'Weeds' Creator Jenji Kohan Revisiting 'Little Boxes' as the Showtime Comedy Prepares to Sign Off (Q&A)
The showrunner talks with THR about the decision to end the long-running Mary-Louise Parker series and what's in store for Season 8 -- including the return of the show's popular theme song.
Creator Jenji Kohan wasn't planning on saying farewell to Weeds when she returned to work for the eighth season of the Showtime comedy about a drug-dealing mother.
On Wednesday, Showtime confirmed that the upcoming season of the Mary-Louise Parker series that helped define the premium cable network as a player in the original series space would be its last hurrah. While Kohan is never one to plan upcoming storylines too far in advance, the showrunner who's at work on her upcoming Netflix original series Orange Is the New Black is unclear just how Weeds will end.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Kohan to discuss how and when she found out about ending Weeds, how much the final season will resemble the show's early days -- the "Little Boxes" theme song is back! -- and what the series meant for today's wave of female anti-heroes.
The Hollywood Reporter: What was behind the decision to end the show now? Was it your decision?
Jenji Kohan: It wasn't really my decision. I think we're expensive; Showtime doesn't own us, Lionsgate TV does. I think [Showtime Entertainment president David] Nevins is new and wants to put his stamp on the network, which I understand, and program his shows. I hope one of his new shows will be under my banner, too. But my show is from a former regime [ex-entertainment president Robert Greenblatt], and eight years is a long run. And we got over 100 episodes. I'm very sad.
Could you see Weeds going beyond Season 8? Did you have plans for Season 9?
I never ever plan a year ahead ever because as far as I know and the show has gone, every year could be our last; we never really know. We were really a different show every year, so if we had gone on, we'd reinvent again. It certainly gets harder the longer you go on; you don't want to repeat yourself. It's a challenge (laughs).
Did you know in November when the show was renewed that it would be its final season?
We didn't know until we started writing and we got a call. It was quite respectful: "We love you guys; you've given so much to this network, and it's been so great. We don't want you to go out with whimper, we want you to go out with a bang, and we know that we're probably ending it, so take this time and figure it out." It was very respectful and classy.
How far along in the writing process were you? Did you have to alter your initial trajectory for the season?
It was early on. I spoke to David. Every year we come back and say, "What are we going to do?" It certainly puts more pressure on the end, which I still don't know (laughs). I've got to figure it out and mull it. It did change how we talked about the season so far. We're building toward something different than we might have built toward had we been in the dark.
Have you ever had an idea of what the final scene of the series would look like?
No, I never think about the end. I tend to take it season by season because we've lived in that limbo for so many years where we don't know how it's going to end or if it's the last season or if we'll get picked up.
How did Weeds help set the tone for the female anti-hero on TV?
I'm really proud of what we've made, and I do think it was new and different. It was a new form of comedy-drama. My obsession when I wrote the pilot was with those gray areas and with people who weren't all good or all bad, heroes and villains -- flawed, complicated, human beings in all their glory. I wanted to write an outlaw show, and I got to write it; it was a dream come true.
How far along in writing the final season are you?
We are shooting Episode 6, prepping 7, editing 4 and 5, breaking 11 and 12 -- and writing 9, 10 (laughs). It's a lot of balls in the air -- and I'm starting a new show at the same time, so I've got a new writers room downstairs on a new series. It's been absolutely bananas. I'm keeping my head down and working and trying to make it great.
What were the conversations with Mary-Louise Parker like? Did you make the call?
That did not come from me. We haven't talked about it. We keep saying we need to go to dinner, and the truth is we're busy and we haven't gone. I don't think we want to talk about it that much; I think we're both sad.
Nurse Jackie has a similar anti-hero who after three seasons of getting away with everything, faced a lot of consequences under the guidance of David Nevins. Will Weeds change under his purview?
No, he's been nothing but respectful and said, "What you've been doing works; keep doing it, and I'm not going to interfere." He's been nothing but complimentary and absent -- which is my favorite kind of executive (laughs). Bob let us do our thing, too. That was the gift of Showtime in this whole experience: Once they felt that we had a plan and we were delivering something we both felt good about, they left us alone. It's the highest compliment. I think why I'm so sad and why I'm so afraid of letting it go is I know how rare this situation is; I know how lucky we were, and I don't know if it'll ever be this good again (laughs). It's very bittersweet.
There was a time jump in last season's finale. Will there be a second jump this season as well?
There's no time jump in the first episode; we pick right up where we left off -- pretty much (laughs). Over the course of subsequent episodes, we do skip ahead three to four months to get back to our lives. It's nothing crazy: They're all 90 years old now, and they've got a longevity drug and it's really exciting! And Nancy is the queen of it! (Laughs.)
The show is returning to the suburbs, where Weeds first started when it was set in Agrestic. Will it have a similar feel to the first year?
We're back in a suburban community, and there are a lot of echoes of the first season in this final season that we're having fun with. Not Agrestic mentions, just similar things keep coming back into Nancy's life that existed when she was in her past bedroom community.
Might there be some returning cast members, maybe Elizabeth Perkins (Celia)? Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Judah)?
We would like to have some old faces back; it's just a matter of being able to make deals, and they're all up in the air right now. I'd love to see Elizabeth, Romany Malco (Conrad) back. I'd love to see Allie Grant (Isabelle), I doubt we'll get her because she has her network show now [ABC's Suburgatory]. I really have warm feelings toward all our characters that we've lost and I'd love to resurrect some, but I can't. Jeffrey Dean Morgan has [Starz drama] Magic City, so I don't know how realistic that is.
Could the "Little Boxes" theme return?
Yes! We're back in a little box, so we thought it was appropriate to bring back "Little Boxes" and we've got an incredible flood of cover versions and new opening title sequence we're excited about. I don't know what we're going to pick yet, but I know we're going to use Ben Folds and the Mountain Goats, but those are the only two we've placed so far -- and Steve Martin and Kevin Nealon did a duet that we're going to use where they're singing and playing banjos. It's awesome.
Have you decided who's going to perform the theme in the finale?
Maybe I'll sadly sing into a microphone! No, that would be punishment for everyone! (Laughs.) But I don't know yet.
How quickly will the cliffhanger be answered? Is there a theme for the season?
We will know who shot Nancy by the end of the first episode. It's a very spiritual season with a lot of big questions: Is there a God? Is there destiny in karma? There are a lot of big questions about the shape of the world and existence. It's getting a bit metaphysical and religious this season. A lot of the writers are starting to ask big questions -- we've been here for eight years, so we're all getting older. It's the natural evolution to get to those macro-concepts through these little stories. Everyone is exploring it in their own way; there's always the theme for Weeds of can people change, and so far the answer has been no, people don't change. But we're trying to ask that in a louder way this season.
Might Andy's romantic feelings for Nancy be further explored this season?
I think we've always explored that, it's been an ongoing theme. I think we owe it to our audience to try and work that out this season.
Beyond Weeds, how does the Netflix process for Orange Is the New Black compare with Showtime?
The Netflix process has been equally delightful; it's that level of trust that they've given me that I could not be more thrilled about. Their opening statement was: "You've done TV before, we haven't. Show us." I started my writers room last week, so we're just starting to break the season and I've written a version pilot that may change since we know we're doing 13 episodes, depending on how the rest of the episodes go and if we need to retrofit.
Under your new deal with Lionsgate TV, what else are you working on?
We have a pilot at Showtime that we're waiting to hear about called Wales about professional poker players that I'd love to see them pick up. Which is why I said if David doesn't want old Jenji, how about new Jenji (laughs). It's a show I wrote with [Weeds writer] Matthew Salsberg and a poker degenerate and a fabulous person. So there's that. And I did a bunch of projects this year, and we're developing some other things that I'm not ready to talk about. I'm a busy girl.
What would you like to see in the final season? Weeds returns at 10 p.m. Sunday, July 1, on Showtime.