Review: Music for WEEDS (Seasons 1-3)

August 12, 2009

Malvina Reynolds

Malvina Reynolds

I have become “hooked” on the TV series, WEEDS from Showtime. (I have enjoyed the extended viewing afforded by renting the DVDs.) All of us old folkies grinned hearing the show’s adapted theme song, “Little Boxes” sung, not by Pete Seeger, from whom we heard it first,

but from its wisened composer, Malvina Reynolds (1900-1978). I must confess that her performance drove me crazy as I watched each episode in the first season, so much, that I started fast-forwarding through the song.

Clearly the producers heard us because by season two, as a cover by a different artist of “Little Boxes” opened every episode. I couldn’t wait to see whether my guess of who the artist was, was correct. Names like Joan Baez, Regina Spektor, Donovan, the McGarrigle sisters, Elvis Costello, Englebert Humperdink (sic), Randy Newman, and more. My favorite–although I Iiked them all–was Michael Franti, sounding remarkably like Dylan.

Whether intentionally or not, the producers, by lining up a wide palette of accompaniments and interpretations, have made these songs “all sound just the same.” Each cover encapsulates a branch of the popular music tradition, and it is odd that after a while the variations do indeed start sounding the same. As I am finishing season three, I’ve peaked ahead and seen very little “Little Boxes” in season four. Again, despite loving hearing all those terrific variations, NEXT.

Besides this opening amusement, the show’s real unsung sonic heroes are the composers: Brandon Jay and Gwendolyn Sanford. Through season three, their music has been thrilling. They have become masters of the micro-song, of which two are usually presented in the latter third of each episode. Sometimes these micro-songs are by guest artists, but the best were written by this team. Each micro-song has a satisfying heft, perhaps a musical equivalent to the latest culinary rage, sliders. The imagined musical languages they come up with are convincing. They sound like excerpts from a larger work, but one that sounds familiar. It’s like style composition, but instead of aping a past musical language, they invent their own.

This composerly duo seems to have come out of nowhere. They have no previous Hollywood work, and it appears they were not used after season three. Clearly, they were at the right party, but they had the goods to deliver. How composers work together in this kind of situation is still a mystery to me, but hats off to this terrific creative team.

The entire music department for this series needs to be congratulated as well. The mix of old and new, familiar and not, is continually thrilling.

I have loved the story, the actors, the character development, and the cinematographic look of the show, but I will leave critiques on this level to experts.

Showtime features a website that allows us to hear all the music used in the show. What is missing is all the original music. You’ll have to watch the show to hear that.

Brava writer/producer Jenji Kohan! Bravo Showtime!

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