Monday, October 17, 2011

'Big Love': Polygamists Keep You Coming Back for More

While I am not religious myself, I've taken a sort of curious interest in Mormonism. Needless to say, when I heard back in 2006 that HBO was putting out a show about Mormons, I was pretty excited. I was even more excited when I heard Chloƫ Sevigny was slated to play one of the wives of a polygamist. I watched Big Love through its short five season span, where it ended in one of the top conclusions I have seen on television.

Nicki (Chloƫ Sevigny), Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Bill (Bill Paxton), and Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin).

Big Love is about a man, Bill Henrickson, and his relationship with his three wives, Barb, Nicki, and Margene. They are a polygamist foursome that live in Salt Lake City, Utah, with there many children. Even from just this short description, the show screams controversy. Add in a law-breaking fundamentalist compound, false prophets, Native American casinos, and a fair share of murder and deception, and you get the superbly crafted world of Big Love.

Mark V. Olsen and partner Will Scheffer are the creators and writers of the show. It is produced by a number of talented individuals, including Alexa Junge (who worked on Friends) and Tom Hanks. The score for the series changed hands from season to season, but included some heavy hitters like Mark Mothersbaugh and David Byrne (Talking Heads).

While the show at purely entertainment face value is enthralling, it also touches on many deep-seated issues dealing with family, faith, and sense of self. Themes of feminism, reputation, and political change are also at the heart of Big Love. What has been interesting throughout the show's run has been the actual Mormons' responses to the portrayal of Mormons in the show. The actual church claims that they are generally against the show because it "glamorizes a practice it renounced in 1890." From the same article, it seems that a lot of Mormons, especially fellow polygamists, feel that the show sheds light on a side of polygamy that is completely different than what the current mainstream America stereotypes it as:
"This is a glimpse of a family that is mainstream," Mary Batchelor, a 37-year-old mother of seven and director of "Principle Voices," a leading polygamy advocacy group, said of the Henricksons. "There are hundreds of these families. It shows an aspect of polygamy nobody ever sees."
Big Love was a refreshing addition to my television intake (which, at the time I was watching it, consisted of Cartoon Network, Malcolm in the Middle, and Six Feet Under). I've recently re-watched the series after it ended in March of this year and found myself just as taken with the show's twists and turns, even though I knew each one.


An interesting behind-the-scenes look on the title sequence of Big Love:


To read more, try these links:
'Big Love' creators discuss the finale: 'We didn't want it to be a downer' - [WARNING: Spoilers!]
Critic's Notebook: Farewell to 'Big Love' - [WARNING: More spoilers!]
'Big Love' in big trouble with Mormons -

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