Weeds Was An Incredibly Progressive Show Yet Never Gave Praise To Their LGBTQ Characters
Before Jenji Kohan put Netflix on the map with the powerhouse series, Orange is the New Black, she blew our minds away with an incredible series, Weeds. Fifteen years ago, Kohan’s creation of Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise Parker) graced television screens for eight years. Amid the pandemic, many of us are finding new shows to binge and books to read, but some nostalgia from times before is good for the soul. Upon re-watching Weeds start to finish, one may actually be a little shocked at how awfully its few LBGTQ characters are portrayed throughout the series run. With the impending revival of the series, let’s take a step back and see how ruthlessly handled the original LGBTQ characters were treated in hopes they may come back with a vengeance.
One of Weeds original main characters is the daughter of Celia Hodes (Elizabeth Perkins), Isabelle (Allie Grant). Isabelle is a snarky, unconfident little girl who eventually becomes a plus size model, despite the severe mental abuse by her mother (although their banter is comedic to the audience). As her character grows, Isabelle eventually comes out as a lesbian and gets a few age appropriate flirt-mances throughout her five-season storyline. But, with the departure of Perkins in the series’ sixth season, Isabelle all but disappears and as does the dynamic character she was becoming. We never got to fully explore her sexuality – and seeing a child turned teenager turned into a young adult (as we did with the Botwin sons) would’ve been some solid lesbian story telling for the writers and LGBTQ audiences. Isabelle was never a joke, she was seemingly in charge of both her dimwitted parents and truly cared about them while loving herself the most. In the end, Isabelle’s “final moment” was a cutaway line telling the audience that she transitioned and now lives her life as a transgender man named Bruce. It was a cruel disservice for probably the best member of the Hodes family.
In another “why did they do this” moment, a season one character, Sanjay Patel (Maulik Pancholy) comes out of the closet in the third season after showcasing some obvious signs. Within the same night of his coming out, because this is a show about drug dealing anti-heroes, a gangster tries to get the gay out of him by having him be raped by a female prostitute – which he would impregnate that same evening. He remains a minion of Nancy Botwin throughout his time in the series, despite becoming more flamboyant and involved in the gay scene of California. He raises his baby and remains a minor character who eventually slips into the background to the point where the writers seemed like they wanted us to forget about him entirely. Oh, and he ends up marrying the female prostitute…great.
Josh Wilson & Hiram Wells
Doug Wilson’s (Kevin Nealon) closeted gay son, Josh Wilson (portrayed by the ever-so-cute Justin Chatwin) is featured in only a few episodes. He’s immediately outed by Nancy Botwin as not only a petty, teenage drug dealer, but as gay and who is sleeping with a much older man, Hiram Wells (John Kelly) – who we then can label a sexual predator for sleeping with a teenage boy. Josh eventually returns after living in Boystown, Chicago, and gets a storyline that cements him as a character who grew into not a horrible person – but his reappearance may stem more due to Chatwin’s success on Showtime’s longest running series in which he was starring, Shameless.
Perhaps Kohan was writing Orange is the New Black before she even knew it! Eventually Nancy’s many crimes wind her in a New York prison for three years and she pursues a romance with her cellmate, Zoya Ravitch (Olga Sosnovska). Zoya is a convicted murderer and has a few-episode stint as a ruthless, controlling, mentally unstable partner that Nancy never took seriously in the first place: What happens in jail stays in jail. To make matters worse for the character, Nancy has an actual romantic with Zoya’s brother – making her character seem rather unnecessary to the plot in the grand scheme of things. Zoya doesn’t come in until the sixth season and it proves that the show was never kind to it’s LGBTQ characters, but in particular, lesbians – who make up of most of the LGBTQ characters in a whole.
Celia Hodes & Nancy Botwin
We briefly mentioned Nancy’s romp with her cellmate and that’s the only time we see her engage in a same-sex partnership. It makes sense because she didn’t know when she’d leave prison, but still it feels forced, fast, and lackluster. Briefly in season five, the outrageous Celia Hodes gets into a fling with her semi-boss of a makeup company and then declares that she’s suddenly a lesbian. Her daughter Isabelle even shouts “That’s my thing!” It’s a far-fetched stretch for even a character as bonkers as Celia…who was slightly homophobic early on. It was maybe meant to be funny… but not many were laughing at the sudden shift of a character we had grown to like even more than the Botwin matriarch herself.
Captain Roy Till
The worst treatment of probably any character on Weeds goes to its strongest gay character, Captain Roy Till (Jack Stehlin). Introduced in season two as the Head of the Drug Enforcement Agency, Till is a no-nonsense force to be reckoned with when it comes to cracking down on drug trafficking in the fictional town of Agrestic, California. He makes smooth moves in order to foil Nancy’s plans and soon enough finds himself on the brink of bringing down a Mexican Cartel who have an underground tunnel that trafficks not only scary drugs, but guns and young girls. He cautiously, professionally, and almost succeeds in airing out everyone’s dirty laundry but gets sucked into the blackhole that is Nancy Botwin. Painfully, his partner/husband is literally skinned alive by the Mexican drug cartel and having to watch Till’s character experience agony is heartbreaking. Till is sadly unable to get revenge for his lover’s demise before Nancy sells him out and he is murdered by the same cartel for believing he had a friendship and alliance with Nancy. For four seasons, we see Till as a domineering, nonchalant gay character and it’s quite upsetting to see him never reach his goals time and time again, but his heterosexual counterparts somehow achieve their dreams repeatedly.
Trust and believe Weeds is peak cinema. It’s a show that should be watched by all because the twists and turns never stop and the kookiness of the characters is captivating and emotional. Weeds is shockingly and thankfully getting another season, this time on the STARZ network, with both Parker and Perkins returning to give their characters a proper ending. While Kohan isn’t set to return to give her characters that ultimate send off, original writer, Victoria Morrow, is taking charge so we should be certain that we’re in for a treat – and perhaps some redemption for a few of the LGBTQ characters that have been overlooked.
Writer’s Note: This is the opinion of one Instinct Magazine contributor and does not reflect the views of Instinct Magazine itself or fellow contributors.