is the show disjointed more than just stoner stereotypes?

Disjointed, the 20-episode Netflix show co-written by Chuck Lorre and David Javerbaum, is a comedy full of contradictions. It’s genuinely entertaining in some moments, asinine in others. The actors do a wonderful job—except when they don’t. And the joke writing is patchy. Still, I highly recommend watching it.

The show takes place in a fictional Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensary, where Ruth Whitefeather Feldman (Kathy Bates), proprietor, aging Jewish hippie and cannabis activist, presides over a cast of young budtenders. At the beginning of the show her son Travis (Aaron Moten) has recently returned from “the dark side” as Ruth describes it, aka business school. With full recreational sales on the way in the state of California, Travis hopes to modernize the operation and create an online presence via YouTube videos like, “Strain ‘O the Day.” Travis’ desire to align the business with more corporate values versus Ruth’s attachment to the good old days when weed was synonymous with rebellion provides most of the conflict in the first several episodes.

There are plenty of strange contradictions embedded in Disjointed. The word “fuck” punctuates much of the dialogue, but it’s accompanied by a cheesy laugh track that trails every joke. The show takes place almost exclusively inside the dispensary, Ruth’s Alternative Caring, and its set appears straight out of a 90s sitcom (with a lot more weed). Yet short animations are periodically sprinkled in, transporting the viewer out of the sitcom and into the interior life of a character. This adds depth and nuance to a show that could otherwise become too repetitive. Social media also plays a big role in the narrative, offering a meta view of the characters and their place of work.

Disjointed traffics in a number of annoying stereotypes. There’s Dank and Dabby, played by Chris Redd of Saturday Night Live, and Betsy Sodaro. Yes, they’re occasionally really funny, and they’re just about the dumbest, crassest stoners you’ve ever seen on TV. The very fact that they’re stereotypes is called out on the show. But they continue to act as extreme stereotypes, albeit ones that occasionally surprise you (such as when they announce that they make close to six figures each on their YouTube channel described as a show, “by stoners, for stoners, by stoners”).

Other stereotypes include Pete, a millennial super hippy who grew up on a commune in Humboldt and grows the best bud. At one point he asks another budtender, a Chinese American character named Jenny, “Are your parents OK with you working here? Because most of mine are.” Jenny’s parents are, of course, very not OK with her smoking weed and working as a budtender. That is, they wouldn’t be OK with it—if in fact they knew. Jenny has them believing that she hasn’t dropped out of medical school and keeps up the charade by comically faking cadaver dissections while on the phone with her mom.

Even Ruth herself is somewhat of a stereotype with her long gray hair, flowy purple dresses, and desire to “stick it to the man.” Still, Kathy Bates is a strong actor who brings depth and nuance to the role, even when delivering the one-liners on which the show heavily depends. She pulls off a combination of empathy and apathy, bossiness and the ability to empower her employees and patients. She is both a warm mother goddess figure, and a childish complainer. In other words, a real person. The character adds gravitas to a show that could otherwise feel too frivolous.

Perhaps the most compelling character arc features the security guard, Carter (Tone Bell), who suffers from PTSD as a result of his time in the U.S. army in Iraq. His slow path to healing is helped along by his coworkers in the dispensary, and—of course—weed. The show does a good job illustrating how cannabis can be about medicine, and it can also be about fun. It’s used by people who need it for serious symptoms, and people who just want to get high. Or those who use it for a little of both.

In my view, the show does an OK job with representation. The core cast has gender parity—three women and three men. Of the ten most frequently-seen characters, three are black men and one is an Asian woman. It would feel more right to see a black woman in a recurring role, in addition to a Latinx character. The lack of any non-binary, trans, or even gay or lesbian main characters seems like an oversight for a show whose audience is, presumably at least, socially progressive.

Even with all its problems, I found myself laughing more than eye-rolling while watching Disjointed. It dips into powerful emotions and loss enough of the time to make it feel emotionally resonant, while still throwing the one-liners and ludicrous situations of a comedy. Just like those Cheers fans who compared their real-life bars to the fictional one, I found myself watching Disjointed and wishing I could patronize a dispensary like Ruth’s Alternative Caring. It’s a warm place with a boutique vibe filled with chatty and personable folks. It’s interesting and well-attended, but not too busy. Comfy couches in the middle of the space invite people to sit, talk, and medicate if they want. It feels dreamy, and as Tina Fey says in 30 Rock, “I want to go to there.”

Netflix has cancelled Disjointed, but its 20-episode run continues to stream. It’s easy to enjoy and will almost certainly make you laugh. Or get high. Probably both.

 

Danielle Simone Brand is a mother of two, a die-hard idealist, and a breaker of conventions. She holds a BA from Dartmouth College and an MA from American University and has worked as a staff writer, an academic editor, and a researcher on issues of international conflict resolution.