Sunday, March 26, 2006

BIG LOVE. Big deal

Have you seen this show yet? Is the thinking “How can we do DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES but only have to pay for one husband?”

This show makes no sense. Bill Paxton plays a guy who has three wives, three homes, a dozen kids, and has only one job…in the easy money making state of Utah. Excuse me but he would be dead by now.

Oh, and there’s this other little wrinkle. It’s supposed to be a secret. How do you pull that off? What do you write on your tax return when they ask for spouse? What picture do you put on your Christmas card? Don’t other mothers get suspicious when there’s a different woman every day driving carpool when it’s their turn? How do they set up their Cingular family plan? What will Jehovah Witnesses think when the same guy answers the door at three houses?

And what’s in this for the wives? Jeanne Tripplehorn is the first wife. She once had him to herself. Why would she give that up? Why would the middle (trophy) wife, Chloe Sevigny, accept this arrangement when she could still nab an unmarried man? How many bad dates on did she have to have before she agreed to this situation? And why would either of them go along with young Ginnifer Goodwin as either wife #3 or jailbait #1?

The deal is he’s supposed to rotate each night between them. Big surprise! He has trouble getting it up each night. So he takes Viagra. He should also take everything that Barry Bonds takes. And these are three beautiful women. I bet in reality a polygamist family’s photo must look like the Green Bay Packers team picture.

If the show’s ratings decline or if his impotence problem continues they could always rename the show DEADWOOD.

There’s a scene in the pilot where the three women are dividing up the nights and fighting over him. (This is Bill Paxton, remember. It’s not Sean Connery.) If my wife was one of the three I bet she’d be saying “YOU take him. Take him for the week. The month.”

He’s got a friend who’s also a polygamist but who cheats? Huh??? What’s his excuse – my wives don’t understand me? I need some variety?

Then he’s got wacko parents who live at the compound. Truthfully, I’d rather see stories at the compound. Maybe there I could learn the philosophy behind this perfect-for-cable-exploitation way of living. And even if not, there’s Bruce Dern and Harry Dean Stanton – far more interesting to watch than Bill Paxton zipping up his fly or three women preparing breakfast for twenty.

At every level this show seems bogus. For a better example of how a series treats a religion with sensitivity and accuracy might I suggest SOUTH PARK?


Anonymous said...

Amen to that - I tried watching the show becuz I love the actors involved and I like the balls hbo shows with a lot of it's programming, but it just didn't take or make sense - seems more about sex and soapy drama than the real thing -

And I don't remember religion being central to the show I watched - which, it would have to be, because otherwise why would three women put up with that situation?

Probably keeping that subtle to avoid offending the mormons. like mormons really watch hbo . . .

Anonymous said...

after tonight i'm giving up on it. at least the sopranos have no sanctimonious delusions about who and what they are. i figured, hey, give them a shot, like joshua supporting people that aren't afraid to reach out for different things. but, sheesh, i just can't hang with these guys.

david golbitz said...

I'm gonna stick with the show for at least another episode or two. I cannot fathom why these women would go along with these marriages. It baffles me so utterly and completely, I need to know their reasons.

Anonymous said...

The deadwood joke was great.

- Allen

Anonymous said...

No, I have to admit why any of the wives got into the situation, but it is easy to see WHY they stay...Mormonism, even in the mainstream version, is quite devoted to female submission and the acceptance of male "stewardship" (domination).
Remember a couple of years ago when that teenage girl in Utah was kidnapped and held for nine months by a man and his wife? There were times when she could have literally walked across the street and escaped, but she didn't. And these weren't like the folks who held Patty Hearst, with over-the-top invective and serious firepower to keep her in line. The man just told her she had to stay, and as a good Mormon girl she unquestioningly accepted the authority of the male under whom she was living.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU! I thought that I was just looking at the absurdity of this show from a woman's perspective; it's even more hilarious from a male point of view.

Anonymous said...

I've watched only the pilot -- which I found interesting, but not compelling enough to make me want to make an appointment for more episodes.

For me the polygamy wrinkle wasn't on its own enough to sustain my interest. Ultimately it's about the characters, their relationships, and whether you as a viewer want to spend time with them.

I thought the most compelling character was the teenage daughter who worked at the burger place, faced with a real question of whether to be super-traditional or more mainstream Mormon.

Based on just the pilot I think "Everybody Loves Raymond" did a better job of exploring the difficulties of domestic life with more than one primary female to deal with. And it was funnier.

Julie Goes to Hollywood said...

"I bet in reality a polygamist family’s photo must look like the Green Bay Packers team picture."

This little nugget of gold says it all about the big bucks and why you're still getting them. (You are, aren't you?)

AnnaMartin said...

Love the blog.

That said...

They are not supposed to represent "regular" Mormons.

Bill Hendrickson was raised by his quasy-feminst mother at the "compound," an independent extremist sect led by Roman, the "prophet." He was -- as actually happens and as hit the news last year in regards to a sect very similar to Big Love's -- driven out of town by his father and kicked out when he was fourteen. This happened (and happens) because old men get the young girls, so they kick out their non-first-born male heirs.

Bill somehow went to college and there he met Barb, who was raised "normal Mormon" (ie, one husband, one wife) and they fell in love, got married and had three kids (ages 16-ten or so).

Barb got ovarian cancer, at which point Bill and Barb were forced (by finances, I assume) to reconnect with Bill's family (Barb's family did not like him. I wonder why?). Roman's daughter Niki was sent to help Bill and Barb out while she was sick. Either then, or slightly before that, Bill borrowed money from Roman to open his first Hendrickson's Home Appliance store. Per the agreement, Roman was to get 15 percent of the profits.

Barb had to have a hystorectomy and was no longer able to have children (by the way, Barb is a substitute teacher), and so she "let" Bill marry Niki. I take that to mean that that was part of the deal between Roman and Bill to get the funding for the store. I agree, it doesn't really seem to make sense.

Margene, not necessarily Mormon that we know of, grew up without a stable father figure and without a stable mother in Colorado, but moved to Utah when she was a teen. Sometime after she turned 18, she started working at Bill's first (and at the time, only) store, but was very bad at it. Bill hired her to babysit his children (at the time, there were Barb's three and probably at least one from Niki).

Margene wanted to join the family, and Bill, Barb and Niki discussed it and agreed. Bill, Barb and Niki all "married" Margene and collectively gave her a ring. They all moved into three new homes in a new neighborhood. The backyards are connected.

This is how it works:

Bill is legally married to Barb. She and her children are the only ones with Bill's last name. Niki, Margene and their children have (respectively) Niki and Margene's last names, just like Bill's last name is not his father's (because his mother was not his first wife), but his mother's.

Bill enters and exits their homes only by Barb's front door or garage, even if he is sleeping at Niki's or Margene's that night (in which case he then enters the appropriate home through the connected backyard. He parks in Barb's garage and introduces only her (and her children) as his wife (and his children).

The cover story is that Niki, whose house is not next to Barb's but next to Margene's (it goes, in a line: Barb, Margene, Niki), is a single mother who bought her own house but whom Bill and Barb are close to. Bill and Barb, when they bought their house, also bought the one next door (Margene's), because "it was such a good deal" and they rent it to her. Both Niki and Margene are, officially, single mothers.

I assume that when Margene babysat for them, Barb took young Margene under her wing. When Margene expressed an interest in joining them, Barb jumped at the chance, to offset the jealousy and tension between her and Niki (who is very snooty). Granted, it doesn't make much sense. But, if my husband was married to Niki, I'd want someone to drown her out, too. And, as you said, it means that none of them have to put up with Bill every single f-ing night.

Bill has, since, opened a second store, which is creating much financial (and personal) trouble with Roman who, by the way, is slowly poisoning Bill's father to death, although we don't know why yet.

Bill is not just a regular guy who can afford three houses and four cars; he is portrayed as an exception, a very successful business man.

All that said, I cannot help but hear Bill Paxton (who, yes, is no Sean Connery)'s character from "True Lies" everytime he gets braggy about anything, or chuckles arrogantly. And, like Schwartznegger, it makes me want to reach over and break his neck with a quick, well-aimed bitch-slap.

Callaghan said...

....not to mention the fact that it is because of "Big Love" that we all have to wait until July for new episodes of Deadwood (the show, not the joke).

Deadwood was SUPPOSED to debut the same night as Sopranos, but then Tom Hanks and his Hollywood pull convinced them to give the primo timeslot to Big Love instead.

So now, an entire season of completed Deadwood episodes sit in David Milch's basement, waiting, while Hanks' precious polygamist show wastes the airtime. And for that, there can be no forgiveness.

Anonymous said...

Excellent blog Ken. I think this show is
an example of an idea that is sensational
enough to draw in an audience, but there
is no writing here, no story.

There are certain rules about good story
telling, good acting, and good writing,
but when steal an idea, you need to back
it with more than bull shit.

Greg Tito said...

I don't get it either. It's on after Sopranos, so they get me there, but I have yet to stay and watch a whole episode. There's nothing at stake because the whole premise is ridiculous. There's been no motivation explained for either side, why would a man subject himself to 3 bitchy wives and why would the women put up with what amounts to sanctioned cheating? The show makes me uncomfortable.

That and I keep hearing, "Game over man!" and "I don't know if you've been keeping up with current events, but we just got our asses kicked!" everytime Bill Paxton opens his mouth.

By Ken Levine said...

Banana Martin,

Was I out getting a Scooter Pie when all of that was explained? In my book, if you can't tell the premise in the theme song there's something wrong. The BIG LOVE premise requires a four year major a BYU.

Kane said...

I disagree. I think the show has a lot of potential in how it inverts the usual dynamic of sexual politics, in which the ideal goal is to keep your various romantic partners from learning about each other. Here, they all know about each other, and track their various fluctuations in influence and power carefully, but they then have to work things through without involving anyone else. And I think that allows you to run a lot of angles you couldn't otherwise.

Ken, you've been in this business for longer than most, how many times have you read, or watched, X walking in on A in the shower, thinking they were really X's significant other, B? And how many times has that resolved itself in a way you haven't seen before? Okay. Now how many times have you seen X walk in on his wife A, thinking she was his wife B? That setup gives you a whole different set of options and directions you can go, beginning from the very start - does X even admit his mistake?

This setup's also useful in terms of depicting people struggling with faith. Religious faith is transparently important to a lot of people in this show, and for these characters to be real we have to see that working on them. However, "struggling with your faith" is a damned hard thing to depict on TV. Sitting around for an hour praying and thinking isn't very photogenic. One way to deal with this, historically, was to make the divinity a character, or at least a representable force, a la Nothing Sacred or Joan of Arcadia. Well, for one thing, this puts the writers in the unenviable position of having to decide what, and how, the divinity would communicate with their protagonist. For another thing, it's literally a deus ex machina, and allows the characters to get off easy - they didn't really struggle with faith, they just mined a struggle and then faith showed up to help things along.

In this situation, however, Bill has three people around he would logically talk to and include in his struggles with faith. Three very different people, with different backgrounds, and beliefs, and understandings of the nature and function of divinity, and of family. This allows the writers to externalize Bill's crises and struggles with faith, and use them as an opportunity to further flesh out the characters and their dynamic, without resorting to stunts or magical solutions. If they work this angle right, this show could become the most serious treatment of religious faith on television.

All that said, I will admit that the show devotes too much attention to long arcs at the expense of individual episodic narratives; episode 3, which this post is probably in specific reaction to, was particularly bad in that regard. Overall, though, it's probably no worse than The Sopranos, though that show has the benefit of a few seasons of accumulated history to riff off of and work around, not to mention the fact that a 15 minute subplot that concludes in someone getting whacked is more memorable than a 15 minute subplot that concludes in a terse conversation. The writers should try balancing this out more, setting up plots that pay off (and pay off well) within the episode, or within a few episodes - I think Weeds would be a good inspiration in this regard. But I'm willing to give the writers a bit more time to get into their groove.

AnnaMartin said...

Ken -

Glad you asked ("Was I out getting a Scooter Pie when all of that was explained?" - were you? Are they good?).

Most of the stuff I explained was revealed via dialogue morsels (ie Bill yelling at his father during an argument that he [father] never gave him anything, not even his name, and again during an argument, that his father literally drove him out of the compound when he was 14 and told him never to come back [or, at least, not for a long long time]. Presumably, given how the compound works, upon Roman's instructions) -- or its been explained via action.

Other things, too. In the pilot, Barb substitute-teaches a class. In the pilot, Bill and Roman clash over $$, namely, Bill not wanting to fork over 15 percent of the 2nd store, too. Also, when Bill returned to the compound to take care of his father, it was clear (without it being explicitly said) that Niki was Roman's daughter. re: Barb's cancer, in the pilot, Roman's new (15-year-old) wife hoitily antagonized Barb about her cancer, historectomy, and the fact that doctors couldn't fix her. And that Barb and Bill had previously been "regular" married.

re: how the 3-way works, there were (again, non-explicit) things:

In the pilot, Bill's eldest daughter playfully scolds him for exiting Niki's house from the front door and entering his car, parked in front of Barb's house -- rather than going from Niki's house to Barb's via the privacy o fthe backyard, then exiting Barb's as if that was the only place he lived (and btw, am I the only one creeped out by any scene between Bill and his eldest daughter? esp. since Margene looks so young?).

In the third, most recent, ep, Bill buys Margene a car, but has to park it in Margene's garage and then enter through Barb's house and go to Margene's through the yard to tell her its there.

Regarding the arrangement, though, the main explanation came in ep 3 when Bill met his new neighbors, did a bit of explaining to them, then called Barb (to warn her they had a "neighbor situation). Barb then went to meet the neighbor's wife, and literally explained the whole three houses, Niki owning hers, Margene renting from them thing.

Sorry if I sound abit hoity myself, here. I really am a big fan of yours and your writing.

I just feel like you didn't give the show itself a chance.

Some things I found out online (like the details of Bill and Niki's marriage; Margene's entrance into the family was dealt with in episode 3). But most everything else I just picked up on through watching.

I'm not a fan of shows that you need to dedicate hours online to in order to fully understand (it's one of my main complaints with Lost). I feel that a show should be understood, and enjoyed, via its alloted airtime.

I'm not sure that Big Love is enthralling or that the initial novelty of it all (much like Desperate Housewives) will last very long. But I'm confident that in a few more eps all this will be explained.

Personally, I kind of like that there's some mystery to it: why did Barb let him remarry? how can he possibly keep this up (literally)? why in the world would he subject himself to this? and so on.

Anonymous said...

It's a sitcom without any jokes.

Anonymous said...

"That and I keep hearing, "Game over man!" and "I don't know if you've been keeping up with current events, but we just got our asses kicked!" everytime Bill Paxton opens his mouth. "

I have the same reaction to Paxton, plus I always picture his pants-wetting expression from True Lies when the Gubernator hands him his ass. To me, the guy exudes as much charisma as the browning bananas in my fridge.