Say this for Disjointed: The marijuana-dispensary comedy may take a little while, but pieces of it eventually kick in.
Structurally, the kind-of-a-workplace — they’re stoned! — sitcom (**½, Netflix, available Friday), lives up to its title.
The format is as traditional as TV gets, a studio-audience situation comedy from genre master Chuck Lorre (The Big Bang Theory, Mom), but it gets more intriguing when it experiments, taking off without notice on tangents that seem inspired by a higher consciousness.
Tie-dyed, Earth mother Ruth (Oscar winner Kathy Bates) is the proprietor of Ruth’s Alternative Caring, a Los Angeles-area cannabis shop whose staff includes three retail “budtenders” (Dougie Baldwin, Elizabeth Ho and Elizabeth Alderfer), security guard Carter (Tone Bell) and Ruth’s son, Travis (Aaron Moten), an MBA with business ideas a bit too ambitious for his laid-back, often-stoned mom.
As a topic, marijuana is no longer that cutting-edge, as weed is more accepted and even legal in some states, including California as of 2018, although Attorney General Jeff Sessions talks about stepping up federal enforcement.
And other shows, including HBO’s High Maintenance and MTV’s Mary + Jane, have beaten Disjointed to the latest twist in stoner humor, retail pot sales.
The 20-episode series has some good dazed-and-confused lines — Travis to Ruth: “Can we talk or are you too high?” Ruth: “Just business-high.” — but much of the Bong Show humor, including a way-too-long riff where budtender Pete (Baldwin) talks to his plants, was funnier when we first saw similar hazy performances by George Carlin’s Hippy Dippy Weatherman, Fast Times at Ridgemont High‘ s Jeff Spicoli or the guys from Pineapple Express. (Pick your generation or try a smooth blend.)
The main characters at first seem a bit stock — hippie mom, uptight son, loopy salespeople — but they get a little better over time. (Four non-sequential episodes were made available for review.) Lorre, producing here with former Daily Show head writer David Javerbaum, has a gift for finding the sweet spot as a show progresses, but it remains to be seen how his process will be affected when a season of episodes is made available all at once rather than on a weekly basis, a simmering process that allows for reassessment and audience feedback.
Profanity is abundant, but that shouldn’t surprise, since this isnt broadcast TV. And, whether it results from streaming-service Netflix, the disrupter of traditional TV, or the topic itself, marijuana, experimentation is the part of Disjointed that is the most fun to watch, even if everything doesn’t always connect.
First, the comedy takes a chance by veering into a serious topic, the PTSD and depression of Afghanistan military vet Carter (a standout performance by Bell). The transitions from sitcom laughs to a sensitive issue can be jarring, but the development of the Carter-Ruth relationship is satisfying and the stream-of-consciousness animation that illustrates Carter’s thought process is a visual treat. (The show treats Carter’s situation respectfully, but TV overall needs to balance depictions of troubled veterans with a wider representation of those who have served.)
Disjointed also features fittingly distracting interstitials, from fake marijuana-oriented commercials (Instead of State Farm, Pot Farmers provides a tornado-ravaged couple with emergency joints and bongs) to Facebook Live sessions with Disjointed‘s own Cheech and Chong, the amusing-to-annoying Dank (Chris Redd) and Dabby (Betsy Sodaro), to brief visual puns (a person rolling sushi, a woman rolling a tire).
Some of those moments are humorous, others feel like non sequiturs (perhaps appropriately), but even the weirder, not-so-funny interjections make it seem like somebody’s trying. And, perhaps they all make more sense from a heightened state.