Dope-Dealing Mom Gets Oven Mitts; Linney’s Cancer Patient: TV

Last year’s bumpy, road-trip season of “Weeds” ended with a finale so fine all was forgiven. With tonight’s season premiere, that cliffhanging airport arrest of dope-dealing mama Nancy Botwin is still paying off.

The story picks up three years after Nancy (the wondrous Mary-Louise Parker) arranged her own arrest for a murder committed by budding psychopath son Shane (Alexander Gould). No one on “Weeds” is entirely selfless, though: Nancy’s surrender prevented her certain execution at the hands of her drug-king husband.

The first episode wastes no time getting Nancy out of prison and into a New York halfway house, where she learns her dangerous hubby -- and, we can hope, the overlong Mexican cartel storyline that pushed the series to tiresome extremes -- is dead.

Nancy’s family, meanwhile, has been living in Copenhagen. We find out that teenaged Shane has taken up puppeteering and older women; his brother Silas (Hunter Parrish) is a successful, barely clothed model; and Nancy’s brother-in-law and soulmate Andy (Justin Kirk) is a tour guide and some sort of hippie anarchist. As always, hapless friend Doug (Kevin Nealon) tags along.

Heading Home

Whatever lives they’ve built in Denmark seem to end when the gang, with one exception, heads home to greet Nancy.

With only the premiere made available for review, the new season’s plot lines and tone are anyone’s guess, but I’m hoping the Botwins stay in Manhattan for a while. Last season, as the family outran the cartel goons, “Weeds” had the narrow-escape pacing of an old Saturday morning serial.

Not that I’m expecting a settled, happy life for the Botwins. As Nancy leaves prison, she’s given an unlikely gift of oven mitts (not to mention a big, wet kiss) from her cellmate. To reveal the significance of those mitts would be cruel, so let’s just say Nancy’s good behavior lasts about as long as a cheap buzz.

“Weeds” airs Monday on Showtime at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2

‘The Big C’

The denial phase of Showtime’s cancer dramedy “The Big C” was slow-going. For its second season, the series and its melanoma-stricken protagonist Cathy Jamison (Laura Linney) are getting angry.

Good for Cathy. Good for us.

Last year’s debut season, when the Minnesota teacher kept her diagnosis hidden from family and all but one friend, took weeks to find its voice. The weight of Cathy’s lonely plight butted against too-quirky characters and storylines that seemed less like comic relief than nattering dinner-party guests distracting you from a better conversation across the table.

The oddballs are still nattering, but at least now they’re in on the main conversation. Everyone knows about her illness as Cathy enters a clinical drug trial that offers some small hope.

Gone, though, is Phyllis Somerville’s Marlene, the crotchety neighbor whose suicide near the end of last season was the most powerful jolt in a series too enamored of whimsy. Cathy gets a chance to bid another goodbye to her old pal, but the best friend slot is largely given over to Cynthia Nixon’s Rebecca, Cathy’s prodigal college buddy. Sommerville will be missed, but who could find fault with pairing Linney and Nixon?

Homeless Brother

Other changes this year: Cathy reconciles with husband Paul (Oliver Platt, less cartoonish now that he’s in on the secret) and has a new doctor (a wonderfully arrogant Alan Alda). Homeless, bipolar brother Sean (John Benjamin Hickey) gives stability a chance with a surprising new domestic situation; son Adam (Gabriel Basso) gets a girlfriend; and Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe), Cathy’s obese, wisecracking student, moves in with the Jamisons.

If ever a ploy signaled sophomore-season contrivance, that move is it. But “The Big C” has a way of rising above itself, of keeping its more cloying impulses at bay with a cast that knows just what to do with its characters. Watch the terrific Hickey give life to the improbably written Sean. This is a show that defies its own odds.

“The Big C” airs Monday on Showtime at 10:30 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***


What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Greg Evans at gregeaevans@yahoo.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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