When reality shows hijacked the networks a few years ago, I thought intelligent television was over. What was bad became awful, and when things got as low as they could go, they somehow got lower. Oddly enough, reality shows brought ratings up; someone was watching them. Not me, though. I cancelled my cable. I started watching the evening news and shutting off the TV, spending the rest of my evening curled up watching a big-screen movie on my home-sized “little screen.”
Then something odd happened: Movies got bad-really bad, and suddenly, TV-writing got really good. Some of the industry’s best film actors started relocating to the small screen in droves, instead of the other way around. I scratched my head and thought I was in some parallel universe where film was suddenly TV’s kid sister and entertainment’s patriarch was Tony Soprano and not Don Corleone (aka The Godfather).
Sure, the reality shows are still among us, but now there are a few television shows that even I, “jaded non-TV viewer” would deem worthy of my Netflix queue. Chiefly among them is the HBO series, Big Love.
Big Love chronicles the tale of Bill Henrickson, a hard-working Utah man that just so happens to have a family of three wives and seven children. Even for Mormon territory, Bill and the so-called “sister-wives” (Barb, Nicki, and Margene ) have to keep their polygamist lifestyle secret and their family sacred.
Sounds peachy, eh? I casually watched the first couple episodes because it was getting some critical buzz and then suddenly, I realized I’d finished all of Season One, courtesy of Netflix. Sadly, I came to learn that Season Two was still months away for me, the non-cable/HBO/premium TV subscriber.
It was like being cut-off from a serial, soap opera addiction.
“Wait,” I though for a moment, “I’ve always hated soap operas…”
And that’s when I knew that I was totally hooked on “Love”, my so-called “soap opera of choice.”
The Henrickson’s lifestyle is what makes their situation (and the show itself) unique, but the relationships between the characters and the conflicts between the sister-wives, the community, and the fundamentalist Juniper Hill compound keep me coming back for more. All the characters have grown on me in their own ways, as they seem real. This is due partly to extraordinary acting by consummate professionals and partly due to the fantastic writing and the way the characters are drawn. They’ve all got their flaws and the personality traits that make them uniquely themselves. I’m sympathetic toward Bill and his constant juggling of keeping his hardware store together while dealing with the dramas of supporting, essentially, three households and the looming conflicts from his past ( the traditionalists at the compound.) Likewise, I’m thankful for Barb’s pragmatic nature, Margene’s bubbly personality and naivete, and Nikki’s snake-like ulterior motives and the downfalls of her shopping spree savvy that always keeps things interesting.
Big Love is a great example of what can happen when all the elements of casting, writing, acting, production design, cinematography, directing and the like come together harmoniously. Season One left us with Margene as newly pregnant, Nikki with mounting credit card debt, increasing threats from Roman’s posse at the compound, and Barb’s ( as well as the family’s) exposure as polygamists at the Utah’s best mother contest. With all of that in play, Season Two, once I get to it, should prove to be very interesting indeed- and more addictive than the largest venti coffee. The next time I hear the first few bars of “God Only Knowns” and see the first few frames of the opening sequence, I’ll be primed for my delicious fill of intrigue in the increasingly complex world of Big Love.
HBO TV-equipped viewers already know what Season Two brought to the Henricksons, but I’ll have to wait and see. Although Season Two’s release on DVD is unknown at this time, the series was recently renewed for another season so it looks like there’s a lot of Love in my future.
Mark V. Olson and Will Scheffer created the series after, I imagine, quite a bit of research about the polygamist lifestyle. Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman are executive producers. BIG LOVE airs on HBO.
For a compete schedule, cast interviews, and even access to your very own “Big Love” newsletter, check out HBO
BIG LOVE – Main Cast:
*Bill Paxton as Bill Henrickson
*Jeanne Tripplehorn as Barbara Henrickson
*Chloë Sevigny as Nicki Grant
*Ginnifer Goodwin as Margene Heffman
*Amanda Seyfr as Sarah Henrickson
*Douglas Smith as Ben Henrickson
*Harry Dean Stanton as Roman Grant
*Mary Kay Place as Adaleen Grant
*Bruce Dern as Franklin Harlow
*Grace Zabriskie as Lois Henrickson
*Joel McKinnon Miller as Don Embry
*Shawn Doyle as Joey Henrickson
*Melora Walters as Wanda Henrickson
*Brian Kerwin as Eddie Henrickson
*Matt Ross as Alby Grant
*Daveigh Chase as Rhonda Volmer
*Jolean Wejbe as Teeny Henrickson
*Keegan Holst as Wayne Henrickson
*Tina Majorino as Heather Tuttle
*Branka Katic as Ana
* Garrett Grey – Ray Henrickson
* Aidan and Andrew Gonzales – Joey Henrickson Jr.
* Wendy Phillips – Peg Embry, Don’s wife, Home Plus head bookkeeper
* Kyle Gallner – Jason Embry, Don and Peg’s son, Ben’s best friend.
* Annie Fitzgerald – Verna, Don’s second wife
* Renee Albert – Julep “Jo-Jo”, Don’s third wife
* Carlos Jacott – Carl Martin, neighbor, Pam’s husband
* Audrey Wasilewski – Pam Martin, neighbor, Carl’s wife
* Jodie Markell – Wendy Hunt, secretary for Bill
* Sarah Jones – Brynn, Ben’s girlfriend
* Lawrence O’Donnell – Lee Hatcher, family attorney
* Jim Beaver – Carter Reese, business acquaintance of Bill
* Luke Askew – Hollis Green, patriarch of a rival polygamist group
* Ellen Burstyn – Nancy, Barbara Henrickson’s estranged mother