“Disjointed” is a title sporting so many puns that unpacking them proves irresistible. (Pun-haters to the back.) The core word “joint” refers to both a marijuana cigarette and the slang term for any ‘ol place at all; like, say, the dispensary where Kathy Bates’ long-term pot advocate, Ruth, legally sells medicinal and recreational weed in the new Netflix comedy.
“Head to Ruth’s joint and buy as many joints as you’d like!” is a slogan Ruth herself might share in the series: an easy, obvious joke for a show built (mostly) around simple pleasures.
Fans of equally elementary wordplay are probably sold, but not so fast — the new Netflix comedy unveils a harsh buzz upon further pun-vestigation. Optimists could argue “disjointed” refers to the the pieced together family of pot dealers, smokers, and breeders who all work out of Ruth’s shop. That’s a nice thought, but after binging four episodes, it’s more likely “disjointed” explains the construction of a series that’s made to be watched high — and that only works if you are. (I imagine, anyway. This review, despite evidence to the contrary, was not written under the influence of anything but coffee.)
All three of the above titular interpretations are needed:
- A joint to buy your pot
- Enough joints to keep you really baked for five hours
- Eagerness to experience an incoherent narrative that makes sober viewing borderline insufferable
It’s not that Chuck Lorre and David Javerbaum’s simple story of a mother-and-son weed business is tough to follow. Ruth and Travis are running a cannabis dispensary in California as the legal disbursement of marijuana is booming. Joining them are three budtenders — Pete (Dougie Baldwin), Olivia (Elizabeth Alderfer), and Jenny (Elizabeth Ho) — and a security guard named Carter (Tone Bell), all of whom offer quirky character traits that skew between tolerable and agonizing.
The group bickers back and forth about expansion, how to best partake in their merchandise, and who’s got a crush on who, but “Disjointed” doesn’t seem to care all that much about its core premise. Filling out each half-hour episode are random cuts to gambling chips being dumped on a poker table; fake ads, including one for a brand of weed called “banquet bud” that doubles as a Coors beer parody; and gorgeous animated sequences meant to illustrate psychedelic trips and PTSD nightmares.
Half of the provided episodes fast-forward through the opening credits, as if the show itself has decided to hit “skip intro” for you. Similarly, “Strain of the Day” web videos pop up when an off-screen viewer’s roaming mouse clicks the play button. It’s a disorienting experience meant to evoke a reaction from those watching at home, but one that will vary wildly depending on your sobriety.
If your mind isn’t altered, “Disjointed” becomes frustratingly limited in its capacity to surprise. At its core, this is a multi-cam comedy of the CBS variety, and seeing all the loosely justified interstitials is jarring at first. Black-and-white ads and pop star dream sequences are a welcome distraction from an otherwise ordinary sitcom — though Bates dropping F-bombs is rather fun — but like a weak strain of Ruth’s cheapest product, the effect fades quickly.
Soon, you realize the interruptions aren’t any more well-thought-out than the primary narrative, and “Disjointed” becomes a slog. There is a small bright spot, highlighted in the episodes given to critics, and that’s Carter’s transformation. An army veteran still coping with PTSD, Carter doesn’t want to start smoking pot. It’s just not for him. (Olivia has an even better reason to avoid it, and her arc was teased but left unexplored in these episodes.) Yet Carter’s work environment and its inhabitants eventually tout weed’s medicinal benefits well enough for him to sample Ruth’s edibles (some of which are called “shitballs” because they look like little balls of poop).
His transformation is as slow and subtle as a show like this can get, but his story sparks whenever his mind wanders back to the war. The animated visual sequences — some smooth, gliding waves of brown and tan desert, others sharp, meticulous black and white moving blocks — are stunning and evoke so much more than the live-action scenes ever accomplish.
Much like Sam Elliott’s melancholic farmer on “The Ranch,” Carter’s intimate arc feels a bit out of place in a multi-cam comedy with pot shots about poop (and pot). If viewers are high enough to think the laugh-track supported sitcom is just another one of the show’s parodies, rather than its core story, perhaps all these muddled blades will come together for an easy burn. That doesn’t say much for what’s there, though.
Remove the joint, and “Disjointed” falls apart.
“Disjointed” Season 1 premieres Friday, August 25 on Netflix.