'Disjointed': Kathy Bates gets really high

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Photo: Netflix

The new Netflix sitcom Disjointed began streaming last week, but I’m just getting around to reviewing it, which only seems appropriate, given how laid-back and unconcerned about time or responsibility all of the characters in this weed comedy are. Set in a Los Angeles marijuana dispensary, the show stars Kathy Bates as Ruth Whitefeather Feldman, who runs the place with her son, Travis (Aaron Moten), and Pete (Dougie Baldwin), Ruth’s primary “budtenders.”

The show, created by David Javerbaum and the man who gave you Two and a Half Men, Chuck Lorre, gives us Bates as an aging hippie with a big heart, a formidable intellect, and a lackadaisical business sense: years of dope-smoking have left her, perhaps, a bit too casual. For all her counter-cultural cred — she identifies with 2017 protest movements, having protested and been arrested during the Vietnam War era; her son calls her “a revered political activist” — she could still use more business savvy, which is where her son, with his MBA degree, comes in.

With her flowing, bumpy gray hair and blissed-out demeanor, there’s definitely an element of Earth Mother to Ruth, who is adept at guiding newbies through their first light-up. (The show provides Nicole Sullivan as a recurring character, a suburban mom who takes to the stuff all too quickly, for Ruth to advise.) Ruth’s shop has security provided by Carter (Tone Bell), an Iraq war veteran whose PTSD flashbacks are conveyed through wild, sometimes disturbing animated sequences.

The comedy here consists primarily of jokes that would not have been out of place on one of those old Cheech and Chong comedy records — you know, the vinyl albums whose covers doubled as flat surfaces that stoners used to roll joints on. Typical punchlines: “I’m as high as a giraffe’s nuts”; “I’m so high, she’s paranoid”; “Remember, it’s cannabis, not ‘can’t’-abis.” The rest of the time, it’s strictly sitcom writing at its most rote: “You guys have what Stephen King once called IT!” Lorre and his writers also make use of Netflix freedom to use the f-word a lot.

What could have compelled Oscar-winner Kathy Bates to join this assiduously crass sitcom, with all of the hoots and “ooooh”s from the studio audience every time a marijuana joke is dropped? Well, Bates has demonstrated a willingness to give her talent over to TV auteurs with strong visions, such as Ryan Murphy for his American Horror Story anthology, and David E. Kelley, for his 2011-12 series Harry’s Law. But Chuck Lorre seems like an odd match for Bates. Lorre is a proud vulgarian who made his biggest fortune exploiting Charlie Sheen’s worst tendencies in Two and a Half Men, and whose best idea of moral uplift is to give the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Mom a cheerful energy.

In Disjointed, Lorre has taken his interest in substance abuse-as-comedy into the almost-timely arena of legalized medicinal marijuana-selling. But the proceedings can’t shake a generally depressive air that hangs over Disjointed like expelled smoke. Nearly everyone Ruth and her employees come in contact with are losers or dreamers looking to escape the everyday world. Sullivan’s mom, so freshly enthused by weed, neglects her children — a running joke has her calling the babysitter to hand off her responsibilities. When Ruth goes to the funeral of a friend and reconnects with a famous old pal known as the Pope of Dope, it turns out he’s living in a storage container. Bummer, man.

Disjointed joins Netflix’s schedule of studio-audience, exaggerated-guffaw sitcoms like The Ranch, Fuller House, and the One Day At A Time reboot. Like Grace and Frankie, it stars a familiar-face baby boomer who deserves better material. I’ll be curious to see whether there are enough viewers with the energy to binge this 10-episode series. Netflix has already ordered 10 more, but I’ll bet a lot of the show’s target audience will soon forget they watched the first batch, and just watch the old ones again between bong hits and pizza.

Disjointed is streaming now on Netflix.