Up until this, the series’ sixth episode, Weediquette has always taken a distinctly American look at the marijuana trade. Not only has it almost exclusively featured subjects and characters from the States, so too has the program always given off the professional, slightly entitled sheen that US TV sometimes emits, with host Krishna Andavolu coming across as an ever-so-slightly too schmick car salesman.
The central problem with “Cannabis In Congo” then is the contrast between medium and message. As its title clunkily implies (reckon it’s about time to take a break from the alliteration and assonance in your episode names, guys) this time the focus is not on the US but Africa. As a result, the stakes are significantly higher: this isn’t a look at those for whom growing weed is a way of sidestepping a mid-life crisis. The characters interviewed throughout “Cannabis In Congo” sell weed because they have to, because they are desperately trying to fight through the poverty that ravages their community.
Unsurprisingly then, the episode is heavier and harder hitting than any that have come before. The threat of death is threaded throughout – not only death by starvation, or sickness, but on the other end of a rifle. In order to combat rebel insurgencies, the government in Congo has made large swathes of national parkland illegal to enter, and Andavolu is constantly reminded that breaking laws in Africa results in gunfire rather than imprisonment.
Selling weed is similarly illegal, so the stories dealers in the Congo have to tell are as fascinating as they are fraught. Most who sell don’t even smoke – many are religious, and getting high breaks spiritual convention – so they provide an interesting contrast to those interviewed in other Weediquette episodes. Here, selling isn’t a lifestyle. It’s life.
And yet therein lies the rub. As hard as Weediquette tries to give off the serious tone required by the material, it all still feels a bit too infotainment-y in approach. Despite the incredible stories told to camera, Andavolu’s persona often feels jarring. It’s as though Seth Rogen has stumbled into the middle of a Ken Burns documentary, and his goofy, ever-grinning style sits at odds with what’s in front of him. Even as he stresses that those in the Congo have a “different attitude towards weed than any [people] I’ve ever met before”, the sentiment seems oddly hollow coming from such a tonally confused host.
That aside, there is still enough to love about “Cannabis In Congo” to make it a worthwhile watch. Format and issues with the host aside, it’s hard to look away as those in the direst situations possible form intricate bonds with marijuana, developing a plant-human relationship that yes, truly is unlike anything else.