Mirror TV Critic
HBO has no problem taking us places inside ourselves we didn’t even know we had. In particular, making the viewers uncomfortable never seems to be an issue on the blooming network, only that their programming be, first and foremost, original. Well, you can’t get much more original than Big Love, the latest HBO drama to captivate audiences with its sheer audacity and likable characters.
Unlike other shocking, entertaining shows produced by the network – Sex and the City, Six Feet Under and Carnivale – Big Love might give you weird dreams, you know, the kind where you find yourself sitting naked in the Pope’s lap or walking in on a man dressed up in a plushy bunny suit doing something untoward in one of the rooms at the Overlook. Either way, Big Love will make you squirm but will also be impossible to turn off.
There are so many creepy things about Big Love it’s hard to know where to start. The show takes place in Utah amid those oddly religious and polygamous Mormons (5% of the Mormon population in Utah supposedly practice it), and revolves around Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) who has the blessing and curse of three wives – his first (and only “legal”) wife Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), his second wife, the bitter and mischievous Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) and the newest one, the ripe young peach, Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin). All wives have given Bill at least two children that range in age from horny teenager all the way down to baby.
The goings-on at the Henrickson households is but half of the story. Back at the fundamentalist polygamist homestead, there are also power plays and intrigue amid other alpha males and their multiple wives. Bill’s own father Franklin (Bruce Dern) has his wives vying to take the number one slot now that the eldest among them has died. The uber-creepy Roman, better known as The Prophet (Harry Dean Stanton) is Nicki’s father. His youngest bride-to-be is fourteen-years-old.
Watching the show leaves you with an icky film all over that begs for a hot shower and a good loofah. Even if you can get past the weirdness of Bill’s own compound, where the women have to hide their “lifestyle” from the world, and the heretofore unseen depiction of a man kissing and making love to three different women, you still have to deal with even more unsettling elements, like the women’s “plain” clothing and their having to lie to neighbors.
Half the time you want to go “ewwwww” and the rest of the time you’re waiting to see what happens next. There is no doubt, though, that Big Love is making an effort to see the practical side of polygamy – how three women deal with jealousy and childcare and grocery shopping. It wouldn’t work if it weren’t funny.
It makes light of the righteous as it exploits their weak underpinnings. Nicki is jealous because Barb is secretly making love to Bill and shirking their “schedule.” As a result, Nicki announces to the family that she’s going to have a baby, but is taking birth control pills in the meantime. This assures she will get Bill for a little loving whenever she likes without having to bother with a subsequent pregnancy. Margene and Bill’s son have a mutual attraction that will have to be addressed at some point, especially since the teen can think of nothing BUT sex.
What makes “Big Love” watchable, ultimately, is not the freak show aspect of it but the all-star cast. How can you go wrong with actors like Stanton, Mary Kay Place, Dern and especially Sevigny who, as the bratty Nicki, absolutely steals the show.
Sevigny has long been cast as the wide-eyed waif and love interest in indie films. But she is inexplicably perfect as the one wife who really has no business being there but also has no intention of being pushed aside. Sevigny is as good a reason as any to tune in each week, just to see what she’ll do next.
Big Love airs on Sunday nights on HBO after The Sopranos.