“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.
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.
“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.
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]