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Mar 15 2006

Big Bore, Part 2


Bill Paxton emotes after failing to blow down her throat the wad so desperately desired by wife #3.

As promised, my pithy analysis of “Big Love,” the new HBO show about a polygamist:

It sucks shit through Hefty bags.

I say this not just because it normalizes polygamy, or because it is all about a male lead and his penis, or because it is so blindingly honky and hopelessly hetero, or because it is all about patriarchy’s most popular correctional facility (marriage). No, I say it because the show merely superimposes a sensational taboo godbag motif over a bunch of lame-ass preexisting cultural stereotypes, throws in some de rigeuer HBO nudity, and calls itself edgy. Faugh.

The premise: Bill Paxton has three hot wives, each installed in her own McMansion. Paxton is trying, with supposedly tragicomic results, to integrate his secret polygamist home life with his mainstream professional career as the owner of a chain of home improvement stores. Meanwhile he struggles with his dark family background at “the compound,” a backwoods colony of polygamists mired in some 19th century patriarchal hell featuring pervy, power-mad child-fucker Harry Dean Stanton as king of the tribe.

The show opens with a close-up of Paxton’s package in a pair of tighty-whiteys and goes downhill from there. Surprise. His harem are all sex maniacs. He can’t hang. He googles Viagra. Man, that Viagra joke just never gets old!

Surprise again. Each of the sex maniac wives has a different stereotypical woman’s issue involving self-loathing and babies. Number 1 has had a hysterectomy, which invalidates her as a baby machine. Fertile Number 2 suffers from shopaholism; she cries like a baby after ordering a forbidden set of new curtains. Number 3 can’t lose the weight from her last pregnancy, and is debilitated by feelings of inadequacy both as a mother and as a giver of blow jobs.

In one of the more repellent scenes, the wives gather for a meeting wherein personal hubby-time is negotiated and assigned by Wife #1. Surprise again. Jealous tension among the wives, simmering just below the surface, is sure to explode in a satisfying catfight in some future episode. Just as tension between citified polygamist Paxton and his backward relatives at the compound will certainly end up in shots fired, or I’ll eat that disgusting chicken thing at TGI Friday’s I keep threatening to eat if I’m wrong.

“Big Love” is essentially the story of the many tragical burdens plaguing a guy in charge of a herd of housewives, about which any woman in her right mind will be saying “cry me a river.” The polygamy angle lends a sort of superficial sideshow freakiness, I suppose, but the tired old patriarchal themes—dude has career while women at home connive behind the scenes—are about as radical and transgressive as “I Love Lucy.” As a recent Bitch magazine article pointed out, if you want really subversive TV, watch “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

21 comments

2 pings

  1. Hysterical Woman

    Sounds like it could turn a man off polygamy, not on.

  2. wolfa

    I started to watch it. I thought I could have things to say about it. But I couldn’t make it through more than 10 minutes, just at the “I’m sad because I’m fat! Nevermind, I am happy because someone bought me a cd player, because although my husband can afford three houses, I’m not allowed to buy a 50$ piece of electronics!” point. I actually preferred reading the remarkably annoying “Until I Find You”.

  3. cjkoho

    In a weird way, I thought it was a Mormon version of “The Sopranos.” Head of the family who can’t cope with all the demands placed on him with parents who never fully supported the choices he made. I just kept feeling like “if Lorraine Braco shows up as his shrink, I’ll scream.”

  4. Arianna

    Sometimes, I’m very, very glad my household is TV free.

  5. norbizness

    Well, it’s a lot like Grand Theft Auto, which influenced me to the extent that I used to take nightly runs down South Congress, punching hookers and picking up the glowing green dollar bills that would magically appear. PCP’s a hell of a drug.

    As for subversive TV, the original Bob Newhart show comes to mind. A partnership of two independent, professional people, where the actors threatened to quit when the network tried to insist on Suzanne Pleshette’s character having a baby. I don’t even think that Bob ever threatened to send her straight to the moon on the Fist Express.

  6. whyme63

    I wrote this right after I watched, and have been waiting to post it. Here Goes:
    I am almost (but not quite)ashamed to admit that I have a television, with satellite service and an HBO package. I can only plead mitigating circumstances: I have no time to watch, so I don’t. I just pay the damn bills every month out of habit, and let it ride.

    Anyway. “Big Love”.

    Mine is probably a minority decision, but I liked this show.

    Okay. I didn’t like it. But–I think it is informative, if you pay attention. And could be of value in its bizarre way. What I got out of the first episode is pretty straightforward:

    –Polygamy turns women against each other. The competition among the wives results in passive-aggressive manipulation, an emotionally abusive and crippling pecking order, and serious mind-fuckery.

    –Polygamist cults are, as you might expect, a tool for megalomaniac “prophets” to control people, exploit them for money, power and sex. The prophet in this show–Luv ya, Harry Dean Stanton–travels with an entourage in a cavalcade of Hummers and has a 14-year-old fuckbag. His ‘senior wife’ collects pricy porcelain figurines, while his flock scratches out a subsistence in the dirt, and forks over 15% to him. He collects “God’s Money” like a Mafia Capo.

    –Men are women hating, women controlling assholes.

    –God is a big con run by sleazy male bastards to take advantage of the unsuspecting.

    These are all valid messages that need to be heard. So, far from being a tool of the Patriarchy, this program may actually be a valid tool for the blamers. My only concern is that this portrayal of Mormon extremism serves to make ‘mainstream’ Mormonism seem reasonable and sane by comparison.

    Well, not my only concern. There is also the fact that Bill Paxton and Chloë Sevigny set my teeth on edge. But that’s just a personal thing.

  7. Hissy Cat

    As a recent Bitch magazine article pointed out, if you want really subversive TV, watch “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

    Or Maude.

  8. finnsmotel

    “–God is a big con run by sleazy male bastards to take advantage of the unsuspecting.”

    I’m just sayin’… if God goes, the Patriarchy won’t stand a chance.

    Prediction for the show:

    The rest of the cast will eventually be overshadowed by the ever-excellent Jeanne Tripplehorn… they will rewrite episodes to bow to her magesty.

  9. CafeSiren

    Polygamy turns women against each other.

    And if polygamy is the ultimate expression of patriarchy in terms of family structure then we are forced to conclude (I would think) that patriarchy not only turns men against women, but also turns women against each other.

    But I’m sure that’s not news to anyone here.

  10. jaye

    I love the Bob Newhart Show. It was great. I learned that I could have a marriage like that and that going to the shrink was fine. I also like Mary Tyler Moore’s show. Those programs were better role models than I had around me. Television programing can matter–which is a scary thought, isn’t it.

  11. Thalia

    I find it kinda icky that the only thing in focus in that picture above is his nipple.

  12. Ron Sullivan

    Hell, Whyme63, monogamy turns women against each other too. I have a feeling it’s the -gamy part, not whatever prefix happens to be appended.

    As for subversive TV, I think it died with Ernie Kovacs. Yeah, warts, Percy Dovetonsils and all.

    OK, TWTWTW was kinda cute.

  13. Keeshond

    Big Love kind of reminds of Thirty Something with it’s depiction of “traditional” gender roles that the females characters have totally “chosen” for themseves and the omnipresent whining by the poor little husbands over their luxury problems. I think that’s how I could best summarize Big Love: Thirty Something with perverts and religious fundamentalism. And about as interesting. (Yawn!)

  14. vera

    I agree, in part, with whyme63. The show has three things in its favor:

    * It really annoys the Mormon church
    * There’s a message at the end telling viewers how many polygamists live in the US (approx. 30-40K)
    * In the first episode it has established that polygamists engage in child rape

    On the other hand, I didn’t exactly find it riveting, so I won’t go so far as to say that I like it. I guess I’ll keep watching it because I have a sort of horrified, can’t-not-look fascination with the patriarchy’s most extreme manifestations.

  15. pslade

    Hissy Cat, I loved Maude…it is the only show that I can remember where a woman had an abortion. I don’t think there has been a woman on a soap opera who decided to have an abortion….I thought maybe one of the women of SATC would have one, but no.

    TV used to be cool…I remember Saturday nights when I was in college…everyone would come over to watch All in the Family, MTM, Bob Newhart, and Carol Burnett…then we’d all head uptown. The guys loved these shows as much we did. And now we have ’2 1/2 Men.’ Goddess help us. Just think of the messages that young women are getting today.

    Remember ‘Designing Women?’ ‘Cybil?’ ‘The Golden Girls?’ ‘Murphy Brown?’ Don’t tell me there hasn’t been a conscious decision by the rich, white boys who run the TV media to get rid of the ‘uppity women.’

  16. No Blood for Hubris

    No, no, no, no, a thousand times no–it took traditional white bread gender-role-entrenched Americana and slammed its vile smirky face into the floor until it bled out of its ears and nose, crying for mercy.

  17. finnsmotel

    “Surprise. His harem are all sex maniacs.”

    Probably too late to weigh in on this, but…

    I didn’t get the impression that the harem was all sex maniacs. I was under the impression that they were all in competition and that the bedroom was just another battleground. Number 3 got upset that she wasn’t exciting her man, not because she’s a sex maniac, but because she is already #3 and her hottness used to give her enough power to challenge for higher position. Now that she’s got baby weight on her hips and no more fire on her lips, and she’s a lousy mommy who can’t keep the kiddies from eating mayonnaise… she’s only a few more slipups from being the only thing worse than the lowest wife and that’s a wife in the middle.

    The 3 wives are each exhibiting the behaviors we normally see stereotyped in a pack of siblings… eldest, middle, youngest, etc.

  18. Jezebella

    huh. Is Maude on DVD yet?

    I didn’t Get Maude when it was new, but I was a kid, and I didn’t Get All in the Family either. Those were grownup shows my parents watched.

  19. No Blood for Hubris

    Reprise:

    Yes, yes yes. It’s all about stereotypes.

    You take the stereotypes and then you mercilessly beat the crap out of them.

    Parody? Satire? Verry verry dark comedy? Think Dr. Strangelove on TV trying to fly under the radar so all the fundies won’t get their panties in a–in a–well, YOU know.

    “No, no, no, no, a thousand times no–-it took traditional white bread gender-role-entrenched Americana and slammed its vile smirky face into the floor until it bled out of its ears and nose, crying for mercy.”

  20. simplysee

    “It sucks shit through Hefty bags”? Hilarious. I can’t believe you actually have the determination to sit through that show! Could you say, is it better or worse than ‘Niptuck’???

    How sad.

    I like your site.

  21. Twisty

    I have never seen Niptuck. There is something about the juxtaposition of those two words–not their meanings or connotations, just the sounds– that gives me the heebie-jeebies. So I boycott on grounds of imperfect poetry. Also, I understand the show’s about plastic surgery, a topic that apparently captivates the American soul but about which it would be impossible for me to give fewer figs.

    I cannot take credit for the Hefty bag line. That goes to my homey and rocker extraordinaire Ozzy Lee Harvwald. Listen to his radio show. It’s on today at noon.

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