Saturday, January 17, 2009

TV Watch: Big Love

The 3rd season of the outstanding HBO drama 'Big Love' from Executive Producer Tom Hanks kicks off tomorrow (Sunday) night at 9pm. For those who have access to a service, such as Comcast's OnDemand product, that allows you to catch up on the first two seasons, now is the time to catch up on the interesting and well-acted story line.

The basic premise of "Big Love" is a polygamist Utah family trying to emerge from the shadowy cult-like past and into mainstream society. As a Catholic, there is no way that I will ever advocate the family lifestyle of the featured Henderson clan. As a Christian, however, there is much to take from their struggles.

There is a basic recognition, love, and respect for God here, albeit with a number of misguided principles and interpretations inherent in some of Mormon teaching and in the polygamist community in particular. "Big Love" also draws strength from its extremely talented cast who you will mostly know from their motion picture work.

The show is set in the suburban town of Sandy, Utah. Family head Bill Henderson, played by veteran actor Bill Paxton, was born and raised in a polygamist cult community, but escaped as a teenager and eventually blended into normal society. But after establishing himself with a normal family, fate brought drastic change to the Henderson clan.

In the show, he has set up three single homes in a row. From the outside they appear to be three different families. But a shared rear yard shows the true story. In each home lives one of Bill's three wives, and with each wife lives the children that they have conceived with him.


His first wife, Barb, is literally known within the setup as 'First Wife', and is played by Jeanne Tripplehorn. At one time in the past, Barb and Bill had a 'normal' one-on-one marriage, had three children, and belonged to a mainstream Mormon church. Then one day, Barb became extremely ill and was near death.

A young woman from Bill's former community named Nikki, played by Chloe Sevigny, came to live with the family and help with Barb's care. It was the beginning of the end for the Henderson's normalcy. Largely thanks to Nikki's help, Barb recovered. But a relationship had formed between Barb, Bill and Nikki, and Bill became 'inspired' to return to practicing what is known as the 'Principle' of a polygamist lifestyle.

In this lifestyle men are permitted to take any number of wives as they are inspired to and to have children with these women, as long as they can afford to properly support this expanded family. They also are responsible for bringing this family up in God's teachings.

After a period of struggle with this idea, Barb decided to stay with Bill and enter the lifestyle, and they took in Nikki as a 2nd wife. This eventually spread to a 3rd wife, the very young and perky Margene, played by Ginnifer Goodwin. It is this 3-wife setup that is in place as the series began.

The show covers the challenges of family life in such a setup. From within, the three wives have the challenge of sharing time with Bill, and sharing a life with one another as 'sister wives'. There is also an issue within Bill's first family in that the oldest daughter Sarah, played by Amanda Seyfried, is not totally on board with the whole polygamy setup.

Further stress is put on the family by their ties to the polygamist cult community of Juniper Creek. With both Bill and Nikki having been born and raised there, and still having family ties there, the community insinuates itself into the family constantly, never in a postive way.

Juniper Creek is led by Nikki's father, Roman Grant, who is played by Harry Dean Stanton, and who is set as Bill's main antagonist in the first two seasons. Other co-starring turns come from young Douglas Smith as the Henderson's eldest son Ben, and from veteran actors Grace Zabriskie, Bruce Dern, Mary Kay Place, Brian Kerwin, Joel McKinnon Miller, and Tina Majorino, all of whom are familiar faces.

Bill Henderson supports his family with a chain of Home Depot-like hardware stores, and is attempting to expand into the gaming industry, with the business dealings adding intrigue and challenges to the family. And now adding further strain is a relationship that he has entered into with a woman named Ana, played by Branka Katic, who he may have designs on making wife #4, something that at least two of his current wives will not welcome easily.

The acting is tremendous in this series, and there is a basic loving, redemptive family story here underneath all of the challenges of an extremely dysfunctional family. I highly recommend 'Big Love', a quirky but ultimately satisfying family drama, for adults with a discerning mind and heart.

NOTE: This is a continuation of the regular "TV Watch" series of articles, all entries of which can be viewed by clicking on that below 'label'

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