Netflix’s original programming has been incredibly successful, pulling in talent from across film and television to produce shows that are emotional, smart, thought-provoking, and, in many instances, truly a riot. From the 80s-inspired Stranger Things to the autistic-centered Atypical to the gory (albeit ludicrously short) Castlevania to perhaps Netflix’s biggest powerhouses, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, the streaming giant’s shows have ushered in an era of quality film and television untethered to major networks like ABC, CBS, Fox, HBO, and the like. Unfortunately, not everything Netflix produces and distributes is a hit, and the high-profile Disjointed is just that: A 10-episode sitcom that tries too hard to be funny, incapable of appealing to comedy enthusiasts and stoners alike.
Created by David Javerbaum (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Late Late Show with James Corden) and Chuck Lorre (Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory), Disjointed follows Ruth Whitefeather Feldman (Kathy Bates) and her son, Travis (Aaron Moten), who own a marijuana dispensary in what can only be assumed to be downtown Los Angeles. Calling themselves “budtenders” and looking to “healp” (an amalgam of “heal” and “help” coined by Ruth), Ruth, Travis, and the rest of the Ruth’s Alternative Caring’s staff — Carter (Tone Bell), Jenny (Elizabeth Ho), Olivia (Elizabeth Alderfer), and Pete (Dougie Baldwin) — make a hell of a lot of unfunny jokes, say a hell of a lot of curse words, smoke a hell of a lot of weed, and meander a hell of a lot between gags. Because each episode tells a contained story, there’s no connection between the 10 episodes, meaning if you really wanted to, you could watch the series out of order and still find it just as humorless, insipid, and predictable as if you were to watch them in chronological order.
See, the biggest problem Disjointed has is not in its performances but in its writing. Between the terrible one-liners, the many self-referential quips, the faux-intellectual comments, and the unnecessary mentions of race relations, Disjointed feels like a ploy to capitalize on America’s current political climate but doesn’t actually say anything critical, dissenting, or profound about the subjects it presents. Ruth’s bodyguard, Carter, is a black, PTSD-riddled Iraq veteran who, as he so pointedly states, feels “safer in Iraq than [he] does as a black man in America.” Unfortunately, this comment is merely left hanging in the ether before quickly being swept to the side so the show can get to the next gag. In situations like these, it seems Disjointed is either too afraid to present viewers with a critical assessment of the presented subject, isn’t intelligent enough to comment on the presented subject, or doesn’t want to scare off its target audience — stoners — with the presented subject. It’s a shame, really, because it’s clear Disjointed wishes to put forth some sort of social commentary about marijuana legalization and its array of “healping” effects, but it can’t seem to find the thesis to its argument. Instead, the show relies heavily on stoner tropes just to flaunt the excessive amounts of weed each of the dispensary’s employees smoke.
There’s nothing wrong with writing characters who very characteristically smoke a shitload of weed, but when that is the only thread that keeps the show together, it begins to grow rather thin rather quickly.
Tae Kwan Doug (Michael Trucco) is the show’s antithesis, always poking fun at patients who are “snarfing doobs.” (Yeah, I wish I were kidding. He says things like that because… well, just because.) He offers a bit of respite when the show is incessantly throwing every kind of weed joke it can think of at the wall in the hopes that something sticks. Unfortunately, his pseudo-martial arts wisdom becomes tired halfway through the episodes he appears in. Maria (Nicole Sullivan), a stay-at-home mom who visits Ruth in search of something anti-anxiety, after medicating, becomes far more annoying than she was prior, making her an absolute nuisance, grating on your nerves in every appearance. The best joke that lands can be found in the pilot: Pete and Ruth introduce the staff of Ruth’s Alternative Caring via a YouTube video. As Ruth walks through her dispensary, she introduces us to Jenny. In the most stereotypical stoner way possible, Jenny lazily says, “Hey, I’m your toking Asian.” This double entendre works because it’s a play on tokenism and toking. Unfortunately, it is here that the show’s only joke successfully elicits a laugh — literally, as there is an applause and laugh track that succeeds every single joke.
Aside from this self-referential joke, the best moments are with Carter, who is the only character who actually develops over the course of the 10 episodes. In the first couple of episodes, Carter is a straight-laced, no-nonsense kind of security guard, carrying a lot of war baggage with him. By the time the tenth episode rolls around, Carter sheds his high-strung attitude and emerges more relaxed — thanks to weed, of course. It is Carter that illuminates the show’s intelligence, taking us through animated scenes of his past, the war, failed relationships because of PTSD, and his sense of identity. These moments are short-lived and are quickly interrupted by another vapid joke — something akin to “Earth to Carter,” referencing his lack of mental placement and his elevated state of mind — or odd, nonsensical transition screens. Hell, some of the sets are so oversaturated and high-contrast that the transition scenes, which look like stock footage pulled from a website of free video clips, end up looking better than the production of the show.
Disjointed is just like its namesake: disjointed from both its writing and performances, as well as its jokes and attempts at social commentary. There is a narrative dissonance at play in this show, and it only becomes more apparent as it attempts to comment on more social constructions (the FEDs’ obsession with marijuana busts, arresting black men, dysfunctional family issues, et al.). While Ruth’s devoted her entire life to “spreading the gospel of marijuana,” no amount of weed — or Cheech and Chong cameo — can cure the boredom that comes from perhaps one of the most boring pot comedies in recent memory. Trust me, I’ve tried.