HBO's Big Love

So last night was worth the exorbitant price of cable with HBO, for two reasons. First, "The Sopronaos" reappeared after an eighteen month hiatus. Second, immediately following "The Sopranos" came the new HBO series "Big Love" -- about polygamy.I'm not going to blog about"The Sopranos" because I'min the process of finishing a print article about the series and its religiousdimensions. So I will blog about "Big Love."

The series concerns a polygamist, Bill Henrickson (played by Bill Paxton), his three wives, and his seven children. If you can get over the hair color thing, the quickest way to to convey the personalities among the wives is by analogy to the three sisters in "The Brady Bunch." Barb Henrickson (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn) is like Marcia- the oldest, extremely competent, successful, and nice. She's fortyish --the first wife--the only legal wife. Next there's thirtyish Nicki Henrickson, played by Chloe Sevigny --she's like Jan; the middle wife, not as competent as the older wife, not as innocently charming as the younger wife. Her father is the "prophet" --the leader of a Mormon sect that practices polygamy on a compound in the countryside. She feels put upon, and the need toassert herself. The youngest --and I do mean youngest, like twentyishis Margene Henrickson (played by Ginnifer Goodwin). She's Cindy-- except for the curls. She's sweet,manipulatively innocent, and incompetent. They live in a nice upper-middle class neighborhood in the suburbs of Salt Lake City; in three houses in a row, furnished in varieties of Pottery Barn. From the street, the three houses all look separate and distinct; from the back, they share a common, huge backyard. Thy are keeping up appearances.

My thoughts about the series:

1) It's not meant to advocate polygamy, any more than the Sopranos is meant to advocate mob life. Instead, it invites "normal" busy middle-class, Pottery Barn buying Americans to see their own lives caricatured in the series. Bill Henrickson is a prosperous businessman; he has no time--he runs from work to home to home to home. His relationship to hiswives suffers because he has no time for them.

2) If you tilt your head 15 degrees off center, you could see the series asthe natural successor to Sex and the City.Why?Well, that show was ultimately about the relationshipof the women, as filtered through their attempts to relate to men. So, in a way, is this show.Suppose all the women from Sex and the City found one good man -- and decided to share him. Then you'd get Big Love. Bill is a good man. But Bill doesn't run things--he is run, and run ragged, I might say.Hiswivessit downonce a month to parcel out who gets him when--their three day rotation is negotiated, and trades are made around birthdays, anniversaries, etc. The houses are the wives's houses, and reflect their personalities.He doesn't have anything that reflects him. He just moves from house to house to house. In one scene, he is sitting, dejected, out in the yard in the late evening. The first wife sees him, and is initially moved to comfort him, but it's not her night--seeing his young third wife in the window looking down upon him, the first wife goes back into the house.

He's both busy and alone.

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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