TV Show Review: "Big Love"
I watched the new HBO drama "Big Love" yesterday, mostly because the papers here in LDS-land were full of articles about how it might reinforce mistaken stereotypes about Mormonism and polygamy. The Church-owned newspaper in Utah had this to say about the program:
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is certainly concerned about how "Big Love" will affect its image.
"Obviously, we don't like the program," church spokesman Mike Otterson said. "There's nothing about the program to like if you're an active Latter-day Saint."
"Polygamy was officially discontinued by the LDS Church in 1890, and church members who practice it are excommunicated. Otterson said the church remains concerned viewers will not be able to distinguish between the polygamists on television and the mainstream LDS Church.
"That's the danger. We worry about it reinforcing stereotypes," he said. "Whether it will have a difference, it's impossible to tell. Only time will tell that. This whole thing may flop."
"HBO has placed a disclaimer on the first episode of "Big Love," stating the LDS Church's position. The show's creators say they have taken pains to separate Latter-day Saints from polygamists."
(For those interested, the official LDS Church reaction to the show is provided here.)
Watching the show, it was clear to me that the family was portrayed as not being mainstream Mormons, which was a good thing. For one thing, they clearly weren't wearing "Mormon underwear". There were enough scenes where they discussed how Mormons wouldn't like them that people who watch it closely will recognize that the LDS Church doesn't sanction polygamy (in fact, we excommunicate anyone who attempts to enter into polygamy.) They had only one "gaffe" that I could see -- a mention that the polygamist family conducted "Family Home Evening", which didn't start in the LDS Church until after polygamy had been outlawed, so I don't think the polygamist cults do it -- they might have picked it up as just a good idea, though. I could see people not familiar with Mormon culture not picking up on the nuances and thinking "Oh, look, all the Mormons in Utah are all polygamists"... but these people probably aren't going to be thinking about visiting Utah anytime soon anyway.
Overall, I thought the show was fairly entertaining; I'm not sure if it was entertaining enough for me to continue watching it, but it wasn't bad. I especially liked the harried husband researching erectile dysfunction when he can't satisfy any of his wives -- and being turned down the first night he takes a Viagra. I'll give it three sexually-frustrated multiple wives out of five.
Update 2012 22 April: I'm still getting a lot of hits on this post from Google searches, so I figure I should provide an update. I've been continuing to watch the show every week -- in order to "monitor" it for an continuing anti-Mormon leanings, and not at all because Chloë Sevigny makes me think impure, lustful thoughts. Overall, it seems like they have someone as a "technical advisor" who was a Mormon until they were about 14, and are just trying to remember things they learned and didn't really understand -- either that, or they have someone who really knows how the polygamist cult does things, and they just do "Mormon" things different than us mainstream types.
Some of the "throw-away" situations they put in are just plain funny -- I think one of the writers remembered reading somewhere that Utah kids sometimes drink cough syrup to get high, so they had the oldest daughter drink cough syrup at a party; the thing is, they had her say she drank 16 ounces, which is enough to make a much bigger person comatose (based on what I learned at the drug abuse recognition training in the Navy). The "fasting" episode was equally funny -- no one who's actually fasting would sit at the table with an empty plate, else people think you're only fasting to get people's sympathy.
One thing that had really bothered me about the show is in the opening, when the four characters are wandering around in a roomful of veils looking for each other. To me, that was just a complete slap in the face aimed at Mormons who were watching -- no one else would understand the significance of the veils, and all it did was serve to show that the polygamist's beliefs were in many ways similar to regular LDS believers. At the funeral, though, they did kind of explain the analogy -- although the statement that only the husband knew the wife's name was a little lame (the wife knows it too, unless the polygamists do it differently.) And we don't talk about it at funerals... (LDS funerals are actually fairly happy affairs, since we all know we're going to see our loved ones again, being that we're sealed for time and all eternity.)
That being said, they have continued to do a good job of stressing that "regular" Mormons don't approve of polygamy, and would go so far as to not patronize a business run by a polygamist. Hopefully they'll continue avoid blurring that particular line. I'd also like to see the oldest kid Ben have a seminary lesson about Reuben and Bilhah, considering that he seems to have the hots for the youngest wife Margene (and maybe vice versa)...