Occasionally the concept for a show comes along that is too much even for the cable networks that like to push the envelope. So the next logical step is the premium cable channels and it’s there that Big Love has found not only a willing host but also a robust audience. The series, based around the Mormon polygamist lifestyle, is now entering its fourth season on HBO and with all of the scandalous happenings of the third season long since wafted out of viewers minds (the season wrapped in March of 2009), HBO has smashed the season into a four-disc set just in time for the season four premiere.
Passion, jealousy, treachery, greed. Everyone has something to hide in the biggest, boldest season yet of this provocative series. Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) returns as the enterprising, suburban polygamist who has more than his hands full, with three wives (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin); a potential fourth; a growing brood of eight children; his oldest, Sarah (Amanda Seyfried) in open rebellion; a struggling gaming business; and his Home Plus superstores left vulnerable. And he now seeks to partner with a Native American tribe on a Mormon-friendly casino just across the Idaho border; his imprisoned father-in-law the “Prophet” Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton) plots against him; Roman’s twisted son Alby (Matt Ross) asserts his own lust for power; and Bill’s parents continue their murderous feud. Finally, there’s the nationwide crackdown on polygamy! Who knew so much drama could be packed into one season. Keep up with the Henricksons — and their secrets — in all 10 of these episodes, which aired in 2009 on cable network HBO.
Sure, the series no more surprising than The Sopranos was. It all revolves around families and the unique troubles they encounter, but like The Sopranos it’s all about the core situation in which the stories revolve around. The unique opportunities that it offers and what you’re able to do with the stories when the dad is a mob boss is virtually limitless. And while a Mormon polygamist sounds a bit more restricted, it’s really quite amazing how robust and varied this show is. Which isn’t really telling you anything about the show, but it should give you a general idea that while the idea sounds simple, so did other shows premises until you get a crackpot team of writers and cast members behind the production.
To be honest I’m still not really into watching this show each week. It’s certainly well written and highly engaging, but it’s definitely a much more mature show in terms of the themes it presents. I’m not even remotely in a position where marriage is something that has cropped up in my head, so the whole polygamy idea is so bewildering to me that can hardly wrap my head around it. Once you get past that element, however, it’s a fairly easy show to slip into…but it’s not something I eagerly anticipate each week. It’s hard to nail it down to a few sentences, really; it’s like Little House on the Prairie. If it were rated R and was allowed free reign with scandalous topics and what not. I probably just offended a whole boatload of people with that paragraph, but those same people would be offended by this show anyway, so to that notion I simply blow a raspberry.
But anyway, things this season haven’t changed up a whole lot for the Henrickson households. Bill’s three wives still act the same as ever, although he has a new possible wife that floats in and out of the season (and was introduced in last), so that’s a source of interest and tension at home. There’s also a healthy smattering of other relationships amidst the rest of the cast – and not just the Henrickson’s – that keeps the audiences attentions rapt. Plus there’s the murder that gets quite a bit of screen and plot time. It’s a varied season, to be sure, but one of the great things about the show is how it leisurely takes its time to develop plot lines. Threads will be introduced (such as Bill’s aforementioned possible fourth wife) that dangle for episodes or seasons at a time before they’re finally tugged and unraveled in the grand scheme of it all. Which may be another reason why the show is something I can watch leisurely—it doesn’t yell at you for attention; rather it just lets you know that it’s there and that you’ll become very enraptured with what’s going on once you decide to tune in.
The show definitely takes some time to warm up to and while it’s still not a show I eagerly recommend or tout to everyone, it’s such a smartly written and well acted show I can’t but help give it props for what it does. Paxton, Tripplehorn, Sevigny, Goodwin, and all of the other cast members are absolutely fantastic and are always the source for some of the best character interactions in the show. Plus with an executive producer roster that includes Tom Hanks, how can you really go wrong with this series? Recommended.
HBO brings Big Love’s third season to DVD in a four-disc slip pak setup that matches the previous season layouts. The packaging is rather simple and unassuming with the art used (when compared to the previous two sets, anyway), but it works out in the end. The whole front cover acts as a huge slipcover as underneath (or beneath, depending on which direction you slip the cover off in) is the cardboard box with the individual thin-paks inside.
Menus are simple and easy to navigate and while the transfers here are just run-of-the-mill standard definition (the Blu-ray’s for this series have yet to be officially announced, although the rumor is we’ll start seeing them soon), they look clean and sharp. Colors are clean, detail is sharp and overall there are no real qualms to have with this transfer. Audio is a DD5.1 mix, but like past seasons there isn’t a whole lot of surround effects to be had here. It’s a dialogue driven series and as such you won’t find an abundance of surround chatter, but the dialogue the pours out of the fronts is all crystal clean and clear.
Extras are severely limited, unfortunately. And don’t even detail the making of the season or anything like that, which, while following in the footsteps of past seasons, is ultimately disappointing as nothing new is learned about the production of the season or anything like that. But there are two separate extras to delve into:
Their stories so far – Four intimate, direct-to-camera videos from Bill, Barb, Nicki, and Margene
Three past midnight – Three insightful mini-dramas as characters deal with the national crackdown on polygamy
“Their Stories” is a terrific way to catch up on the past seasons (all the while letting you know how the individual characters feel as they recap on the past events, of course) events, but if you’ve been following it closely then it’s kind of a waste. “Three past midnight” is another solid piece, as it builds on what will likely be a focus of the fourth season. But ultimately there isn’t too much “original” material here to sink your teeth into, as it’s just more of the show to watch essentially.
Overall a set that’s a Rental only unless you plan on watching the series over again, in which case it’s Recommended.
Big Love – The Complete Third Season arrives on DVD on January 5th.