So, here’s how it was. I was feeling like crap, popped some heavy-duty painkillers and took myself to bed. Unable to relax enough to sleep I turned to Netflix. After offering up its usual choices to me: heavy on action/SF movies and TV shows I already own on DVD, something miraculous happened. Netflix recommended to me a show I would never normally have watched, but which seemed perfect in my current state.
That show was Disjointed.
A sitcom set in a California marijuana dispensary, Disjointed stars Kathy Bates as the ageing hippy who runs said dispensary. I have no idea how such an incredible actress found herself in such a role, but I’m so glad she did because that’s what convinced me to give it a try.
The show is weird. It revolves around the lives of the people who work or hang out at Ruth’s Alternative Caring, most of whom spend their lives smoking pot, growing pot or talking about pot. The story of their day to day lives is regularly interrupted by interludes such as “Strain o’ the Day” (the store’s mini-infomercials in which the cast extol the virtues of different strains of pot) and “Dank and Dabby” (a YouTube podcast in which a pair of stoners ramble at the camera and do stupid things) and animated dreams and hallucinations. You would think they’d run out of things to say pretty quickly, and the initial impression is that the characters are one-note clichés. It would spell doom for a regular one-episode-per-week show. But on Netflix it’s easy to binge, and when you binge-watch this show, it becomes something else.
They’ve managed to stretch the premise into 20 episodes and, once you get past the initial weirdness, the show has actually addressed some pretty serious stuff.
There’s Carter, the security guard who suffers from crippling PTSD. Naturally, the cure is pot. But the way this is handled is surprisingly sensitive. Sure, his initial pot experience is played for laughs, but what we see after that is a man coming to terms with trauma and building a new life for himself.
Then there’s Jenny, the medical student dropout. Initially seen as a typical stoner, we come to learn about the intense pressure to succeed and how that messed her up. She says that working in the dispensary allows her to heal people in a different way; but it’s her empathy and compassion for others that make her a healer, not her aborted medical degree.
There’s the constant legal threat: Ruth’s business is legal in California, but not under federal law. This means that there’s a treat of being raided by the federal authorities, and it means that when the business has legal troubles, there’s no guarantee that the law will help them.
There’s Pete, the pot-grower who doesn’t realise his Tai Kwan Do instructor is a father figure, because he was raised in a cult. As a grower he’s a scientist, carefully cultivating different strains for different purposes, knowing exactly when and how to harvest. But he also has vivid hallucinations. We see them initially as funny and harmless side-effects of his smoking pot but as the series progresses it becomes clear that something else is going on. But when he tries to explain what he sees to others, they don’t understand. It’s funny, because this is a sitcom, but it’s also a sensitive portrayal of what psychosis must feel like. Pete is left alone with his hallucinated companions, whether it’s an apparently benevolent goddess or an automated greenhouse attendant gaining sentience and becoming a cross between HAL and Skynet. Others variously disbelieve, dismiss or mock his attempts to explain. I hope, if there are more episodes to come, his story will come to a satisfying conclusion.
And holding it all together is Kathy Bates as Ruth Whitefeather Feldman: a former hippy who never met a lost cause she wouldn’t protest for, now satisfied running her own business and introducing others to the joys and benefits of pot. She’s the glue that holds the show, and the group, together. But she has her own struggles, too: as a mother who doesn’t really relate to her son, as an aging woman who fears her best years are behind her, and there’s a touching romantic storyline for her, too, that shows she’s still very young on the inside.
It’s not an advertisement for pot smoking. I have never smoked pot, and watching Disjointed didn’t give me any particular urge to search for some. Actually, I think it does a good job of showing the negative side (Pete’s metal illness, another character clueless as her marriage falls apart) as well as the benefits (treating pain and insomnia, relieving stress). But it does make a good case for allowing businesses like Ruth’s to exist.
It’s also pretty funny, and while it has more depth than you’d expect, it’s relaxing rather than demanding. Worth a watch.