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tv talk: mr. & mrs. & mrs. mrs.: big love by Yee-Fan Sun | 1 2
continued from page 1

Yup, Bill has three wives, each living in adjacent houses that look separate from the front yard, but are connected by one big, communal backyard. Though often associated with Mormonism in mainstream culture, the practice of polygamy has been officially banned by the LDS church for over 100 years, and is illegal in Utah. So in addition to dealing with intra-family issues both common (money stress, the difficult of finding a time when both partners are equally in the mood for some good lovin') and not so much (making out a calendar that sets out which nights hubby will spend with which wife), the entire Henrickson clan must also struggle to ensure that their family status remains a secret from the disapproving eyes of the rest of the world.

The pilot episode of Big Love takes its time immersing us in the lives of these characters; by episode's end, we still haven't learned what, exactly, led Bill and Barb to decide the polygamous life was the right decision for them, nor is it clear how we're supposed to feel about their choice. What we do get are some intriguing possible insights into the whys and hows, tiny glimpses into the Henricksons' life that neither glamorize nor condemn it. We find out that Bill was raised in but since distanced himself from a fringe polygamist Mormon-derived group headed up by a creepy guy named Roman [Harry Dean Stanton], who seems to use his self-proclaimed prophet status mainly as an excuse to seduce young girls and fleece money from his followers; we learn that Barb got cancer and had to have a hysterectomy, and sometime after, she and Bill decided to bring Nicki and then Margene into their family. The wives actually seem freethinking and kind of feisty, on board with the idea of sharing the same man in theory, even as the natural jealousies inevitably sneak out; the older kids have a hard time with peers, but seem like they're mostly growing up all right. We're introduced to a huge array of interesting side characters played by all sorts of brilliant actors you'd recognize from well-loved movies and TV shows past and present -- including Mary Kay Place [The Big Chill, My So-called Life] as one of Roman's older wives, and the scary little girl from The Ring [Daveigh Chase] playing the newest and youngest of the cult leader's brides. Particularly awesome, though, is seeing Amanda Seyfried, aka murdered sexpot Lilly Kane from Veronica Mars, playing wholesome as the oldest Henrickson daughter, Sarah. As if that weren't enough, VM's Mac, Tina Majorino of Napoleon Dynamite fame, shows up as a gung-ho Mormon girl who's new to town, and eager to become friends with Sarah.

With the squickiness most folks inherently feel when they hear the word polygamist, Big Love's a hard sell, I know. Still, featuring a stellar cast, strong writing, and a family dynamic that's perfect for challenging our preconceptions regarding partnership and parenthood, love and sex, this is the stuff of which great television is made. Yes, there's potential a-plenty, though whether it'll pan out into something that really resonates remains to be seen. I can't say I'm hooked -- yet -- but I do know this: I'm really looking forward to episode two. Big Love looks well-poised to continue the HBO tradition of giving viewers strong, complicated characters whose actions can't easily be classified as purely good or wholly bad -- giving us lucky viewers some fascinating TV fodder on which to chew.

Big Love airs Sundays at 10pm ET/PT, on HBO.


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