Promotional poster for Season 1
Mark V. Olsen|
Mary Kay Place
Joel McKinnon Miller
Harry Dean Stanton
"God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys (Seasons 1-3)|
"Home" by Engineers (Seasons 4-5)
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||5|
|No. of episodes||53 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||50 minutes|
Anima Sola Productions|
Warner Bros. Television|
|Original release||March 12, 2006 – March 20, 2011|
Big Love is an American television drama series that aired on HBO between March 2006 and March 2011. The show is about a fictional fundamentalist Mormon family in Utah that practices polygamy. Big Love stars Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin, as well as a large supporting cast.
The series premiered in the United States on March 12, 2006, following the sixth-season premiere of the HBO series The Sopranos. Big Love was a success for HBO, running for five seasons before concluding its run on March 20, 2011.
Big Love received widespread critical acclaim, and earned several major awards and nominations throughout its run. The third season was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, and the first three were nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series - Drama. For acting, Chloë Sevigny won a Golden Globe Award for her supporting role, and Bill Paxton was nominated three times for his leading role. At the Emmys, Ellen Burstyn, Bruce Dern, Mary Kay Place and Sissy Spacek were all nominated for their recurring roles. Creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer won the Writers Guild of America Award for Television: Episodic Drama.
The series left behind a legacy as one of television's most complex studies of American family life, and has been the subject of seminal pieces in top academic journals including the Columbia Law Review, Law and Contemporary Problems, and Michigan Journal of Gender & Law. Several publications listed the series' first three seasons as among the best television of the decade 2000-09, and its final season ranked among the best-reviewed scripted series of 2011.
The show was co-created by Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, who also served as executive producers. Olsen and Scheffer spent almost three years researching the premise of the show, with the intent of creating a fair portrayal of polygamy in America without being judgmental.
The theme song for the final two seasons of the series was "Home", by the band Engineers. During the first three seasons, "God Only Knows", by The Beach Boys, played during the opening titles. The musical score for the series was composed by Anton Sanko. Mark Mothersbaugh composed music for the first season, while David Byrne was in charge of music during the second season.
Cast and characters
- Bill Paxton as Bill Henrickson – Husband to Barb, Nicki, and Margene. He is a practising polygamist and, at the end of season 4, is elected as a Utah Republican state senator.
- Jeanne Tripplehorn as Barbara "Barb" Henrickson – Bill's first wife (and the only wife to whom he is legally married); mother of Sarah, Ben, and Tancy ("Teeny").
- Chloë Sevigny as Nicolette "Nicki" Grant – Bill's second wife, Barb's former caretaker (during her bout with cancer), and Roman Grant's daughter; mother of Wayne and Raymond (with Bill), and Cara Lynn (with J.J.).
- Ginnifer Goodwin as Margene "Margie" Heffman – Bill's third and youngest wife; mother of Lester, Aaron, and Nell.
- Amanda Seyfried as Sarah Henrickson – Bill and Barb's first daughter, struggling with her father's polygamy. She married Scott Quittman despite her parents' initial reservations.
- Douglas Smith as Ben Henrickson – Bill and Barb's son. In the third season, he expresses his sexual attraction and love to Margene, his third mother, who pacifies him as she loves him as a son. He has stated his desire to follow The Principle—to practise polygamy, as his father does.
Henrickson family and friends
- Branka Katić as Ana Marković – Bill's fourth wife. She and Bill marry, then she divorces the family.
- Jolean Wejbe (replaced by Bella Thorne in Season 4) as Tancy "Teenie" Henrickson – Bill and Barb's younger daughter.
- Keegan Holst as Wayne Henrickson – Bill and Nicki's older son.
- Garrett Grey as Raymond Henrickson – Bill and Nicki's younger son.
- Ailish and Julia O'Connor as Nell Henrickson – Bill and Margene's daughter. (Season 4)
- Aaron Paul as Scott Quittman – Sarah's husband.
- Tina Majorino as Heather Tuttle – Sarah Henrickson's co-worker and best friend; Ben's girlfriend for a short time
Extended Henrickson family
- Shawn Doyle as Joey Henrickson – Bill's brother, Wanda's husband. Former professional football player with the Dallas Cowboys. He attempts to enter into polygamy like Bill and his forefathers, albeit reluctantly at first. (Seasons 1-4)
- Melora Walters as Wanda Henrickson – Bill's sister-in-law, wife to Joey Henrickson, and sister of Nicki's first husband, J.J. Wanda's psychological problems surface when she poisons people who cross her or her family. (Seasons 1-4)
- Bruce Dern as Frank Harlow – Bill's abusive and domineering father who exiled Bill from Juniper Creek at age 14. In a strong, perennial, and sometimes violent feud with his wife Lois.
- Grace Zabriskie as Lois Henrickson – Bill's mother. In a long-time feud—and even attempted homicide—against Bill's father, Frank Harlow.
- Brian Kerwin as Eddie Henrickson – Lois' younger brother, Bill's uncle.
- Aidan Gonzales and Andrew Gonzales as Joey Henrickson Jr. – Joey and Wanda's son.
- Christopher Randazzo and Zachary Randazzo as Joey Henrickson Jr. – Joey and Wanda's son. (Season 4)
- Mireille Enos as JoDean Marquart and Kathy Marquart – Kathy is Joey's second wife-to-be until her death in a car accident while being chased by Roman Grant. She lived in Joey and Wanda's home and assisted with the care of their infant son. Her twin sister, JoDean, is Frank's newest wife. (Seasons 3-4)
- Ellen Burstyn as Nancy Dutton – Barb's semi-estranged mother.
- Judith Hoag as Cindy Dutton-Price – Barb's sister.
- Patrick Fabian as Ted Price – Cindy's husband.
- Philip Baker Hall as Ned Johanssen - Barb's new stepfather.
- Harry Dean Stanton as Roman Grant – Nicki and Alby's father, self-proclaimed Prophet, and leader of the Juniper Creek compound. He is smothered to death by Joey Henrickson to avenge Roman's involvement in the death of Joey's fiancée Kathy.
- Mary Kay Place as Adaleen Grant – One of Roman Grant's wives and Nicki and Alby's mother. Although sixth wife to Roman, Adaleen is his most trusted confidante and is able to influence Roman's political decisions. After Roman's death, Alby sends Adaleen to be a wife of J.J., against Adaleen's and Nicki's wishes.
- Daveigh Chase as Rhonda Volmer – A young-teenage sociopath who was to be married to Roman Grant. During Roman's trial, Rhonda was bribed to go away so she could not take the stand and damage the defense's case.
- Matt Ross as Alby Grant – Roman Grant's closeted gay son and the heir-apparent 'Prophet' of Juniper Creek. Takes over the compound after Roman dies.
- Anne Dudek as Lura Grant – Third and favorite wife of Alby. She helps Alby try to kill Roman in both the second and third season.
- Željko Ivanek as J.J. Percy Walker – Nicki's first husband and father of Nicki's firstborn, daughter Cara Lynn. J.J. is domineering, and with Alby's pull, forces the widowed Adaleen to marry him.
- Cassi Thomson as Cara Lynn Walker - Nicki and J.J.'s daughter.
Bill's business partners and associates
- Joel McKinnon Miller as Don Embry – Bill's business partner and best friend. A polygamist until two of his wives ran away, leaving him a monogamist both in spirit and in fact. Bill asked him to take a 'bullet'—by confessing his polygamy to a reporter—to allow Bill's state senate candidacy to move forward.
- Wendy Phillips as Peg Embry – Don's wife, Home Plus' head bookkeeper.
- Kyle Gallner as Jason Embry – Don and Peg's son, Ben's best friend. Jason isn't fond of polygamy.
- Annie Fitzgerald as Verna – Don's second wife.
- Renee Albert as Julep ("Jo-Jo") – Don's third wife.
- Lawrence O'Donnell as Lee Hatcher – Bill's attorney.
- Jim Beaver as Carter Reese – Business acquaintance of Bill.
- Jodie Markell as Wendy Hunt – Bill's secretary and the company's junior bookkeeper.
- Adam Beach as Tommy Flute – Jerry Flute's son and a manager of the Blackfoot Casino.
- Luke Askew as Hollis S. Green – Patriarch and proclaimed Prophet of a rival polygamist group. Hollis serves as one of show's antagonists. His sect frequently uses violence and kidnapping for its ends.
- Sandy Martin as Selma Green – Hollis' first wife and partner, Roman's youngest sister. A woman, but usually dressed in a man's suit with a male hairstyle and a masculine-deep voice.
- Gregory Itzin as Senator Blake Barn – The Republican Senate President of the Utah State Senate.
- Sissy Spacek as Marilyn Densham - A powerful political lobbyist who becomes enemies with Bill.
- Robert Patrick as Bud Mayberry – Leader of a polygamist fringe group.
- Mark L. Young as Franky – Frank's son with Nita. Despite the significant age difference between Bill and Franky, Bill considers Franky to be as much his brother as Joey is. Franky is the boyfriend of Rhonda Volmer during the first half of the third season.
- Carlos Jacott and Audrey Wasilewski as Carl Martin and Pam Martin – Neighbors of the Henricksons'.
- Sarah Jones as Brynn – Ben's ex-girlfriend.
- Carli Coleman as Brandy Thissel – Bill's ex-con cousin.
- Robert Beltran as Jerry Flute – Business representative of a Native American reservation that wants to build a casino with Bill's collaboration.
- Noa Tishby as Ladonna Flute – Jerry's assertive, opinionated wife.
- Michele Greene as Sheila Jackson White – Channel 9 TV reporter.
- Charles Esten as Ray Henry – Head Prosecutor for the Roman Grant case. Had a flirtation and went on a date with Nicki before he learned of her true identity.
- Ben Koldyke as Dale Tomasson – Alby's lover, who hanged himself after Lura revealed his affair to his wife and family.
- Kevin Rankin as Verlan Walker – Cousin to Cara Lynn. He was kicked out when he became a teenager. It is revealed that he is married to Rhonda Vollmer with whom he has a child.
- Christian Campbell as Greg Ivey – Cara Lynn's high school math teacher and later lover.
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||12||March 12, 2006||June 4, 2006|
|2||12||June 11, 2007||August 26, 2007|
|3||10||January 18, 2009||March 22, 2009|
|4||9||January 10, 2010||March 7, 2010|
|5||10||January 16, 2011||March 20, 2011|
The series revolves around Bill Henrickson, his three wives (Barb, first/legal wife; Nicki, second wife; and Margene, third wife) and their (combined) nine children. Henrickson lives with his family in three neighboring houses in Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City. On her character, Chloë Sevigny says, "There is definitely a power struggle that goes on between the wives."
The United Effort Brotherhood
The show's fictional fundamentalist group, the "United Effort Brotherhood", or UEB, is similar to the actual "United Effort Plan" established by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and taken over by the state in 2005. The FLDS is one of the most prolific and well-known polygamist groups and regards itself as the legitimate successor of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which officially discontinued polygamy in 1890. Creators Olsen and Scheffer included a drive through the twin FLDS towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona, as part of their research for the show. Like the FLDS, the UEB has the distinction of possessing a temple of its own on its Kansas compound. The raid on Juniper Creek is reminiscent of the Short Creek raid, an actual historic event from 1953 where Arizona state police and National Guard troops took action against polygamists in Colorado City. Many of the businesses owned by the 'UEB' are similar to businesses owned by the Latter Day Church of Christ (aka the Kingston Clan), another Mormon fundamentalist church. The concept for the cable show was influenced by a 2003 article published in Utah on the Darger family, who are Independent Fundamentalist Mormons.
Production and crew
Although set in Utah, the series was primarily filmed at the Santa Clarita Studios in Valencia, California. The location used for filming "Henrickson’s Home Plus" scenes was The All American Home Center in Downey, California.
The outside scenes of the three homes that Bill owns were filmed on location on Shady Lane, in the small town of Fillmore, California.
The mall scenes from season one were filmed in the Fox Hills Mall, in Culver City, California. Other exterior shots were filmed in Downtown Salt Lake City, Utah and Sandy, Utah, as well as northeast Los Angeles, California.
The head writers for the series are the co-creators: Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer. The writing staff includes Patricia Breen, Dustin Lance Black, Doug Jung, Eileen Myers, Jennifer Schuur, Doug Stockstill, Jeanette Collin, Mimi Friedman, and Julia Cho.
Directors of the series include Jim McKay, Adam Davidson, Rodrigo Garcia, Charles McDougall, Sarah Pia Anderson, Dan Attias, Burr Steers, Michael Spiller, Alan Taylor, John Strickland, Mary Harron, Steve Shill, Julian Farino, Michael Lehmann, and Alan Poul (former executive producer of Six Feet Under).
The show's producers are Alexa Junge, Ann Holm, Ron Binkowski, Bernadette Caulfield, Jeanette Collins, Mimi Friedman, Shane Keller, David Knoller, Mark V. Olsen, Will Scheffer, Gary Goetzman, and Tom Hanks.
David Byrne recorded a complete soundtrack to the second season, released as Big Love: Hymnal on August 19, 2008. The theme song to the series from Seasons 1 through 3 was The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows". As of Season 4, the song "Home", performed by the British band Engineers, was adopted as the show's theme song along with a new title sequence. "God Only Knows" was covered by Natalie Maines for the series finale.
Review aggregate Metacritic indicated positive critical response for all five seasons. The average scores for the first through fourth seasons were 72/100, 71/100, 79/100, and 70/100, indicating "generally favorable reviews". The fifth and final season received an average score of 85/100, or "universal acclaim".
Upon its debut, reaction to the series was mixed-to-positive. Initial raves came from publications such as Time Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and New York Daily News -- James Poniewozik named it a "first-rate drama" and Dorothy Rabinowitz called it "seriously compelling"—and publications such as Entertainment Weekly, The New Yorker, Variety, the Boston Globe and the Hollywood Reporter were all positive as well. Notable detractors included Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times, who said it ultimately "didn't convince"; Doug Elfman of the Chicago Sun-Times who felt its quality didn't match its concept; and John Leonard of New York Magazine, describing it as "more soapy than salacious".
By the arrival of the second season, critical reception had warmed. Maureen Ryan of The Huffington Post and noted critic Alan Sepinwall remained ambivalent towards the show; otherwise, however, critics' were uniformly positive. In particular, several critics noted improvements from season one. Gillian Flynn of Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Big Love has dropped the last vestiges of its ostentatious quirkiness and fashioned itself into a rich and grounded family drama" and Diane Werts of Newsday said that "'Big Love' does more this year than you might expect, and more richly, more provocatively, more dramatically and amusingly, too." The second season was cited among the best shows of 2007 by a large number of publications, including PopMatters, the San Francisco Chronicle, Time Magazine, Entertainment Weekly and NPR.
Season three vaulted Big Love to universal critical acclaim. Notably, Tim Stack of Entertainment Weekly gave the season's early episodes an 'A' grade, and Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times went so far as to say, "If there's a better written, better acted, more originally conceived show on television, I defy you to name it." After two years of popping up spottily on critics' 'Best Of' lists, season three was recognized as one of the top seasons of television from 2009. In aggregating Top 10 lists from every major television critic, Metacritic reported that 10 critics had cited the series, tying for the eighth-most mentions (and, in particular, Big Love ranked third on that list among series in their third season or later).
Though only its first three seasons aired in the 2000s (decade), multiple critics cited Big Love as one of the best series of the decade. They include the Huffington Post, Ain't It Cool News and the AV Club, who wrote "Big Love has proved to be one of the most ... earnest studies of religion and morality ever to air on television."
Returning in 2010, Big Love was met with mixed critical response for a shorter fourth season. General consensus dictated that the series was focused too much on plot, with character development suffering as a result. The Washington Post identified a lack of energy in the actors, looking "alternately confused and pooped, empty shells of the characters they used to play". Putting it into perspective, Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote "In this new season the show is spinning off into too many directions. None, taken individually, is terrible, but altogether these myriad plots create a lack of focus." The AV Club, who just a year earlier cited the drama as one of the previous decade's top 20 shows, described the fourth season after its finale as "The season that virtually obliterated Big Love's dramatic credibility".
Returning for its fifth and final season the next year, reaction was extremely enthusiastic. Big Love received the best early reviews of its entire run. Mary McNamara wrote, "Big Love quickly reclaims its astonishing ability to balance the insightful and the absurd, hilarity and heartbreak and the personal with the political.". Similar raves came from Nancy DeWolf Smith of the Wall Street Journal, who called the final season "mesmerizing", and the New York Post, who awarded the final season a perfect four out of four stars. Overall, the final season of Big Love tied as the fourth-best reviewed returning show of 2011, trailing only Breaking Bad, Louie and the animated comedy Archer. It was the tenth-best reviewed scripted series of the year overall.
Response to the series finale, "When Men and Mountains Meet", was extremely passionate among top publications. Jace Lacob of the Daily Beast called it the "perfect way to close out this series" and described his reaction to it as "emotional". James Poniewozik wrote for Time Magazine that "In the end ... Big Love came back full circle to the core relationships ... We closed on a moving if messy note for a moving if messy series." Mary McNamara, of the Los Angeles Times dubbed it "a perfect finish to an astonishingly ambitious show that often careened through genre, narrative structure and believability like they were false walls on a stage". In her rumination on the finale, Ginia Bellafante of the New York Times noted that "[Big Love] was always at its most compelling as an indictment of the mindless spiritual avidity and the bizarre displays of self-exoneration that can go on in the name of faith," and celebrated the finale for committing to that theme. She also wrote that the series had "achieved the resonance of [HBO's] other heralded series". Writing for TV Squad, Dr. Ryan Vaughn was less enthusiastic about the finale but said "I'm not going to let a great series be sullied with a mediocre finale." Finally, the AV Club awarded the series finale, and the series as a whole, a B+, writing that its first three seasons in particular qualified as "remarkable television".
LDS Church response
In March 2006, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) issued a public statement citing concerns over the program's depiction of abuse, polygamy, use of stereotypes, and television's depiction of moral and civic values in general. Among other things, the church stated, "Despite its popularity with some, much of today’s television entertainment shows an unhealthy preoccupation with sex, coarse humor and foul language. Big Love, like so much other television programming, is essentially lazy and indulgent entertainment that does nothing for our society and will never nourish great minds." In March 2009, the LDS Church stated that HBO's writers, producers, and executives were displaying insensitivity to church members by choosing to display simulated segments of the LDS Church's Endowment ceremony in an episode of Big Love. The LDS Church also stated that the show had continued to blur the distinction between the LDS Church and "the show's fictional non-Mormon characters".
Since its premiere, Big Love has been the subject of several seminal studies in the humanities and social sciences.
Dr. Cheryl Hanna explored "the problem of categorical exclusions to the consent doctrine in private intimate relationships" through the lens of Big Love, specifically citing its "beautifully explored" tensions between individual autonomy and state interests. In her conclusion, she wrote "the future of feminist legal theory depends on its ability to remain ambivalent about the tensions presented in the consent doctrine as applied to contexts such as polygamy, prostitution, sadomasochistic sex, obscenity, and domestic violence. Big Love seeks to persuade us to accept ambivalence and to be open to changing our minds because of the complicated nature of women's (and men's) lives; feminist legal theory ought to persuade us to do the same."
For the Columbia Law Review, Dr. Adrienne D. Davis assessed legal debates surrounding polygamy after the premiere of Big Love and how it was being likened to same-sex marriage. She wrote, "The highly acclaimed hit series self-consciously invites viewers to consider analogies between same-sex and polygamous families. In the show's much-anticipated second season, the invitation became more pointed and persistent, with intermittent references to 'coming out,' 'closeted families,' and 'the state' as repressively surveilling nonconforming 'big love.'" However, she claimed that Hollywood and television critics' desire to interpret the polygamy in Big Love and beyond as representative of American "quirky families" was a miscue. Ultimately, she argues that the dichotomy presented by Big Love works when viewed in terms of "intimacy liberty, privacy, autonomy, and agency, or even an incipient constitutional respect for 'sexual minorities.'"; the very essence, as Davis notes and commends, of the series' themes.
Dr. Brenda Cossman examined Big Love closely in her study of "migrating marriages" for Law and Contemporary Problems. In addition to asserting that "Just as in Big Love, same-sex marriage is never more than one degree away of separation from polygamy," she found that the series adds crucial insight to the understanding of marriages that exist between legal and cultural recognition. As she explains, "These cases can be seen through the lens of ... Big Love, in which marriages are produced as the culturally real in the here and the now, even when legal recognition remains elusive." By exploring the movement seeking to culturally legitimize same-sex marriage, she concluded Big Love served as a most powerful, unique allegory: "Big Love plays on an even more decisive gap: polygamous marriages are not legal in Utah or anywhere else in the country. Yet the point and the poignancy of the show is to depict a 'real-life' family. Bill Hendrickson and his three wives struggle with all of the daily trials of contemporary family life: parenting, finances, intimacy, and sex. The sympathetic portrayal of their family is as culturally real, although it suffers by virtue of its nonlegal recognition."
Big Love was also studied as a part of Andrew Atkinson's study of HBO programs and the post-secular humanistic themes they elicit. In writing of Big Love, Atkinson too draws on the parallel between gay rights and polygamist rights illuminated by the series, but focuses more on the series' influential humanistic elements. In fact, he somewhat rebuffs earlier assertions made: "The attention that is paid to the minute details of Mormon ritual, theology, and historical disputes demonstrates that HBO's writers are uncomfortable with the supposed dichotomy that constructs homosexuality as by default areligious." Atkinson focuses on the ending, interpreting Barb's blessing of Bill as a "ritual innovation [that] indicates that FLDS Mormonism must shed the trappings of patriarchy if it wants to legitimate polygamy in a post-feminist society", and the fall of Alby, the closet homosexual, as a powerful interpretation of "the future theo-political and sexual tensions that Mormonism, and by extension, the broader American polity, will face as the post-secular matures". In concluding, Atkinson makes the case that Big Love and other HBO shows like The Sopranos, The Wire and Six Feet Under "contribute to a fuller conception of humanity" than other forms of art and entertainment.
Awards and nominations
- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series - nominated
- Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series - Drama - nominated
- Television Critics Association Award for Best New Program - nominated
- AFI Award Top Television Program - co-winner
- Bill Paxton for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Television Series Drama - nominated
- Chloe Sevigny for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Series, Miniseries or Television Film - win
- Ellen Burstyn for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series - nominated, for season two
- Sissy Spacek for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series - nominated, for season four
- Mary Kay Place for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series - nominated, for season four
- Bruce Dern for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series - nominated, for season five
- Rodrigo García for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series - nominated for the pilot
- Mark V. Olsen & Will Scheffer for the Writers Guild of America Award for Television: Episodic Drama - win for the pilot
- Melanie Marnich for the Writers Guild of America Award for Television: Episodic Drama - nominated for the episode "Come, Ye Saints."
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