Monday, June 16, 2008

Lives Without Borders: Weeds and Secret Diary of a Call Girl
There’s really no such thing as an “alternative lifestyle” when you think about it, since every choice we make in life is an alternative to another choice, and they all end up being a lifestyle. It’s only when we justify, or make peace with, our own choices that we smugly label other people’s decisions as somehow deviant. Sure, some choices may not be as well thought through as others, borne as they are of desperation or fantasy, but they’re no more “alternative” than making that decision early in life to fit into the norm as it’s currently viewed at any given time. Those kinds of choices, though, are the stuff of dreams, though, and we live our lives vicariously through them. Deep down, there’s a little bit of outlaw in all of us, and we all dream about the what ifs in our life choices.

Admittedly, a lot of choices are thrown at us haphazardly, and we have to make the best of them. It’s doubtful Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) would have traded in her soccer mom lifestyle to deal pot in the suburbs had her husband not unexpectedly died. It’s also doubtful she could have known how many twisting paths such a choice would take her. But being the resolute woman she is, Nancy dove into her new lifestyle with a verve that any American could appreciate. It all seemed so natural, so suburban, after all, that we forgot that peddling pot is actually frowned upon by the constabulary.

All that’s behind Nancy as Season Four of Weeds (premiering 10P EST on Showtime) opens. She’s literally leaving her past behind, as the comfortable suburb of Majestic is consumed by wildfire. Family in tow, she heads south to the border town of Ren Mar, California. It’s not all fun at the beach, though. She’s branching out, and soon launches into a new career of drug smuggling. In the meantime, she has to deal with her ex-father-in-law, Lenny (Albert Brooks) while dealing with the rigors of keeping her family a cohesive unit.

Season Four of Weeds promises to delve more deeply into issues of immigration, border security, and good old-fashioned pot smuggling, all played out in a series that’s becoming more and more absurdist drama than dark comedy.

If some choices that Nancy makes are haphazard, the choices that Hannah aka Belle de Jour makes are carefully calculated—it’s all part of doing business as a high-priced London call girl. In Secret Diary of a Call Girl, immediately following Weeds Monday night, Billie Piper, of Dr. Who fame, acts as a tour guide to the world of happy hookers. Already something of a hit in the UK, Diary looks at the world of upper end prostitution through the eyes of Hannah/Belle, who leads a double life. By day, she’s an international legal secretary, and by night, a very expensive date. It’s all done with a wink and a nod, not to mention a one camera style.

Belle has no dark past—she tells us from the outset she was not abused as a child, has no children to support and has never done drugs. Her motives are simple: she enjoys sex and she likes money, so why not make a living combining the two?

Considering the subject matter and time slot, Diary is surprisingly pedestrian. There are flashes of nudity on the level of a Victoria’s Secrets fashion shoot, and there are sex scenes that barely go a step beyond PG fare. But sex is not what the show is really about—it’s more about one woman’s quest for liberation and independence. Consider it as the alternative version of Sex and the City, with all of the glam and more of the sleaze. It’s all veddy, veddy British, and all done with a nudge-nudge sense of humor.

What both Weeds and Secret Diary of a Call Girl illustrate above all else is that once it’s all broken down, we’re all in the same skin. None of us know what we’d do to protect our families or our dreams until we’re presented with the right set of circumstances. That both these series presents life in a series of absurdities is at the very least reassuring. There’s always a way to overcome obstacles. . .isn’t there?

It really doesn’t matter if you have Showtime. You can view the first two episodes of both these series here.

Thank whoever’s in charge for media convergence.