Big Love and other TV Notes

Did anyone else watch the first episode of Big Love? It gives new meaning to “boring.” Hell, it gives new meaning to “gnawing my own arm off suddenly seems appealing.” As Elkins, who repaid sins of her past lives by being in the room while I watched Big Love, said: It’s as if the writers thought that a controversial premise is all that’s required to carry a show.

The show did pass the Mo Movie Measure – there was a scene in which the main character’s daughter and a female co-worker discussed church activities. The scene took place over halfway through the show, however, so viewers may have dozed off before seeing it. And the main character’s cliche psychotic mother was played with scene-stealing energy by Grace Zabriskie (also terrific as Susan Ross’ mother on Seinfeld). And the script acknowledged of the creepy girl-exploiting side of polygamy, with a 14 year old girl (looked younger than that to me) married to Harry Dean Stanton.

But that’s just not enough. I think the overwhelming blandness may be an attempt to present polygamy “objectively,” rather than taking a stand, but when you stand nowhere you get nowhere. Bottom line: I can’t believe they put off broadcasting the new season of Deadwood in favor of this crap.

Other TV notes (spoilers ahead):

* The season premiere of The Sopranos was terrific. Most brutal hanging scene I’ve ever seen on TV, beating even the hanging in the first episode of Deadwood. Isn’t it sad that’s the first thing it occurs to me to mention? Loved the scene with the contractor – apparently even being a mafia boss’ wife doesn’t get you good contracting help.

* The season ender of Battlestar Gallactica was damned good, plus they shook the hell out of their premise, so I suppose I’ll have to forgive them for that hideous episode about the black market a few weeks back. Whatsisname – the guy who played Al on Quantum Leap – had the best scene. I’m really looking forward to next season, when I trust Doctor Baltar, Number Six, Number Six’s hallucination of Baltar, and Baltar’s hallucination of Number Six will all have a long scene together.

* New West Wing was okay. Boo, hiss for inter-office romance – I imagine the writers, seated around a table, saying “what is the most predictable subplot we could possibly inflict on the final episodes? Anyone? Anyone?” – but hooray for seeing more smart, capable female characters on this show than on any other four shows combined. On the down side, Janine Garafalo’s character seems to have been written out. And they still haven’t found a way to write a big song number into the script for Kristin Chenoweth, which is probably good from a “not turning the show into totally incomprehensible nonsense” perspective, but also bad because, you know, she’s Kristin fuckin’ Chenoweth.

* I thought the David Carridine casting was funny on Medium. This is one of the best-written shows on TV, but there’s a certain quality of… desperation to it, isn’t there? Sometimes it feels like they’re casting about for something new to do. When it works, it works great – I don’t think there’s another show on TV so willing to break formula – but after a while the newtwistoftheweek becomes a formula in its own right. Disadvantage of the show being so completely episodic, rather than having longer-running plot arcs.

* We’re just now watching season four of Oz. What I’m learning: The way to get to a beautiful, capable female doctor’s heart is to first murder her husband, and then murder her rapist because she’s your property, dammit, not the rapist’s. That’ll get her to fall in love with you, because if there’s anything capable, accomplished women of color everywhere dream of, it’s having a sociopath white man stalking you. I’m at a loss to imagine what the hell the writers were thinking.

* Speaking of shows which use female prison doctors as rape bait whenever the plot needs a crash cart, Prison Break returns next week.

* This isn’t recent, but did anyone catch the episode of Bones which was anti-plastic surgery, since it’s a bad idea for people to be obsessed with surface beauty rather than inner substance? And yet, if the producers were really interested in substance over beauty, would they have cast David Boreanaz in a lead? I doubt it. Nor do I think an actress in her 20s would have been the first choice to play a super-experienced forensic scientist, in a less surface-obsessed world.

UPDATE: Zuzu isn’t quite as down on Big Love as I am, but that’s really damning with faint praise. Feministing hated it, too.

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23 Responses to Big Love and other TV Notes

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  4. 4
    Robert says:

    Loved the scene with the contractor – apparently even being a mafia boss’ wife doesn’t get you good contracting help.

    Actually, that was her dad. (As well as being the contractor.)

    My wife and I wondered whether Tony had actually fulfilled his promise to call the building department – but had asked them to come down hard on her house, since he surely doesn’t want her to achieve financial independence.

    did anyone catch the episode of Bones…

    No. Nobody did. This is because there is a merciful God. Seriously, we tried to watch the premier and had to stop because we were filled with the desire to go out and kill people for fun.

    I didn’t like the BG finale at first but it’s grown on me. I was irked that a year later, they were still living in tents. For God’s sake, *I* know how to make bricks. You need mud and plant life of some kind. I think they had the prerequisites. Grrr.

    My quick impression from the preview of next year is that the Cylons are moving to the serve-humanity-and-thus-rule-them paradigm. There was a scifi story about that, I forget the name of it, with invulnerable robots who acted in our best interest…which was really very annoying for everyone.

  5. 5
    djw says:

    Um, what Robert said. You watch Bones, you get what you deserve.

  6. 6
    rilibdem says:

    One thing the show demonstrates is how wide patriarchy is spread accross america. I also have been thinking about thoughtful posts regarding the fantastic comments on abortion. Anti-choice candidates have been too successful at suggesting pro choice voters don’t understand the complexity of the issue or are heartless. I am politically active and this complexity pointed to here only makes me more committed to electing pro-choice candidate and particularly pro-choice women candidates. I suggest people who are sympathetic check out Jennifer Lawless’ pro-choice campaign against one of the house’s most radical (democratic) anti-choice male congressmen, james langevin. Her website is http://www.lawlessforcongress.com and she recently made headlines because sarah weddington, who argued roe vs. wade is coming to rhode island to campaign for her.

    I should have added the campaign is picking up but definately needs donations. I think this is a great place for those of us who care about this issue to join Weddington and to send support.

  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    Um, what Robert said. You watch Bones, you get what you deserve.

    I make no excuse. Sometimes my mind craves junk food. (I think I’m quoting Kim Thompson).

  8. 8
    nobody.really says:

    the Cylons are moving to the serve-humanity-and-thus-rule-them paradigm. There was a scifi story about that, I forget the name of it, with invulnerable robots who acted in our best interest…which was really very annoying for everyone.

    Perhaps your thinking of, well, every Azimov story ever written?

  9. 9
    zuzu says:

    I think the overwhelming blandness may be an attempt to present polygamy “objectively,” rather than taking a stand, but when you stand nowhere you get nowhere.

    It was like there were two different shows there: light domestic drama that treated polygyny with a wink and a nod and a whitewash, and the really far more interesting inside-the-compound-with-the-scary-people show. Which had the virtue of Harry Dean Stanton and Grace Zabriskie.

  10. 10
    Josh Jasper says:

    Meanwhile, books are still in print, I hear.

  11. 11
    Robert says:

    Meanwhile, books are still in print, I hear.

    For the moment.

  12. 12
    carlaviii says:

    but did anyone catch the episode of Bones

    The hubby watches it, I could ask him…

    And I agree, David Carradine was fun, and I agree, Medium needs to loosen up and let its writers play with the precedents they’ve set.

  13. 13
    Lanoire says:

    I’ve finally given into curiosity and watched this season of the West Wing. I agree about the strong female characters, but I thought the earlier seasons had some…issues…when it came to that kind of thing.

    The way to get to a beautiful, capable female doctor’s heart is to first murder her husband, and then murder her rapist because she’s your property, dammit, not the rapist’s.

    Hmm. I didn’t get the property implication from that storyline at all, though I’ll have to re-watch to see. I’ve seen all 6 seasons of the show, though, so my perception of that season is influenced by what comes later.

    Also, BSG has officially redeemed itself in my eyes.

  14. 14
    Tuomas says:

    * We’re just now watching season four of Oz. What I’m learning: The way to get to a beautiful, capable female doctor’s heart is to first murder her husband, and then murder her rapist because she’s your property, dammit, not the rapist’s. That’ll get her to fall in love with you, because if there’s anything capable, accomplished women of color everywhere dream of, it’s having a sociopath white man stalking you.

    I may remember wrong, but there was flirting and budding romance between the doc and the Irish convict. I wouldn’t say those acts as in murdering husband, murdering rapist came before (=were a way to make her love him), but instead, I got the impression of an existing romance with the other side (the convict) being obsessed and psychopathic, and being loved back despite it.

    I applaud the honesty of the writers (sometimes love is very irrational, and we may feel it towards someone who wouldn’t by our morals “deserve” it) – I hate all the “do these nice things towards a beautiful, smart woman and she will love because you are so nice” -movies. Make that manner of fiction and soon you’ll get guys whining that they’re not getting the beautiful, capable, accomplished woman (perhaps of color, irrelevant here) because they did all those nice things and she’s not feeling it.

  15. 15
    Tuomas says:

    And to be clear, I’m not making the nice guy -whine here (women like jerks blah blah, you all know the drill) but instead on criticizing existing popular culture that largely is empowering the said whine (but of course the inviduals are ultimately responsible…)

  16. 16
    ScottM says:

    Also, BSG has officially redeemed itself in my eyes.

    I had similar thoughts. Season 2.5 [or whatever the after the break part was] definately seemed to lack the momentum of the first 1.5 seasons. This was a good twist…

    I wonder: was the Priest’s speech about, “go free, return to the colonies if you like– we’ve chosen a new and seperate path” a lie, or did they change their minds in that year?

  17. 17
    Kai Jones says:

    Josh/Donna (West Wing) is totally about fan service. There is a huge fan base for that relationship and why not reward the long-term fans with something like this that they really want?

  18. 18
    Allison says:

    but did anyone catch the episode of Bones which was anti-plastic surgery..?

    Oddly enough, I blogged on that very episode just the other day:

    http://allison_wonderland.blogspot.com/2006/03/beauty-and-tube.html

    if anyone is interested. :-)

  19. 19
    Ledasmom says:

    Robert, I’m thinking that story was called “The Humanoids” or something very like that?

  20. 20
    Robert says:

    Bless you, Ledasmom! You found the secret word. It was indeed “The Humanoids,” by Jack Williamson. At first I thought this was a blind alley, because I was actually thinking of a short story. But it turns out that the story (“With Folded Hands”) was the first part of what was eventually the novel. Hooray! Now I can let this part of my brain die. :P

    http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue406/classic.html

  21. 21
    dresden says:

    I must be the only one, but I actually really liked “Big Love.” (Perhaps this is partially because person-leaves-cult-but-it-doesn’t-leave-him is the story of my father’s life. No, not the Mormons.) I found it thoughtful, complex, and subtle. I think it’s trying to explore the nuances of consent/exploitation, patriarchy, religiosity, sexual politics, alternative families, and host of other important and messy issues. I think it’s too soon to tell whether the main family’s polygamy will be treated indulgently (“with a wink and a nod,” as zuzu said) or will have to justify itself as being genuinely better than the cult-commune-thing.

    Because that’s what I find really fascinating and potentially brilliant about the show. It presents two polygamous arrangements: one obviously cultish and exploitative, the other apparently egalitarian and progressive. So the viewer has to look beyond the obvious similarities and differences to figure out if a) one really is better than the other, and, if so, b) how and why.

    Of course, I’m fully prepared to admit I might be projecting my love of past HBO shows onto this new one. (Six Feet Under, anyone? Swoon.)

  22. 22
    Elena says:

    I really like Big Love. I’ve always scratched my head about polygamy, especially the voluntary kind as depicted in the show. The backwater wackos are easier to understand- but the show maybe made me understand just a tiny bit why Boss Woman would let her husband maying try another. If you grew up believing that it was holy and right, you natural self interest and jealousy couls be overwhelmed by a desire to live a religious life. It’s like they’re trying to reconcile being educated, thoughtful people with their religion, and not fitting in anywhere. Come on, fellow Catholics- we can identify with that. Not the sharing your husband part.

    OZ started out great, but it was over the top ridculous after a while. The Dr falling for her stalker who killed her husband, the increasingly gruesome deaths, the aging pills to shorten sentences. I loved Adibeese- I’m so glas he’s on “Lost” now.

  23. 23
    Lanoire says:

    Season 2.5 [or whatever the after the break part was] definately seemed to lack the momentum of the first 1.5 seasons. This was a good twist…

    Yeah, I think BSG needed somethign like that to jar them out of this rut of blah-ish episodes they’d gotten into. Not that there weren’t one or two good episodes, but for the most part, not so much.

    Adebisi on Lost is a joy to behold, though I keep expecting him to kill someone. I didn’t have any problem with the doctor storyline, because like Tuomas said, some feelings are irrational, and Oz dealt with a lot of those kinds of feelings.

    Because that’s what I find really fascinating and potentially brilliant about the show. It presents two polygamous arrangements: one obviously cultish and exploitative, the other apparently egalitarian and progressive. So the viewer has to look beyond the obvious similarities and differences to figure out if a) one really is better than the other, and, if so, b) how and why.

    Okay, dresden, now you’ve got me all interested! Curse you! I don’t need to be watching more TV at the moment!