I've been anticipating a similar fate for Big Love, HBO's polygamist soap opera, since its crammed-full-of-plotting first season: This is great, I thought, but they're going to run out of gas soon enough. But here we are in the third season and somehow the thing just keeps getting better, even though the average episode probably telescopes in more subplots and reversals than The O.C. ever did. (A major character's mother died this week, and it was about the fifth-most-important thing going on in the episode.) This is a testament to, among other things, the nearly-infinite dramatic possibilities presented by the show's premise, and the remarkable work the cast does selling it. (Orange County sturm und drang has nothing on Mormon drama, it turns out - and with all due respect to Peter Gallagher and his awesome eyebrows, The O.C. never had anyone half as good as Harry Dean Stanton, or Chloe Sevigny, or Amanda Seyfried for that matter.) But it's also a testament to the way the show fits the times, and holds up a mirror to their confusions. Conservatives who interpret Big Love as an attempt to mainstream polygamy have it wrong, I think - or at least, they're missing the bigger picture, which is that the show succeeds because its portrait of polygamous marriage captures the kinds of familial confusions that post-Sexual Revolution Americans already experience as a matter of course. (And it does so, not incidentally, through what's arguably - arguably! - one of the most sympathetic portraits of conservative religious belief on television at the moment. But that's a subject for a longer post.)
I don't want to overrate Big Love: It's still ultimately a soap opera, with a soap opera's various tics and weaknesses, and its fundamental mode is melodrama. But it's well on its way to becoming not only the finest soap opera ever made about suburban polygamists, but one of the finest grown-up soap operas, period.
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