It’s a timely and potentially worthwhile premise for a TV show in the year 2017: a workplace sitcom set at a weed dispensary. But from its very first frames, Netflix’s Disjointed announces itself as a dud—a lame, unfunny trot through every stoner stereotype that’s been around since Cheech and Chong (both of whom make guest appearances in the show’s first season). The 30-minute multi-camera sitcom, complete with in-studio laugh track, shows how much cannabis has become integrated into mainstream culture. That’s a hopeful development, but Disjointed signals something more disheartening: how a seemingly topical, even edgy idea for a sitcom can be flattened and defanged into something flavorless and unimaginative.
It shouldn’t be a giant surprise that Disjointed is so disappointing. One of its co-creators is Chuck Lorre, who’s been inflicting televised tripe on network audiences for decades; he’s responsible for Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, those maddeningly enduring programs that have signaled the creative bankruptcy of the multi-camera sitcom format. And Lorre’s trademarks are all over Disjointed, in the form of light racism (one of the show’s budtender characters introduces herself as the “tokin’ Asian,” as if this is her most salient characteristic) and vaguely sexist stereotypes (like Nicole Sullivan as a stressed-out soccer mom who needs vast amounts of weed to chill out). It’s also telling that the characters casually toss around the word “marijuana,” a term that’s been outmoded in contemporary cannabis circles due to its racist and imperialist implications—further evidence that the show makers neither understand nor care about the world they’re depicting.
There are some relative bright spots: Kathy Bates stars as Ruth Whitefeather Feldman, and while her character is yet another stereotype—the turquoise-jewelry-wearing hippie earth mother—Bates manages to wring a few laughs from obvious punchlines with her wryly offhanded delivery. And the action is intercut with fake, cannabis-themed commercials, such as a spoof of Coors’ ultra-American beer ads, and a lawyer-for-hire who’ll get you your pizza delivered on time. These interstitials don’t really make sense—and they aren’t necessarily funny—but their presence busts the format in a novel way and provides short respites from the monotony of the show. Perhaps they’re evidence of how heavily Lorre’s humor relies on frequent interruptions in order to chop up the monotony, positioning his laborious jokes in starker relief. More likely, it’s an illustration of the show’s makers’ cynical attitude toward their target audience—couch-potato stoners with woefully short attention spans.
It’s all the more depressing when you consider that another recent show, High Maintenance, is a superb demonstration of how our attitudes toward cannabis have evolved in the 21st century. First a web series and then a half-hour program on HBO, High Maintenance is masterfully made, threading together insightful, emotional vignettes of New York City dwellers by way of the weed dealer who comes in and out of their lives. The makers, Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, are careful to show cannabis use with realism and humor, and without lapsing into idiot-stoner clichés that have persisted for decades. High Maintenance has been renewed for another season on HBO, and its reappearance later this year should clear out the bad vibes left by Disjointed.
I suppose we should be grateful that Disjointed can be so frank about its central topic. Ten short years ago, the characters on How I Met Your Mother were required to make veiled references to smoking cannabis as “eating a sandwich,” while That ’70s Show regularly put its teenagers in a smoke-filled circle but never showed actual weed. Other programs, like FX’s Justified and Showtime’s Weeds, paved the way for mainstream television acceptance, although from today’s vantage point, the latter show’s suburban milieu and farfetched plot—Mary-Louise Parker’s suburban pot dealer rises through the ranks of a cartel and marries an unsuspecting DEA agent, among other crazy escapades—play more like fantasy than anything resembling reality.
For better or worse, cannabis can be found all over television nowadays, albeit often in a comic setting, like Broad City’s refreshing depiction of two weed-smoking women (Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson) or Silicon Valley’s less progressive but still funny bong-huffer, Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller, who recently left the show under contentious circumstances). It can also be seen in reality programs like Viceland’s Weediquette, National Geographic’s American Weed, and the Discovery Channel’s Weed Country. And cannabis is on the slate for a few projects in the works, such as Humboldt, a crime thriller based on Emily Brady’s nonfiction book and provisionally starring John Malkovich; and Adam Scott’s Buds, a sitcom set in a Colorado dispensary (although due to Buds’ similarity to Disjointed and a long period of inactivity on the project, it seems less and less likely it’ll see the light of day).
If TV is a reflection of our current society, there’s much to be hopeful for in the developing depiction of cannabis—Disjointed notwithstanding, things seem to be moving in a promising direction. Perhaps future writers and creators will take their cues from High Maintenance and not from Disjointed’s baja-wearing, goofily addled stereotypes.