“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.
“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.
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]