With Veronica Mars no longer being on television after its ludicrous cancellation, my absolute favourite show is HBO's Big Love--which coincidentally stars Veronica Mars' two best friends! Set in Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, the show stars Bill Paxton as Bill Henrickson. He tries to maintain a public persona while engaging in polygamy at home. He and his three wives, Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), second wife Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) and third wife Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin), live in three houses connected by an open backyard. Bill and Barb present themselves as a loving Mormon family, but at home their lives are complicated by Barb's resentment of Bill engaging in polygamy, Nicki's relationship with her father (the prophet of the polygamist colony where Bill was raised), and Margene's yearning to be a contributing member of the family. The show does not romanticize polygamy, nor does it blatantly condone it. Big Love showcases the effects of polygamy on one family, and how their lives are complicated by their choices.
Here are my top five reasons to watch Big Love:
1. Margene Heffman (Ginnifer Goodwin)
While all three of Bill's wives offer something different, it is Margene's innocence and charm that make her the most empathetic of the three. I feel Barb's pain when Bill is with his other wives, considering that she was married to him for 10 years before ever reverting to his polygamist past. During the first season Margene is often seen as naive and needy. She is overwhelmed by her two children. She feels belittled by Nicki. It is remarkable to watch how she grows and matures. In season 2 she befriends a woman named Ana, who Bill courts as a possible fourth wife. This friendship allows us (and Margie herself) to realize how much she loves Bill and their unique family. But it is during the third season that Margene comes alive. She becomes the public image of Bill's new business venture, an online gaming company. Margene has real business savvy and the ability to really sell her ideas. Margene is my favourite character, and she is the only one that I would want to befriend!
2. Ana (Branka Katic)
While only appearing in eight episodes, Ana makes a real impact on the family. She is an immigrant from Serbia, working a dead-end job as a waitress. After Bill begins secretly dating her (keeping his real motives unknown), Margene and Ana become friends. Margene really needs a friend outside the family and this relationship makes Margene glow. After initially breaking up with her, Bill reveals his secrets and proposes to Ana. She marries into the family during the third season and refuses to surrender her individuality. She wants to keep her own money and demands her own house, like the three other wives. Ana leaves the family just as quickly as she entered, but there are consequences: Margene is now full of self-esteem and will not take the abuse from Barb and Nicki, and Bill's integrity, previously in question, has been lost.
3. Kathy Marquart (Mireille Enos)
Kathy enters the show as a potential second wife for Bill's brother, Joey. His wife Wanda suffers from mental illness, and Kathy becomes a wonderful balance for the family. It is Kathy's presence that made me see the value in polygamy. She is a caring and compassionate woman, and her death in the third season is the most heartbreaking moment of the whole series. The only saving grace is that the marvelous Mireille Enos plays Kathy's twin sister Jodeen, who does appear in episodes after Kathy is killed.
4. The four teenagers: Ben Henrickson (Douglas Smith), Sarah Henrickson (Amanda Seyfried), Heather Tuttle (Tina Majorino), Rhonda Volmer (Daveigh Chase)
The show demonstrates how being raised in a polygamist family has affected Bill and Barb's two teenaged children, Ben and Sarah. The two fight over Ben's revelation that he wants to engage in polygamy, and they bond over Sarah's pregnancy. Heather, Sarah's friend from work, is an active Mormon, and is interested by Sarah's home life. The two become fast friends and make plans to go to college in Arizona to raise Sarah's baby away from both their families. It is also a lot of fun to see Veronica Mars' best friends finally get some screen time together! Rhonda, a 15 year old engaged to Roman, the prophet, on the compound. She is manipulative and plays on Barb's sympathies. She threatens to come between Sarah and Heather, and while she plays innocent and naive is definitely aware of all her carefully plotted actions. Polygamy affects everyone and these four adolescents are no exception.
5. Frank Harlow (Bruce Dern)
Maybe I am a little bit biased because I love his real-life daughter, Laura Dern, but his character on Big Love is so fun to hate! He is Bill's father, and terrorizes the whole family. When the series starts Bill has little to do with his father, and as time passes the reasons become painfully obvious. Frank is often vengeful, and causes tension with Bill when he openly supports Roman's efforts to attack Bill. He is verbally and emotionally abusive of Bill's mother Lois (Gracie Zabriskie, George's Costanza's would-be mother-in-law on Seinfeld). My dislike of Frank goes so deep that in season 3, when Lois attemps to kill Frank, I wanted to be there alongside her.
Big Love is big fun, so on and watch it!