Polygamy Is a Party on New HBO Addition to Family Night

The Easterner Online
Eastern Washington University, Cheney

With three highly successful series already in production, “The Sopranos,” “Deadwood” and “Six Feet Under,” HBO hopes to add a fourth to the list: “Big Love.”

“Big Love” brings something completely new to the HBO series line-up: polygamy. One can only imagine the executives at HBO sitting down for lunch pitching ideas for a new series and coming up with this: a polygamist Mormon (the Mormon Church denounced polygamy in 1890) balances family life (times three) as well as owning and managing two home improvement stores while trying to keep a fundamentalist polygamist commune leader off his back.

What makes this show different from other family dramas is the fact that the husband Ben Hendrickson (Bill Paxton) has three separate families he must take care of and provide for, all the while keeping their lifestyle secret.

Polygamy is one of those things that people have heard about but never see. This is one of the major draws from this new show.

The families live in three adjacent houses with their backyard fences torn down in the suburbs of Salt Lake City. From the front, each family must pretend to be separate in order to protect their secret lifestyle. As with “The Sopranos,” “Deadwood” and “Six Feet Under,” HBO has capitalized on families and groups that are outside the normal experiences of its viewers. Big Love is no exception.

The actual workings of a polygamist family add a whole new meaning to the balance of work and family. In order for Bill Hendrickson to run and promote his two home improvement stores he must keep his family life secret from his primarily Mormon customers. At the same time he has to keep expanding his business to support his three wives and seven children.

There is also tension between each wife as they share the one man they love. The first wife, Barbara Hendrickson (Jeanne Tripplehorn), is the only one that is legally married to Bill. She has a certain amount of power over the other two wives, Nicolette Grant (Chloe Sevigny) and Margene Heffman (Ginnifer Goodwin). Each episode reveals more about how these three women interact with each other, their children and Bill.

In addition to the inner workings of Bill’s complex family life there is also a serious feud between Hendrickson and The Prophet Roman Grant, the leader of a fundamentalist polygamist commune. The basic premise of this feud is that Roman let Bill borrow money to start his flourishing chain of home improvement stores and now that the debt is repaid Roman wants more. A long-time feud between Bill’s family and Roman’s has been foreshadowed in various episodes adding to the allure of the show.

The commune, Juniper Creek, is another interesting aspect of the show. Life at Juniper Creek is a sharp contrast to the polygamist lifestyle that Bill’s family leads. When viewers are first introduced to the commune the first thing they see are tons of women dressed in conservative dresses working in makeshift gardens that line the dirt road leading into the commune. The inner workings of the commune, led by Roman, who professes that their religious beliefs are staying true to the original Mormon doctrines, is another strong aspect of this show.

The way all these aspects are balanced in an hour’s worth of time leaves the viewer wanting more. There is an excellent balance between the humorous interactions between the characters, especially how each of the wives feels about the other and the seriousness of keeping their lives secret from the outside world. Thrown in on top of this is the feud between Bill and Roman, and HBO looks to have produced another winning program to add to their list.