John Doyle: Disjointed’s high humour merely burns out

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Courtesy of Globe and Mail

Exactly why Chuck Lorre would do a network-style sitcom for Netflix is a mystery.

The man is the default king of conventional TV comedy. As producer and writer, he’s had 12 seasons of Two and a Half Men, 10 seasons of The Big Bang Theory, several years of Mike & Molly and he’s also got the coming Young Sheldon, the Big Bang spinoff. He’s not in need of a gig.

Disjointed (now streaming on Netflix) is Lorre’s latest and it is, in so many ways, a normal network comedy. It really only uses one set and there’s a studio audience to howl with laughter. Also, it uses that most orthodox of templates, the workplace sitcom. Heck, the pilot was even directed by James Burrows, the master of streamlining a script into a smooth TV machine and he’s done it with everything from Cheers and Frasier to the current CBS comedy Superior Donuts.

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Maybe Lorre wanted to break free, just a little, from network regulations on swearing, drugs and sex. Maybe he’s fascinated by marijuana, because that is precisely what Disjointed is about.

Lorre co-created Disjointed with writer David Javerbaum of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and it stars Kathy Bates. She plays Ruth Whitefeather Feldman, who has been on a mission since the 1970s – “spreading the gospel of marijuana.”

The setting is Ruth’s Alternative Caring, a small business in an L.A. strip mall that dispenses weed to customers who have a doctor’s note.

Working at the store is Ruth’s son Travis (Aaron Moten), who has an MBA and desperately wants to develop his mom’s shop into a business empire. He wants an online presence and mass marketing. “Recreational is now legal in California,” he says to Ruth. “The gold rush is on, and someday somebody is going to be the Wal-Mart of cannabis. Why not us?” Mom replies, “Because Wal-Mart is evil.”

That’s the sort of humour thriving here. Ruth’s an old hippie and Travis is a millennial with an MBA. Laughter ensues. Well, at least the studio audience howls with glee.

There are three other employees. Olivia (Elizabeth Alderfer) is a “budtender” who just wants to chill all day with the weed, and there’s fellow budtender Jenny (Elizabeth Ho) who likes to call herself the “Tokin’ Asian” and lies to her parents that she’s in medical school. There is also the store’s weed-grower Peter (Dougie Baldwin) who also has a mission – breed that paranoia bug out of his plants. The straight is the shop’s security guard, Carter (Tone Bell), who never smokes weed and has PTSD from his military service in Iraq. This, too, is mined for a very strange kind of humour.

Things move along in the orthodox manner of the network sitcom – there’s banter between the staff and colourful customers come and go. But because it’s on Netflix, this is not a network sitcom that’s structured and paced to accommodate commercial breaks. So what Lorre and his cohorts do is insert fake and funny commercials. There’s one for a law firm that will sue on your behalf if your pizza is delivered late. Sometimes, these bits are not even fake commercials, they’re just brief, trippy scenes of happily stoned people.

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Whimsy and wisecracking is what’s going on, always. One could extrapolate that the show is “about” the matter of the weed business going corporate, or “about” the long-held dream of pot legalization coming true and it being, well, a downer. But in truth, the comedy is not “about” anything. Anyone who can find meaning in it is high.

Thing is, Netflix prides itself on knowing what the audience wants. It studies algorithms and stuff like that. Thus, there exists an audience for a straight, old-school comedy about weed. People of a certain age, presumably, because this sort of humour was being exploited relentlessly on Family Ties on 1982, but without the weed and swearing.

Maybe you find it funny that Ruth says she sells “pot that makes you not just high, but whole.” Maybe you find it funny that most conversations on the show start with, “Can we talk or are you high?” That’s what you got here.

Disjointed is neither the worst nor the most middling of mindless sitcoms. To enjoy it, or even see the point of it, you must be stoned. Judge not, until you’ve tried it. I watched it while imbibing a latte. My mistake.

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