After speaking with the show’s creators, I attended the premiere of East Coast Grow in Brookland on Saturday, April 16th. Though I’d never been there before, it was easy to find the Edgewood Arts Center; I could smell marijuana wafting through the air from two blocks away, long before I could see the building. When I arrived there were 30-40 people waiting outside, many standing in circles, casually passing joints. A green glow filled the room as people started filtering in. I was white enough to show up at 8:05 and worry about being late; I ended up sitting there for almost an hour, waiting for the program to begin, having realized too late that this event was running on high people time. After comedian Carlos Delgado warmed up a hip-looking crowd, East Coast Grow was released to the world.
In the opening scene, the show’s main character, Mike O’Neil, is getting baked on his couch as a crew of goons arrives to drag him away, rough him up, and leave him in the desert. Fast forward 5 years to 2014 and O’Neil has found his way to Washington. Like co-creator Matt Doherty, he has a long history with marijuana, but is barred from working in the District’s cultivation centers because of a years-old pot charge. So instead he serves as a consultant to Tia and Darrin, two young entrepreneurs from DC trying to get a pot business off the ground in the days just before Initiative 71 passes.
While Tia and Darrin tend to their business, meeting with clients, discussing strategy, and struggling to train a stoned out new employee, Mike visits an assisted living facility and gets roped into teaching a class for the residents. The seniors initially object, but end up getting high with Mike and having a wonderful time–until the facility figures out what’s going on and kicks him off the premises. These scenes with the stoned seniors–terrific performances by the elderly actors–are the biggest source of laughs in a pilot largely concerned with character development.
East Coast Grow isn’t just another stoner comedy though. Glimpses of Tia’s family life hint at larger themes about the impact drug laws have on families, especially in minority communities. When she isn’t working she’s talking to her resigned mother about her brother, who she later visits in prison. These scenes are a change of pace, a dose of solemnity that balances out Mike’s more lighthearted adventures. The episode ends with Mike going door to door, trying to convince people to vote for Initiative 71.
I thought it was an entertaining, engaging pilot, and it looked and sounded excellent, like a real television show. Certainly an impressive production from a couple of potheads who conceived of the concept only a year ago. I’m left wanting more–I’ll be rooting for East Coast Grow to get picked up so we can get more episodes and see more of Mike’s checkered history (the audience isn’t sure why he was beaten and left in the desert five years prior), what it takes to get a marijuana business going in the District, and how the plot will change post-Initiative 71.