'Disjointed': TV Review

Only a gentle high, but it won't harsh your mellow.
8/25/2017

Kathy Bates leads Chuck Lorre's Netflix multicamera comedy — about a marijuana dispensary — which blends broad, obvious stoner humor with some interesting touches.

I like shows with multipurpose Swiss Army knife titles, and the name of Netflix's Disjointed works as both character description and pun for a comedy about the out-of-sorts oddballs working at a marijuana dispensary. It's also a rather blunt one-word review for a show that attempts to break from its multicamera constraints in ways that are admirable, if not always successful.

Created by Chuck Lorre and David Javerbaum, Disjointed is largely set at Ruth's Alternative Caring, a Los Angeles facility dedicated to the myriad applications of weed and populated by a genial, frequently high assortment of employees, or "budtenders." With recreational marijuana now legalized in California, there's a gold rush on and Ruth's is struggling to adapt to the new economic realities.

The change is particularly complicated for Ruth Whitefeather Feldman (Kathy Bates), a fearless legalization outlaw for decades now facing the challenges of being mainstream and legitimate, as well as the new ideas brought by her business-school-educated, but still weed-loving, son Travis (Aaron Moten). Other members of Ruth's staff include a master grower (Dougie Baldwin) prone to talking to his plants, a Midwesterner (Elizabeth Alderfer) with ambivalence toward pot's gateway effects and a security guard (Tone Bell) suffering from PTSD, as well as Jenny (Elizabeth Ho), rebelling against her strict Chinese mother. Ruth's sphere also features perpetually toasted YouTube celebrities Dank (Chris Redd) and Dabby (Betsy Sodaro), new customer Maria (Nicole Sullivan) and Tae Kwon Doug (Michael Trucco), who hates having Ruth's and its clientele next to his dojo.

On the surface, Disjointed is one extended stoner joke, a monomaniacal Broad City or a never-ending version of the toking circle from That '70s Show. Like The Ranch, Disjointed initially produces that unsettling feeling of watching a multicam on Netflix and processing how the genre's rhythms change when you remove commercial breaks and insert obscenities. But few practitioners understand the beats and pacing of multicamera comedy like Lorre. Disjointed has a good sense of the pothead mindset, facilitating but maybe not excusing how repetitive its jokes about various levels of highness, forgetfulness, reduced motivation and munchies have become after the four non-consecutive episodes sent to critics. A studio audience that, if not previously placated with edibles was probably handpicked based on amenability to the material, roars appreciatively at even the most obvious of punchlines.

Even if Disjointed is aspiring to the predictable and broad, it's all executed with precision, and Lorre and Javerbaum aren't narratively complacent. Episodes are peppered with cleverly deadpan commercials for new elements of the ganja industrial complex ("Kush, the Banquet Weed") and regular videos for the dispensary’s YouTube presence like the Strain o’ the Day (like "Rutherford B. Haze"), touches that restore some of the structure of broadcast TV and also spread out what is generally a very thin serialized story. They're also sometimes quite funny. Adding unexpected drama are animated sequences, in a variety of styles, visualizing the security guard's internal angst. Along with Bell's layered performance, these help Disjointed differentiate itself from the otherwise superior multicam PTSD arc in Netflix's One Day at a Time.

Working to hold together the disparate bits and pieces are a likable cast lead by an easygoing Bates, sporting an inconsistent accent, but landing laughs through the show's genial haze. Introduced as a potential couple in the premiere, Moten and Alderfer have good chemistry, boosted by Alderfer's slightly off-kilter line readings. Baldwin's burnt-out botanist is probably the show's most familiar character, but some of his interactions with his leafy children were genuinely amusing. I found Redd and Sodaro's trying-too-hard antics much less appealing, but given the audience reaction, a second season might be all Dank & Dabby.

Maybe Dank & Dabby, with their grating libidos and braying ubiquity, are meant as a cautionary tale within a series that, like its protagonist, isn't completely comfortable with having gone so legit. The show was ordered before California approved Proposition 64 and it's going to premiere before the marketplace turns the state into a licensing Wild West this coming January. Disjointed advocates for therapeutic and casual marijuana usage. It also derides some stoner cliches and, through Alderfer's character, offers at least a shade of caution on slippery-slope dangers. Of course, the show isn't going for a coherent argument, but rather the kind of argument you might make after consuming a few poo-shaped edibles, a little humorous and a little disjointed.

Cast: Kathy Bates, Aaron Moten, Elizabeth Alderfer, Tone Bell, Dougie Baldwin, Elizabeth Ho, Chris Redd, Betsy Sodaro, Nicole Sullivan, Michael Trucco
Creators: Chuck Lorre and David Javerbaum
Premieres: Friday (Netflix)

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