Category Archives: Big Love

You Say Apology, I Say Shifting Blame: Big Love’s Chloe Sevigny vs. Context

You Say Apology, I Say Shifting Blame

March 26th, 2010

On Big Love, Bill Henrickson and his family live a secretive life, outwardly projecting an image of normality while in truth living a complicated life as Polygamists. This requires a lot of what is effectively damage control: someone steps out of line, or reveals something they shouldn’t, or allows someone into the truth about their lives, and then the whole family mobilizes to shut things down and return to the status quo. It’s a process that has happened numerous times over the course of four seasons of the show, and it’s a process that apparently some PR flack believes will actually work in the real world.

Earlier this week, an interview with Chloë Sevigny, who plays Nicki on the HBO drama series, was posted at The A.V. Club. It was posted in the form of a lengthy Q&A that spanned her entire career, and after a brief discussion about differences between drama and comedy Sean O’Neal and Sevigny share the following exchange:

AVC: This past season of Big Love has taken a lot of flak for being so over-the-top.

CS: It was awful this season, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not allowed to say that! [Gasps.] It was very telenovela. I feel like it kind of got away from itself. The whole political campaign seemed to me very farfetched. I mean, I love the show, I love my character, I love the writing, but I felt like they were really pushing it this last season. And with nine episodes, I think they were just squishing too much in. HBO only gave us nine Sundays, because they have so much other original programming—especially with The Pacific—and they only have a certain amount of Sundays per year, so we only got nine Sundays. I think that they had more story than episodes. I think that’s what happened.

They go on to discuss the season in further detail, including some specific plot points that were particularly “over the top,” and then they move on. When I read the piece, I was ecstatic: here was an actress offering a legitimate and well-substantiated opinion on the show based on its narrative development rather than any sort of complaint about not getting enough material, or being mistreated, or anything of the sort. She explains her concern, makes note of her love for the people involved with the show, and then even offers a reason (HBO rushed them) the season went off the rails. She was measured and fair, and I applauded her for being so honest with her opinion.

But, like when someone mistakenly gets insight into the Henricksons’ life, someone is trying to make this story go away as quickly as possible: Sevigny has been interviewed by Michael Ausiello, the go-to television apology expert after his recent EW piece with Katherine Heigl, where she completely rewrites the details of interview, something I would expect Nicki to do if we’re sticking with this “life imitates art” thing. Says Sevigny:

I feel like what I said was taken out of context, and the [reporter] I was speaking to was provoking me. I was in Austin [at the SXSW festival] and really exhausted and doing a press junket and I think I just… I wasn’t thinking about what I was saying. You know, after a day of junkets sometimes things slip out that you don’t mean, and I obviously didn’t mean what I said in any way, shape, or form. I love being on the show. I have nothing but respect and admiration for our writers and everybody involved with the show.

Now, first off, Sean O’Neal has made his official response to these comments, including the audio of that section of the interview. But, since I’m still enormously frustrated with this response from Sevigny, let’s talk about the three things are happening here, and how none of them do anything to “help” this situation.

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Big Love – “Blood Atonement”

“Blood Atonement”

February 21st, 2010

“Seriously?!”

In one word, that’s my reaction to “Blood Atonement.” I’ll save the rest of my words for after the break.

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Big Love – “The Mighty and Strong”

“The Mighty and Strong”

January 31st, 2010

Big Love has always dealt with, by design, the trials and tribulations of Bill Henrickson and his extended family, reaching back into the depths of Juniper Creek and into the three houses that sit side-by-side in a Utah suburb. But over time, we’ve come to meet people who are connected to this extended family in different ways than the “family,” people who are part of this world without necessarily being part of Bill’s drama.

“The Mighty and Strong” certainly doesn’t refer to Bill Henrickson, bully, with its title, nor does it refer to his three wives who are all struggling to come to terms with their current situations. Rather, it seems to refer to the people who are on the periphery, the people who are there for these characters when their worlds start to unravel or who are there to offer a critical gaze on the actions being undertaken. They are, in a sense, what we imagine ourselves to be in this world: someone who will cut through the politics, but through the sensationalism, and just treat these people like human beings rather than pieces in a elaborate puzzle.

And, unfortunately, they’re people that the show’s central characters don’t always appreciate as much as they should.

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Big Love – “Strange Bedfellows”

“Strange Bedfellows”

January 24th, 2010

When a show gets into its fourth season, and when that show has in some ways come to the end of its initial storyline, they begin to branch off into new directions that producers will sell as exciting or intriguing and which are…often not.

The problem I think Big Love is running into is that they have chosen to expand its world as opposed to (for the most part) exploring nuances within that world. While the third season was perhaps the most successful yet in terms of turning its attention onto the family and their interactions with one another, this season has that family more scattered than ever before; while it’s opening up new story opportunities that have their moments, it feels as if the show is splintering in a way which doesn’t feel like a metaphor for the family falling apart or anything similar.

Instead, it feels like a show that doesn’t quite know what to do with itself, and that is just going with the flow when it should be stopping and considering an alternate route in a few instances. However, with only nine episodes in the season (yes, we’re a third of the way there), they seem reluctant to reconsider, and “Strange Bedfellows” reflects that tension.

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Big Love – “The Greater Good”

“The Greater Good”

January 17th, 2010

While there are a number of ideas on Big Love relating to the Principle that I’ve started to wrap my head around, the idea of a testimony has always felt problematically unreachable. This is, of course logical: as Don tells Bills, a testimony is only true if you feel it in your soul, and since we can’t possibly relate with Bill’s situation nor attempt to discern what his soul feels, we’re left (for lack of a better term) taking his word for it. And when the real heart of the show lies in its wives, all of whom lead more complex emotional lives that depend less on divine intervention, there are times when Bill’s faith-led decision making feels convenient rather than meaningful, contrived rather than spiritual.

At the end of the day, I think I believe Bill’s testimony in “The Greater Good” more than perhaps some of his past decisions, although I’m not entirely sure why. I don’t think it’s that I fully understand testimonies, but rather that the rest of the episode demonstrates the importance of conviction within the Henrickson household. And even if I don’t entirely understand why Bill makes the decision he does considering the wide range of potential conflicts, I fully understand why he would desire to prove his convictions, and why Nicki is struggling mightily to do the same in the wake of her own crisis of faith.

And regardless of whether I believe Bill or not, it was part of a really solid episode of the show.

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Season Premiere: Big Love – “Free at Last”

“Free at Last”

January 10th, 2010

Big Love is a show that’s all about high stakes, although it’s a show where its idea of high stakes tends to oscillate. As I wrote about on Sunday, my relationship with the show is very new, and somewhat mixed: I appreciate many parts of the show, but I have my concerns with how it balances its various story elements. When the stakes are high because of nuanced character interactions and slowly-building plot elements, the show is television drama at its finest; when the show defines its stakes in terms of Juniper Creek’s particular brand of insanity, or with any sense of comic zaniness, the show feels false in a way that does it no favours.

Unfortunately, the season is starting on a sour note, as “Free at Last” is a sad irony of an episode: no one is actually free, and the sheer volume of contrivances necessary to achieve that lack of freedom has weighted the show down considerably. There is some potential in these stories, but the episode glosses over so many issues in the early going that any sense of momentum or coherency coming out of Season Three has been damaged coming out of the gate, even if the show might eventually be able to turn this chaos into something substantial in the season to come.

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Big Like: Appreciation vs. Adoration in Three Seasons of HBO’s Big Love

Big Like: Appreciation vs. Adoration for Three Seasons of HBO’s Big Love

January 10th, 2010

About a month ago, I pulled my copy of Big Love Season 1 off of my “DVDs I bought but never watched” shelf and popped the first disc into my DVD player. It was a show that I missed because of its strange schedule, the first two seasons airing before I got “really” into serious dramatic television and the third season only airing after a considerably long gap. So while some critics were calling Big Love’s third season (which aired early in 2009) its best, and while the show turned up on multiple “Best of” lists at the end of the year, I was definitely out of the loop with an impulse purchased Season 1 DVD set waiting for the day when I would eventually decided to catch up.

Now that this moment has finally come, I’m discovering just why Big Love is such a divisive show amongst critics. Maureen Ryan posted a great piece this week on the idea that there are shows which you know are good, but that you also know are not the right show for you. She lists Big Love (and Breaking Bad, which is also sitting on the aforementioned shelf) as examples of this phenomenon, and I can entirely see where she’s coming from. Meanwhile, critics like James Poniewozik and Jace Lacob are very much in love with the series, while Alan Sepinwall sits in that critical position of wanting the show to focus more on the parts he finds interesting (which, considering how the show toyed with this idea at points of the third season, is not an unreasonable desire).

Considering the nature of the television critics’ community, when I catch up with a show I can’t help but place my own thoughts in context of their own. And when it comes to HBO’s Big Love, I sit somewhere between appreciation and adoration, mediating my enjoyment of the show’s complex personal relationships and value systems with my frustration with some of the show’s pacing. The third season has gone a long way to convincing me, however, that despite my reservations at times, this is a show that is “for me.”

It might, however, be a show for me to like instead of love when it returns for its fourth season tonight at 9pm ET on HBO and HBO Canada.

[Spoilers for the first three seasons of Big Love after the jump]

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