HBO has given its latest series “Big Love“–about a polygamous family from a Mormon offshoot group–the coveted post-Sopranos time slot, 10pm on Sundays, beginning March 12th. In other words, executives are planning to make a “Desperate Housewives”-sized splash in an effort to snag a large audience interested in following the trials and tribulations of Bill Hendrickson (Bill Paxton) and his three wives, Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Nicki (Chloe Sevigny), and Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin).
The show’s creator has called the Hendricksons “America’s next great family like the Cleavers, the Petries, or the Huxtables” (insert me gagging here). Let’s take a moment to think about that. America’s next great family? AMERICA’S NEXT GREAT FAMILY? Of course the show is going to play up how the women find in polygamy a sisterly camaraderie, along with the expected rivalries and jealousies. The show will explore how these wives have somehow chosen this life as one that’s empowering rather than demeaning, while also dramatizing all the petty disputes that will surely have them frustrated and conniving. And let’s not forget how poor, poor Bill is not simply a husband living every man’s sexual fantasy but is exhausted by the conjugal demands of his polygamous lifestyle. BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. Give me a break.
Here’s what depresses me most of all. I can’t think of one current television series that deals with religious themes and does not also perpetuate the patriarchal status quo when it comes to women. Long gone is Buffy Summers of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer“–the uncharacteristically female chosen one, savior of all humanity, a teenaged girl representing the classic Jesus figure. Our heroine Buffy has been replaced by what? Shows like the laughable “Book of Daniel,” mercilessly canceled after only three episodes, which centered on a man and his “close,” albeit comical, relationship with Jesus; “Lost” which happens to be one of my favorite television series of all time, but disappointingly and typically defaults all the religious power to the show’s male leads, Jack, Locke, Mr. Ecco; and “Invasion,” another show I love and which has terrific religious overtones, yet still resorts to handing all true leadership power to its male characters. And now this “Big Love,” which sounds like a celebration of the supposed normalcy of polygamy–which is widely known as a framework for male sexual power and gratification and female subjugation.
Forgive me, but I’m not buying it. Where, oh where, is the next Buffy hiding? Have we given up on roles for women that explode traditional notions of gender and power?
(By the way, “Big Love,” the TV series, should not be confused with last summer’s “The Big Love,” a hilariously wonderful novel by Sarah Dunn, which will have anyone who grew up with a serious dash of Christianity in their youth rolling on the floor, trying to calm their side-splitting laughter. )