Series that balance laughter and tears don't constitute a new genre—they simply show how much comedy has evolved
Weeds' seventh season opens with comedy. Mary-Louise Parker's drug-dealing mother, Nancy Botwin—serving out a prison term after turning herself over to the police at the end of season six—is sitting on a cellblock folding chair while officers debate whether she should get parole. As the offscreen officers bicker, her wide, brown eyes peer from behind rectangular, thick-rimmed glasses, darting back and forth in a way that expresses both confusion and certainty. Nancy uses to her eyes to convey dripping sarcasm without ever uttering a word.
Later in the episode, those same expressive eyes are suddenly instruments of heartbreak. For the first time in three years, she sees the young son she left behind when she went to prison, and discovers that he has no idea that she is his mother. Parker's doe eyes fill with tears, just as they have so many times before—and oh so effectively—over the previous six seasons as Nancy desperately tries to keep her family, life of crime, and web of lies from spinning out of control.
Weeds is not alone in its ability to transition deftly from laughter to tears. Showtime has several other series that are technically comedies but regularly feature moments bearing real emotional weight: The Big C, which had its season premiere this week as well, plus Nurse Jackie and The United States of Tara, which had their season finales last week. Other networks have shows that strive for a balance between levity and gravitas: Fox's Glee and FX's Louie, to name a few. This type of show is so common right now, in fact, that it seems on the verge of becoming its own distinct genre: the dramedy. But to see these series as separate from comedies would be a mistake, as doing so fails to give due credit to the comedy genre for how much it has evolved.