Two episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
It’s funny how shocking and taboo the simple subject of a show like Weeds was when it aired in 2005. Backed into a corner when her family’s plush livelihood is at stake, Nancy Botwin began selling weed on the DL, all the while keeping up her soccer mom appearances. Fast-forward to 2016, and seemingly every network either has a cannabis-focused comedy debuting, or one in the works, and none of the new characters popping up in any of the new shows feel the need hide their main source of income from the world.
Such is the “mostly legal prescription delivery service” at the center of MTV’s new comedy Mary + Jane, run by raspy-voiced snark machine Jordan (Scout Durwood) and her sensible, vision board-obsessing best friend Paige (Jessica Rothe), who probably binge-watched the entirety of Weeds as homework. They’re Los Angeles’ prime weed dealers, and they economically blast through the quick wit and gunfire dialogue expected of the modern sitcom, delivering a show that’s not all that original, but (unlike MTV’s other new sitcom, Loosely Exactly Nicole) does enough new and weird things with the formula as to slightly stand out from the crowd.
Mary + Jane‘s first right move is dropping us into Paige and Jordan’s business after it’s been setup, so the pilot can hit the ground running without the needed backstory of Paige’s reason for joining Jordan as a “ganjapreneur” (that’s a bad pun, and Mary + Jane hoofs it from such lameness pretty fast). Hints are dropped about an ex-boyfriend dubbed “Softs3rve,” who dumped Paige when Taylor Swift instagrammed a picture of his grafitti. The rest is left for the show to fill in, or not; either way, it makes the pilot light and accessible and casually endearing in a way that most freshman shows forget to be.
It’s the balance of humor that is slightly more worrisome after watching the opening two episodes of the show. On one hand, the show’s heightened (get it?) sensibilities totally drag it down. Playing, apparently, off the fact that the duo are consistently stoned, Jordan’s dog, Daniel Day Lewis, gets accompanying subtitles wherein he says stuff like “I hate myself” while humping a pillow.
The worst infractions play as Broad City-lite (unfortunately a running gag about hipster chain restaurants feels like territory even the 2 Broke Girls writers’ room would scoff at in 2016), and it comes off as even more false when the “stoner” part of the stoner series feels dishonest. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but there’s a lack of verisimilitude to the general head-space and dialogue of each character (save one) when they’re supposed to be high, and it makes some potentially knockout gags fall flat.
On the other hand, some of Jordan’s and Paige’s escapades are genuinely funny. A long sequence in the pilot that takes place within an unnamed famous couple’s mansion is dotted with great lines (“What year is it?” a held-captive improv performer whispers spookily to Jordan) and perfectly weird imagery that actually sells Jordan’s potential mental state, or lack thereof. Limp from the get-go, that running gag about hipster chain restaurants still produces the nascent series’ trippiest high mark so far in an eatery simply titled “Shhhh,” but even the quality of the laughs vary within that humor well: by the time the duo visits a baby bottle bar (“Rebirth”) for the third time, the joke wears thin.
At least Rothe and Durwood sell even the try-hardest of lines with the best of ’em. Pigeonholed into old couple types as they are, the two feel like real friends, even despite the somewhat unbelievably twee world surrounding them, wherein Missi Pyle guests as the local “feminist mobile librarian” with swear jars for words like “just” and “sorry.” Despite that squirmy, indecisive tone, Rothe and Durwood rock. The former brings life to what could have been a typical stick-in-the-mud, even though her biggest breaking-out-of-the-shell transgressions (sleeping with a client, getting even with a rival) are sort of just that: typical.
Durwood is Mary + Jane‘s MVP, though. Her perplexed facial reactions punctuate the lines of other cast members with precision, and she delivers her own with an intelligent bite. Even when she’s placed in the show’s strangest moments, she grounds everything with her mellow vibe and so-this-is-happening insouciance, which Mary + Jane as a whole could have used more of if it wanted the rest of its jokes to work. Although less of a concern, series creators Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan (they wrote Can’t Hardly Wait) also intermix focus on Jordan’s and Paige’s love lives, but with a heavier emphasis in the opening two episodes on how those relationships affect their flourishing business.
That fits in with the rest of Mary + Jane‘s pro-women undercurrents (off the top of my head I can remember 2 men who have speaking roles), which work without needing to be showy or overly contemporary. In episode 2, when Paige’s grade school rival begins aping the Mary + Jane business model and Paige plans her revenge, Jordan pumps her brakes on the take-down for the simple benefit of promoting another woman entrepreneur. Okay, so that’s a bit on-the-nose, but the story arc shows new shadings and limits of each character in interesting ways, and its ultimate resolution – which ties up two separate subplots in one clever scoop – hints that Elfont and Kaplan aren’t heading into the rest of the season on auto-pilot, either.
While it’s not the most audacious comedy out there, even the most audacious about weed, or even the most audacious about two besties getting by in a big city, the fact that Mary + Jane feels worth checking out at all is a small victory, especially for a network struggling in the half-hour comedy department. It’s got problems – big glaring ones mostly emerging from an erratic tone bouncing from crushing reality to imaginary weed dreamscape – but they grow hazier and hazier with every laugh. And, thankfully for a comedy, I can say that I laughed quite a bit.
Mary + Jane struggles to balance the strangeness of Broad City with the somber truth of Girls, and it leads to some tonal issues, but at its funniest this is a noteworthy, endearing, female-centric comedy with high potential.