If You Find Netflix's 'Disjointed' Funny, You Must Be High

Simon Spungin
Simon Spungin
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Kathy Bates in “Disjointed.” Pro-marijuana activist turned distributor.
Kathy Bates in “Disjointed.” Pro-marijuana activist turned distributor.Credit: Robert Voets/Netflix
Simon Spungin
Simon Spungin

“Disjointed,” a new Netflix sitcom starring the always excellent Kathy Bates, is about a dispensary in California that sells marijuana. Given that marijuana is famous for inducing giggles in those who consume it, “Disjointed” is disappointingly short on laughs.

The show was created by sitcom royalty Chuck Lorre, who has given us such television gems as “Roseanne” and “Two and a Half Men.” With a pedigree of that caliber, viewers of his latest show, which he co-created with David Javerbaum, might have been forgiven for expecting more. “Disjointed,” however, is more situation than comedy; it simply fails to put the pot in potential.

The premise is a simple one, which has been employed countless times in innumerable sitcoms over the years. Ruth Whitefeather Feldman (Bates) is a long-time pro-marijuana activist, who, after the State of California legalized recreational and medical marijuana, opens a pot dispensary called Ruth’s Alternative Caring.

She employs a team of “budtenders,” including Jenny (played by Elizabeth Ho), the “toking Asian,” who is lying to her parents about where she works, telling them she’s in med school and not selling pot; Pete (Australian actor Dougie Baldwin), who’s in charge of growing the produce; potential love interest Olivia (Elizabeth Alderfer); and Carter the security guard (Tone Bell), a former soldier who has come back from Iraq with PTSD, but does not partake of the dispensary’s product.

In the first episode we learn that Ruth’s son, Travis, has recently completed his MBA – “He’s returned from the dark side,” is how anti-establishment Ruth describes his academic misadventure – and is now working with his mother at the dispensary. We also learn that Travis’ father was a member of the Black Panthers back in the day, but became a corporate lawyer working for a pharmaceutical company.

Peppered throughout each episode are the team’s YouTube videos promoting the dispensary, television ads for imaginary pot-related products and short, surreal animated segments.

Once you add into that mix a collection of regular customers and curmudgeonly neighbors, you’ve got a near-perfect formula and plenty of sitcom fodder.

Unfortunately – and I write this as a keen consumer of both sitcoms and marijuana – the show simply isn’t funny.

With Lorre and Javerbaum at the helm – they co-wrote the first underwhelming episode – I expected more humor. The first episode was artfully directed by James Burrows, who has been directing hit television shows since the 1970s (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Taxi,” “Cheers” and “Frasier,” to name but four), and his skillful hand is very much evident in the style and pace of the show.

A skilled director and producers with dozens of awards between them are no guarantee, however, that a show will be any good. The very first scene of the first episode is a case in point. In it, Pete introduces us to the cast of characters in a promotional video for the dispensary on YouTube. With his California drawl and stoner intonation, Pete’s first line is: “All right. How’s it going, YouTube?” Cue undeserved canned laughter.

While the faux YouTube video might be an effective way of introducing us to the characters, it sets the tone for the rest of the show: a dire lack of jokes and mechanical humor that disappoints throughout.

It’s a sad indictment of a show that its most memorable element is the theme music. Choosing “Jack, I’m Mellow” – written and performed by blues legend Trixie Smith – helps give some historical context to the use of marijuana in the United States.

Contrary to the impression created by the show and the misapprehension held by many of today’s consumers, Americans were smoking dope long before the hippie culture of the 1960s. Selecting a song by an artist who died more than 60 years ago is, one hopes, Netflix’s way of acknowledging this. Perhaps for Season 2 – Netflix has already commissioned another batch of 10 episodes – they could use Muddy Waters’ anthemic blues classic “Champagne and Reefer.”

Confused approach

One of the interesting issues raised by “Disjointed” is how different generations view the use of marijuana. For Ruth, who, logic dictates, must be a child of the very late 1950s or 1960s, pot smoking is an act of rebellion. When she was first exposed to it, it was illegal and seen either as a gateway to other, more harmful drugs or a crutch for dropouts and losers.

Millennials, who, it is safe to assume, are the target audience not only for “Disjointed,” but for all of Netflix’s shows, are casual in their consumption of weed. Blasé, almost. They do not understand the struggles pioneers of the subcultures went through, the fines and jail terms they were given and the stigma attached to pot smoking in mainstream society.

In “Disjointed,” the approach to this dichotomy is confused. Disjointed, one could say. On the one hand, all the main characters smoke pot. They work in a marijuana dispensary. They are stoned pretty much all the time.

Yet one character – the undeniably millennial Olivia – seems unable to differentiate between pot smoking and the use of crystal meth and crack cocaine. Given that almost a dozen U.S. states have now legalized recreational marijuana, one would have thought that a show centering on the growing, sale and consumption of the plant would have more relevant misconceptions to address.

Maybe I’ll watch the next episode of “Disjointed” after having partaken of some Mary Jane myself. It could be the only way I’ll even crack a smile.