Updated: Tuesday, September 19, 2017, 6:53 AM
The reviews are in, and many of them say Netflix’s new pot comedy, Disjointed, is little more than seeds and stems. But given the normalcy with which the series treats marijuana use, I have to wonder: What are those critics smoking?
Created by The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men boss Chuck Lorre and former Daily Show producer David Javerbaum, the series — a multicamera sitcom complete with audience laugh track — stars Kathy Bates as marijuana-legalization activist Ruth Whitefeather Feldman. Across 10 episodes that premiered late last month, the show details daily life at Feldman’s Los Angeles marijuana dispensary, Ruth’s Alternative Caring, and functions as kind of a low-rent Cheers with a pot-industry theme and uncensored foul language.
Ruth runs her shop alongside son Travis (Aaron Moten), a business school graduate with an eye toward corporatizing the typically freewheeling pot shop. The store security guard, Carter (Tone Bell), suffers from PTSD after a tour in Iraq and uses marijuana as medication for his illness (the treatments are presented as breathtaking, animated psychedelic trips). Bud-tenders Jenny (Elizabeth Ho) and Olivia (Elizabeth Alderfer) keep customers stocked with cannabis from grower Pete (Dougie Baldwin). Dank (Chris Redd) and Dabby (Betsy Sodaro), the store’s best customers, pop in for some stony non sequitur laughs now and then, à la Seinfeld’s Kramer.
Despite its familiar sitcom formula, Disjointed was considered the worst-reviewed television show of the summer and has only a 16 percent approval rating on the review-aggregating website Rotten Tomatoes, thanks to a slew of bad reviews. The New York Times wrote that the show was “one buzzkill of a pot comedy.” CNN called Disjointed “as stale as an unwashed bong.” The Daily Dot, meanwhile, says the show is “offensive to stoners.” Most of the ire seems directed at the show’s lazy humor, marijuana-related and not.
Admittedly, Disjointed is lazy. Bates’ weedy one-liners are often groan-worthy. Many of the jokes, such as Pete’s talking to his plants in an Australian accent when stoned, just don’t make sense. The show’s mini-segments — like the “Strain O’ the Day” clips and fake, pothead-style commercials — feel as though they were written by someone who never inhaled.
Combine that with Lorre’s traditional sitcom sensibilities, and the result is an exceedingly average sitcom that, as other reviews have suggested, is better viewed when stoned. But even then, there are better pot shows — Weeds, F- That’s Delicious, Atlanta — that will fill the void of pot-laced entertainment for your typical stoner.
Disjointed, on the other hand, is for squares, by squares. And though that doesn’t necessarily make the show funny, it does make it important as societal attitudes toward marijuana continue to change. Many reviewers, from Deadline to Vulture, seem to be missing that.
The show’s main characters constantly smoke cannabis, and many of those characters are typical people — even successful, as in the case of Nicole Sullivan’s character, Maria Sherman, a rich, pot-smoking homemaker and mother. They just happen to enjoy using marijuana. That distinction in entertainment is important, given that pop culture’s first significant introduction to the drug was likely the 1936 antipot propaganda film Reefer Madness, which depicted potheads as murderers and mental patients.
Disjointed also puts the medical and recreational marijuana industries front and center by taking place in a dispensary — the shops where Americans can check out marijuana in eight states, plus Washington, D.C., where it’s legal. (Medical marijuana, meanwhile, is in 29 states plus D.C.) According to Forbes, marijuana sales for 2016 totaled about $6.7 billion, making pot one of the most attractive growing industries for investors. It’s big business, and Disjointed highlights the move from the black market to legitimacy by showing viewers what that industry looks like in fairly accurate detail.
That Disjointed is a sitcom only adds to the cultural importance of the show. Sitcoms, after all, are network TV’s Main Street U.S.A., and Disjointed represents the opening of a dispensary in a prominent location on the block. By putting pot in such a classic form of entertainment, Disjointed shows that marijuana is one of the hottest topics of our age, even as it becomes less controversial than it once was.
Netflix has even been promoting the show with a series of pop-up marijuana dispensaries with weed strains renamed for some of the streaming network’s original series, including Banana Stand Kush (Arrested Development), Prickly Muffin (Bojack Horseman), and Camp Firewood (Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later). With that, Netflix is adding to the growing perception that marijuana is a product to be sold — like alcohol or tobacco — rather than a dangerous substance to be forbidden. And with another Disjointed season coming (Netflix ordered 20 episodes but premiered only 10), its next pot promotion is anyone’s guess.
Disjointed is noteworthy because of the mundaneness with which it treats pot. We are slowly but surely entertaining a world where marijuana is ordinary enough to be boring, and the show’s existence is helping to push that perception.
In some ways, that is exactly what activists like Ruth fought for for decades. Whether the show is a laugh riot or not is sort of beside the point.