-out-loud funny.

Weeds debuts with a special preview Aug. 7 at 11 p.m. ET/PT.