With hit shows like Weeds and Breaking Bad on modern TV, depictions of drug dealers have become much more complex…and much more interesting!

Back in the day, the only portrayals of drug dealers and users on film and TV were in the infamous exploitation films like ‘Reefer Madness’. Then there grew the rise of the stoner movie, with drug addled characters like Cheech and Chong suitable only for comic relief.  But recently, a few TV shows have taken the curious step of bucking the trend, and have featured drug dealers as central characters in complex, serious dramas. ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Weeds’ are both hit shows in the US, a country notorious for its aggressive attitudes towards drugs, and the last place where one would expect deep character studies of drug dealers to have a captive audience. With one show revolving around a crystal meth dealer and the other around a grower of marijuana from marijuana seeds, how have they gone on to win large audiences and critical acclaim?

Weeds

‘Weeds’, starring Mary-Louise Parker, revolves around an ordinary suburban housewife who is thrust into an extraordinary situation. When her husband suddenly dies from a heart attack, she is left to support the family in perilous financial circumstances. Rather than give up the high standard of living that she has grown accustomed to, she uses her knowledge of gardening and baking to buy marijuana seeds, grow her own marijuana, bake marijuana products, and sell them to her local community. Along the way, she faces danger from both the law and from rival drug dealers who are looking to get rid of their new competitor. The show is a hit, now into its sixth series and has won numerous awards.

Breaking Bad

In ‘Breaking Bad’, things are a little more serious than marijuana and marijuana seeds – the main character in this show produces crystal meth! The main character, Walter White, is a chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Driven by a desire to raise enough money to care of his family, he uses his knowledge to become a meth dealer. ‘Breaking Bad’ is only on its third series, but has been winning all kinds of plaudits from the critics.

What do these two shows have in common, apart from the drug dealers as their main characters? Both shows provide great entertainment, but there’s more involved than just exciting storylines and good writing. With the two shows both focusing on middle class characters who turn to drug dealing out of necessity as a way to make a quick buck, they seem to have been written to give the average TV viewer a character who is easy to empathise with. Neither show is interested in glorifying drug dealing, or in playing down the hazards of the trade – after all, it is these hazards that provide the fuel for most of the plot lines for individual episodes! But they are both certainly far more interesting, nuanced perspectives on the drugs question, and for that they certainly deserve to be applauded. We’ve certainly come a long way since ‘Reefer Madness!’

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