Given this country’s iron-fisted conservative insistence that the American family unit is one man, one woman and 2.4 children, it’s little surprising that this intelligent, ecumenical drama enters its third season without an Emmy nomination to its name. Equally off-putting to audiences must be that God-awful F-word. After all, television rightly needs another show about “family” like we need another police procedural, or a show about a maverick garbage man who flaunts all the rules all the time, but is tolerated by higher ups because he’s the best there is, dammit! The very mention of a “family drama” has one reaching for a rusty bread knife with which to quietly hack off one’s own head.

But Big Love isn’t about just another family. Set in the Salt Lake suburbs of Utah, centered on the lives of secretly polygamous Bill Henrickson and three wives Barb, Nikki, and Margene, the series explores the complicated bonds of marriage (and marriage, and marriage) like no other show on television. The recent compound raids in Texas provide a topical background and limited element of context, but Big Love makes no judgments for or against the principle of multiple marriages, merely content with exploring polygamy as a phenomenon.

Picking up right where we left off at last season’s betrayal-laden climax the devilishly villainous Alby Grant has shipped his dear-old dad, and self-proclaimed prophet, Roman Grant off to jail on numerous trumped up rape charges. Poor Roman is literally up the Juniper Creek. Fighting back by blackmailing Bill and manipulating daughter Nikki, Roman looks to clear his name while the closeted Alby continues to seek dangerous liaisons while attempting to seat himself on the throne of power at the compound.

Meanwhile, Bill tries to get his new casino venture off the ground, Barb has a health scare, Nikke continues to spy for her father despite Bill’s objections, and Margene desperately tries to coax her friend Ana (clinging on out of sheer morbid curiosity) toward being a potential fourth wife. At the same time the eldest Henrickson children, Ben and Sarah, aide some compound refugees while struggling to reconcile their faith and upbringing with the growing realization that this entire situation is more than a little loony.

Much more than simply a show about a kooky religion, Big Love is about secrets and how if your entire life is built around keeping secrets where does that ultimately lead? What does become crystal clear rather quickly is that archaic social conventions are just that and whether one spouse or ten, what’s important is that you love and support each other through good times and bad. While the show is nothing if not wildly eccentric (Bill and Margene discuss Nikki’s apparent difficultly conceiving another child in the middle of having sex themselves) the problems faced by this most makeshift of families are no different than anyone else’s.

Big Love might draw a broad audience from the mass pool of the curious and the concerned, but that audience is sure to stay for the rich characterization, superior storytelling, and an ensemble cast to die for. It’s not the differences between the Henrickson’s and the average American household that make them so endearing, it’s the instantly identifiable similarities.

Starring: Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chlose Sevigny, Ginnifer Goodwin, Harry Dean Stanton, Grace Zabriskie, Amanda Seyfried, Bruce Dern, Matt Ross
Created By: Mark V. Olsen, Will Scheffer
Network: HBO

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