Television: Addictive Laughter

Substance abuse--legal and illegal--is the stuff of two sophisticated, character-driven cable sitcoms

For TV to deal with substance abuse, someone usually has to get arrested. Outside of cop shows, however, addiction is not just a legal matter but also a way of life. Now, two series are giving it a sophisticated eye--by playing it for laughs.

Showtime's Weeds (Mondays, 10 p.m. E.T.) focuses on the supply side. Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) is a housewife in fictional, upscale Agrestic, Calif., whose husband dies, leaving her with two sons and too little insurance money. So she starts dealing marijuana to bored salarymen. Soon Nancy discovers a whole illicit world of suburban toking: a young dealer...