Actress Chloe Sevigny, who recently won a Golden Globe for her role as second-of-three wives Nicki on HBO’s Big Love, caused some controversy when she gave an interview to The Onion about the show’s just-ended fourth season. Sevigny said, “It was awful this season, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not allowed to say that! It was very telenovela. I feel like it kind of got away from itself.” Once her comments began to circulate online, Sevigny quickly backtracked, telling Entertainment Weekly’s Michael Ausiello that her words were taken out of context and that the journalist who asked her questions was trying to provoke her. I get that Sevigny is probably in damage-control mode, realizing that her comments might come off as more critical than helpful. After all, Katherine Heigl is still being vilified for complaining about the bad writing on Grey’s Anatomy, and I’m sure Sevigny doesn’t want to be tarred with the same “ungrateful” brush. Here’s the thing, though: she’s right. I have no idea if she’s right about her words being used against her, but she is right about the most recent season of Big Love. It was a mess, and someone needs to be honest about it.
I’m a huge Big Love junkie. Before I came to TheGloss, I worked as a religion journalist, and I’ve read a lot of books by ex-polygamists like Elissa Wall and Carolyn Jessop. I thought the first three seasons of Big Love were a great combination of interesting characters, compelling storylines, and little treats for viewers who were interested in FLDS (the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, an offshoot of the mainstream Mormon LDS church and the practitioners of polygamy) history. There were characters who represented a variety of viewpoints about polygamy: horny teenage son Ben thought it seemed kind of cool to get to have multiple wives, first wife Barb struggled to reconcile her current polygamist lifestyle with the teachings of the mainstream LDS faith she’d been raised in, and oldest daughter Sarah found herself seeking a relationship where she and her husband where equals. But as the show’s popularity rose, so did the cast of characters on the show’s canvas. Most of season three was dominated by the trial of polygamist compound Juniper Creek’s prophet and leader, Roman, which mirrored the real-life trial of Colorado City leader Warren Jeffs. When Roman was murdered on the season three finale, I figured that season four would be about the repercussions of Roman’s death and the new power vaccuum on the compound. I was partly correct.
Season four was only nine episodes long (most HBO series get 14-16). As Sevigny said in her Onion interview, it seemed as if the show’s creators had “more story than episodes.” And that assessment is pretty much dead-on: within those nine episodes, there was a storyline with family patriarch Bill running for office, storylines with each of the three wives trying to figure out their own identities, compound drama with three characters in line for next Juniper Creek prophet, a weird subplot about fertility treatments and incest, a convoluted side story where Sissy Spacek played a powerful Washington lobbyist and hater of polygamy, another side drama where Bill’s parents and some other folks started a bird-importing scheme in Mexico and ran afoul of a rival polygamist sect, and a whole bunch more. To be honest, I’m exhausted just writing that, so I can only imagine what it felt like to act it. It’s a shame that HBO continues to treat Big Love like its awkward middle child, giving it fewer episodes and an undesirable timeslot (this year, Big Love aired during the Olympics and had its finale on Oscar night). While True Blood is definitely sexier, Big Love continues to garner critical praise, and it deserved a full season to tell its story. Sevigny noted in her Onion interview that the show would be “returning to the family” next year, and I couldn’t think of a better idea. It has always been the personalities at the core of the show that made it so compelling, even as the storylines grew increasingly absurd. Having to cram too much story into too little space led to episodes that felt cluttered and disjointed. Even the show’s creators, Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, admitted to The Daily Beast that they hadn’t been able to resolve all the storylines they’d started. When commenting on one unresolved plot point, Olsen said, “This is one of those moments, one of those pieces that was hurt by the loss of that 10th episode, because we just couldn’t carry it. So, we thought, OK, we’ll pick it up next year, but we need to park this one because it will be one too many balls in the air.”
When Big Love‘s fifth season airs, I hope it brings the show back to the things that made it so great – real struggles, human drama, family relationships. The show’s creators have a ton of material to work with, and I know they’re capable of greatness. I just hope they get fourteen episodes or so worth of greatness.