Where to Watch: Netflix
Premiere: Aug. 25
Stars: Kathy Bates, Tone Bell, Elizabeth Ho, Aaron Moten
Kathy Bates, 69, is overqualified to play Ruth Whitefeather Feldman, the pot shop owner in Netflix’s new stoner comedy from Chuck Lorre (The Big Bang Theory) and David Javerbaum (The Daily Show). Because Bates' roommate was a chef for Milos Forman, the Czech director who inspired Steve Martin’s Wild and Crazy Guy, she got her first break in Forman’s 1971 movie, Taking Off. When she won overnight fame in 1983 in Broadway’s Pulitzer-winning 'night, Mother, I was in the front row, stunned. After she beat Meryl Streep for the Oscar in 1990's Misery, she received two more nominations; she's also won an AARP Movies for Grownups award and Emmys for American Horror Story and Lorre’s Two and a Half Men.
Disjointed is interesting because Lorre is old-school even by broadcast TV standards, relying on live audiences that sound like laugh tracks and extremely broad comedy. Networks didn’t want Disjointed, but Netflix needs to broaden its audience, so it sounded like a great fit. And Bates, slimmed down and telegenic, is a convincing alterna-gal as the proprietress of Ruth’s Alternative Caring business, where her MBA son Travis (played by The Night Of's Aaron Moten), like Michael J. Fox in Family Ties, tries to drum business values into her old hippie head.
Ruth (like Lorre) loves puns. “Can I heal-p you?” she says to customers, proud of her fusing of “help” and “heal.” Her grower, Pete (Dougie Baldwin), talks to pot plants, his intellectual equals. When Ruth asks “What are your thoughts?” he says, “Well, I don’t really think of my thoughts as mine. They come, they go … sometimes they wonder what urine tastes like.”
There’s a high bar for misbehavior around her shop. Granted, her son’s love interest and “budtender” (Elizabeth Alderfer) thinks pot is a gateway drug, and perpetual customers Dank (Chris Redd) and Dabby (Betsy Sodaro) and desperately dim housewife Maria (Nicole Sullivan) are not exactly poster children for pot’s harmlessness. Yet her security guard (Tone Bell), who has post-traumatic stress disorder, could use a puff to cut the edge off his hallucinations, lively animations of which interrupt the virtually plotless sitcom chat.
Most of the jokes are shockingly awful, though now and then one lands, thanks to the talents of Bates and others. But often, when the audience guffaws, you are not sure why. They roar when Jenny (Elizabeth Ho), another budtender, talks to her mom on the phone in Chinese. I'm pretty sure the audience doesn’t know Chinese, but they laughed anyhow. It’s potentially funny that Jenny’s lying to her demanding family about where she works, but her character doesn’t really work.
It wouldn’t be a Chuck Lorre show if there weren’t lots of dumb jokes about sex. There’s a gag about her half-Jewish, half-black son’s privates, and other penis gags aplenty. The characters tend to declaim instead of relate to each other; perhaps relationships will deepen a bit as the show goes on. The characters are more like ideas for characters and lazy caricatures, and the knowing pot humor is not as clever as that on, say, Comedy Central's Broad City.
“Recreational is now legal in California,” Travis notes in one scene. “The gold rush is on, and someday somebody is going to be the Walmart of cannabis. Why not us?”
“Because Walmart is evil,” Ruth snaps.
“You shop there,” Travis replies.
There is zero dramatic momentum. The show’s style is drifty, and the sitcom banter is frequently interrupted by faux commercials that are generally funnier and better directed than the main show. One advertises a “Strain o’ the Day” called Rutherford B. Haze, which “will begin your Reconstruction.” Lorre and Javerbaum have earned and deserved 24 Emmy nominations (with eight wins). If they want another for this show, they had better start reconstructing it to live up to Kathy Bates’ talent.
Tim Appelo is AARP's TV For Grownups editor. Follow him on Twitter: @timappelo