Monday, February 28, 2011

Big Amie

Before I had kids I was a big fan of the HBO series Big Love. I thought it was compellingly odd, and having traveled to Utah and seen the polygamist compounds there, and of course being obsessed with utopian societies and strange cults of all kinds, I found it interesting.

Recently we reopened our Netflix disc account and I ordered up the next part of the story following what I had previously seen -- the first part of Season 3. Just as when I watched "My So-Called Life" as an adult (total buzzkill, by the way, when you start to sympathize with Angela's parents and want to grab Jordan Catalano by his ear and throw him out the front door...) I have a very different perspective on the show.

I know that my opinions about a years-old season of a show that few people watch anyway really does not amount to a hill of beans, but I thought it was interesting, so here goes. This is what struck me this time around:

1. Bill is such a jerk! He loves to tell his wives to just "handle it" when he has made some sort of terrible social mess. While I am sure that the delegation skills required to maintain a polygamous household would push anyone to their limits, in a real marriage you cannot just tell your spouse you don't want to hear anything about the problems that affect both of you. It's ridiculous, and I don't know of any functional husband-wife pairs who do things that way. It's one thing for one person to handle one aspect of the household, and the other person another aspect, but it's different to just say, "Oh, handle it, and quit whining." I have yet to mow our lawn, but when Ben comes in after doing it, I will at least get him a cold drink and give him a pass on watching the kids solo until he gets over the heat stroke. I am the one who does my teaching work, but Ben will still listen to me when I have a problem and help me figure out a solution.

2. Bill and the three wives are always having these long, drawn-out, uninterrupted adult conversations in the early evening hours. Let me say, in our house we have one husband, one wife, and two kids, and it seems at times that the house is bursting with people, everyone needing something. In the Henrickson household, there are at least three babies, and five or six other kids besides. There is no way that all of the adults sitting calmly over the remains of barbecued chicken in the backyard would be able to carry on an entire conversation about the future of the store expansion, or some complicated legal situation, without at least one or two babies screaming and needing their mothers.

3. The Henricksons remind me of Dr. Quinn in that they are really plain old modern WASPy pop culture-infused, fashionable, politically correct people wearing a little hats that say "ooh except I'm different." Dr. Quinn was supposedly from the frontier, although she didn't represent the 1870s worldview really at all, and the Henricksons have twee little labels on their foreheads that say "I'm a polygamist! (giggle)" From what I know about religious zeal, it is much more likely that in real life a family like them would be a lot more private, a lot less "hip," much angrier, and certainly a lot less fashionable. Polygamy is more of a "schtick" for the show than it is central to who the characters themselves actually are. In fact, they all seem untouched by it except for Nicki. She is the only character that I really buy. Of course, that could be because she is played by the faaaabulous Chloe Sevigny. I honestly think they would have done better with the show if they put aside the religious aspect of the polygamy and had some sort of situation in which they had an open marriage between all of them, for everyone's mutual benefit, but the kicker is... it's in Utah! And the husband left the fundamentalist Mormon church! So he's living out his destiny, even though he's doing everything he can to rebel against it! Kapow! It might be more about them differentiating themselves from the compound polygamists rather than sort of throwing their lot in with the rest.

4. The women all just have way too damn much free time. Like I said before, I have two lovely kids, and every second of my day is circumscribed by caring for them. The show is forever showing this wife or that just roaming around the mall, or driving all by herself from one place to the next, or doing her nails, or something. Really?? I have two kids and I rarely do those things. If I had eight or ten kids in my charge? Forget it. I would run out to Walmart at 11pm for milk and diapers once a week and that would be it. I wouldn't even wear matching shoes half the time.

5. Motherhood has not seemed to affect these women. This is certainly my own experience writing itself all over what I watch, but I have a hard time watching shows in which women are bearing children right and left and still just being their normal selves, but with a fat, gurgling baby on their knee. Motherhood changed me in a really fundamental way. I literally don't feel like the same person I used to be, except in peripheral, detail-type ways. I don't even know how many kids the women have. They rarely mention them by name. And their houses are always so effing clean... yeah right.

So I don't know if I will keep watching it. I find the antics to be more about the "fish out of water" storyline and ignoring the domestic reality that would certainly come into play. For example, Nicki and Barb both have jobs. This means that Margene is watching 8-10 kids... all day. And she still looks so sprightly? I just don't buy it. And the older kids are going to all these drug parties and stuff... can you believe that a fundamentalist Mormon dad wouldn't have a really strong law about that kind of thing?

Interestingly enough, the one element that I have less of a problem with is the idea that all of the women could get along. Aside from sharing your husband (ew), I can appreciate the fact that it might be nice to have a couple of subordinate wives around the house to do my bidding. Ha ha.

So there it is. My opinions are so strong, and yet they don't matter at all. I enjoy delving into the unimportant every once in a while, for the chance to take a vacation from my real life, which looks nothing like the scrubbed and shiny polygamy farce on Big Love.


  1. My thought is that jealousies would be HUGE between wives. I cannot imagine feeling like I was competing with another woman for my husband's affection (whether or not that was out in the open, it's just a woman's nature to be this way). And can you imagine if you held on to the baby weight longer than one of the other wives? Ugh! Anyway, this is a fun post, I've never seen this show, but it's interesting to hear how your perspective has changed with the addition of children.

  2. I totally agree about all the free time and quiet conversations...unless the kids are being beaten into silence...which they also never show. It was always an entertaining show...the few times I saw it.

  3. I get it on netflix too. Got hooked on the whole idea after reading the 19th Wife (so good!) I'm only on season 1, and Margene does NOT seem to have her act together. Kids going nuts (the little ones...) and a messy house. I like her best. And Nikki's kids are crazy too. Maybe things change throughout the seasons (as Nikki doesn't work yet in the 1st season). I still like the far. :)

  4. Katie, I have watched a few more episodes since I posted this, and there is a bit more disarray showing itself, which I appreciate. :)