Thursday, March 09, 2006

Big Love

So, at pick-up time in the schoolyard one afternoon, a dad/journalist in possession of an advance copy HBO’s newest grope-opera, “Big Love” (premiering Sunday) passed me his reviewer’s package. He told me to keep it on the “DL.” I felt so instantly cool in that moment, almost like an insider, or at least somebody who gets to peek through the windows of or deliver a pizza to What’s Going On Manor. The DL. It's cool.
I must be on the UH (up-high) with you though and tell you that the probable impetus for letting me in on the review-copy of the series likely had very little to do with my special j’ne se quois. No, I believe the journalist said something about me being Mormon and wanting to know my perceptions and/or thinking, and that I might enjoy the series since it is based on Utah polygamists.
Now, I have thought I was done correcting people about me and the Mormons. In Utah, I am not considered Mormon anymore, in NYC I am That Weird Mormon lady from Utah. Well, then, the truth: somewhere in the middle is most accurate, somewhere near Ohio.

So what was I to do with this advance copy of something being majorly hyped all over the city? We’re talking about bus-billboards, a wedding cake with a groom and three brides in an “It” Lower East Side bakery (thank you Shelley), actual wedding announcements with the series’ husband and three wives’ names embossed and postmarked out of Utah….And that’s all I have inactively become aware of. Clearly, HBO’s really trying hard here.

As well they better.

On a couple of nights over the past week, I gathered with Mormon friends to screen the series. Here’s the premise from HBO:

The owner of a growing chain of home improvement stores, Bill (Bill Paxton) struggles to balance the financial and emotional needs of Barb, Nicki and Margene (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin), who live in separate, adjacent houses and take turns sharing their husband each night. While managing the household finances together and routinely sharing "family home nights," they try to keep simmering jealousies in check and their arrangement a secret.

Well, oddly, this polygamous family never joins up with any polygamous community. They are living “The Principle” on their own although I do believe from my own observation that they could easily fit into some of the more mainstream polygamous sects in Salt Lake without much trouble from the law. They could even pull the Plyg classic: Collect-Wellfare-as-a-Bunch-of-"Single-Mothers" This could alleviate some of the aforementioned financial stress. (I'm just trying to help.)
Honestly people. Utah looks the other way as Utah is naturally conflicted on the issue of polygamy. But I guess they need to be on the DL because the series needs, what’s it called? Oh yeah. Tension.
Although voyeuristic viewers may be initially snagged by the spectacle and logistics and promising tension of three hot ladies voluntarily sharing one dowdy husband, the novelty wears off by about episode three. Eventually, what the series becomes is slack, yes even flaccid, limping around in a lot of household wifey bickering with a husband saddled by issues with his teen-weddin’, money-lovin' father in-law,“The Prophet.” (Harry Dean Stanton, about whom my friend Shelley quipped, “they just keep raising him from the ashes don’t they?").
Seriously. That’s about it. Yes there are some funny aspects to a guy living every Joe’s dream and having to turn to Viagra to keep it all up, if you will. But the jokes aren’t good or frequent enough, the lifestyle isn’t dark enough (like "The Sopranos" or "Six Feet Under"), and the characters are just not likeable or hateable enough. What we are left with is a nearly mainstream dull suburban family that fights a lot over everyday things.

Perhaps I just don’t feel I need to watch TV to see that.

The Big Questions then:

Q: Are Mormons polygamists?
A: Not the mainstream LDS sect (the one I grew up in.) They renounced it to gain statehood in 1890 although it probably took one more generation of Mormons to really get it out of the system (my grandfather grew up in polygamy.) However, Mormons do believe that polygamy is essential to attain exaltation in the afterlife in the Celestial Kingdom, the highest degree of Heaven. When younger, I participated in many hand-wringing discussions with other Mormon girls who did not look forward to this principle in the afterlife. In the end, we usually guessed that we just needed faith and that it would all work out.

Q: Do the Fundamentalists really dress like that?
A: What, with the poof-top melting into French braid, a prairie dress, and some Reebok tennis shoes? Why yes. Yes they do. They also seem fond of acid wash denim vests. HBO researchers did their homework here.

Q: How was the acting in “Big Love” ?
A: Chloë Sevigny gets the look of a Fundamentalist down, what with her largish inbred looking noggin. She seems adequately catty and bossy as what would be considered a polygamy prima Dona.
Grace Zabriskie who aptly plays a fundamentalist gone mental older mother is a scene-stealer. I can’t imagine that she is not the pants-wearing, gun-totin’, P.O.’d, compound pariah that she plays.
Tina Majorino who plays Heather, a mainstream Mormon teen who is onto the Plygs is as real as it gets in the world of acting.
The others are pretty unremarkable and can I already just say that I did get sick of Bill Paxton’s heinie on screen, especially when clad in demi-transparent briefs? Mercy. Enough already.

Q: Do they get the Mormon details right?
A: Right enough for HBO’s purposes although you would think that they could have hired a Mormon for very little to coach them on how to pronounce things like, “Celestial Kingdom.” (We say, “Celest-CHOL” not, “Celes-TEE-ahl.”)

Maybe I just find this series pedestrian because it’s where I’ve walked for many years minus, personally, sister-wives. I do find it suprising thought that after a sexy NY columnist, the Mob, carnies, and undertakers, Utahns are the next big exotic.
Oddly, from what I hear, "Big Love" is being very weakly marketed in Utah, if at all.
It's on the DL.
Utah's not feeling the Big Love.

(For a much different appraisal of "Big Love," by one of the Mormons who watched with me, see Adriana's review.)

7 Comments:

Blogger tinarama said...

It's the same around here -- Buddhists, Gaians and Catholics are commonplace, and Mormons are considered as exotic as the Amish. Who'd a thunk? The other night at dinner with some friends, an entire table of people turned to stare at me when someone mentioned I was a Mormon. They wanted to know how many wives my father has!

2:18 PM  
Blogger Adriana Velez said...

Wow, sad to hear the series goes flaccid by the 3rd episode! It has such promise.

I love, LOVE, Zabriskie in this. She's my favorite character so far.

3:09 PM  
Anonymous BIG Mike said...

Never mind the polygamists, I was more than a little concerned about schoolyard safety in NYC before the end of the first paragraph: A man in the school yard passed me a package and said don't tell anyone... I'd get arrested if I tried that.

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Lilac Penguin said...

It's funny how being different is thought of as being exotic. I live in the south and work for a company of about 70 or so people. Mainly baptist and methodists. A few morans and penicostals. I am the only Catholic that I know of so far. The level of comic relief I get when they come up and ask me to explain something 'catholic' they heard on the radio. They were all so sure I was some Mary worshipping cult follower. They don't understand not being an evenglicalist.

Everyone has misconceptions on things they do not understand, and sterotypes on things they known too liitle about and find no reason to understand. Hopefully this show can open a discussion to help educate people..

6:35 PM  
Blogger Writermama said...

Great little polygamist family you built for the photo. I wonder what the kids would look like?

7:26 PM  
Blogger newbrooklyner said...

So,tina, how many?

adriana, the show's really ok. I just wanted to say that word because I like to upset people.

and big mike, I'm more concerned for you with those 'roos and wallabees. secret packages are so blah.

lilac p, I always fantasized about being Catholic while I grew up Mormon. All that fire seemed so irresistable.

writerma, thank you for noticing my photo-illustration. It took me longer than I care to disclose to create.

3:27 PM  
Anonymous gill said...

I went to college with Ginnifer Goodwin. I can't watch the show for that reason. (Back then, she was Jennifer, Jenny actually, and she left our little Indiana noplace college town for the bright lights of Boston, where she learned to liken acting to "making a meatloaf." we laughed at our silly sill friend. Now she's laugyhing out of the ohter shide of her face

9:55 PM  

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