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Cable Television Rundown: Big Lovin' The Third Season

I've attempted to refrain from commenting on the greatness that is the third season of Big Love so I could save my comments for the day after each respective season finale. Well, folks, that day has arrived. It is the day after the seasons have ended, the Qualler-Brigitte household has closed up the potluck shop for the however-many-next-months before the fourth season begins. We hosted the Minneapolis contingent of The Blogulator on a weekly basis for the past ten Sundays and are in pretty much unanimous agreement that this season was the best season yet. Maybe it has to do with the many servings of ice cream and soup and salad and cheese bread. Or maybe it's just because Big Love has finally made the leap from "entertaining if a little inconsequential" to Six Feet Under-level greatness (only having just starting to reach its peak instead of SFU's peak-reaching in its first season). Here are some reasons why, in my mind, the show has moved into the top echelon of dramas today. (Hey, is this gonna be the number one Blogulator TV show of 2009? Or will Lost pull it out? The race is on...)

1. More drama!
This is a no-brainer. The first five episodes were packed with more cliffhangers and drama than the first two seasons had combined (Barb has cancer! Wait, no she doesn't! Wait, Sarah's pregnant! Hang on, Bill's marrying a fourth! And Nicki's spying! Ah!) Compared to the first two seasons of drama (Bill has to take viagra, people might find out they're polygamists, Roman's a creep), that's some srrsly packed-with-strife television.

2. A wider variety of bad guys
While Roman Grant is doubtless a great, multi-layered villian, there were other villians who stepped up to the plate this season. The Greens got even more creepy/evil, especially when Joey's marriage to Kathy Marquart started to come about. Alby was already bad, but then stayed bad but with unexpected layers of sympathy. Also, Zeljko Ivanic as Nicki's long-lost first husband JJ -- great new villain. More importantly, the shades of good vs. evil have shifted substantially. The first two seasons clearly were about Bill vs. Roman, or Bill vs. His Creepy Dad. This season, every character was shown as more than just purely evil. Roman was evil, but also kinda senile. Alby in my mind shifted the most, from total creepfest to sympathetic closet-case with obvious parental issues. This was an important shift in the dynamic of the show. Of course, Zeljko Ivanic always is and always will be a total badass.

3. Further depth into Mormonism
Here's where I differ with the folks who got upset about last week's episode "Outer Darkness" due to the dramatization of a previously-never-televised temple ceremony. Despite there being some definitely evil characters related to the Mormon church, never is the Hendrikson family's faith mocked, ridiculed, or added for shock value. In fact, this season perhaps explored each central characters' faith more than either of the first two seasons combined. Bill's spiritual journey was vital to the course of action he took with the busted fourth wife attempt, the pushing forward of his business interests, etc. Barb stood against being pushed into "outer darkness" while remaining steadfast in her faith. Its rare for a show to show people practicing their religion without making them seem like total zealots, and its completely refreshing to see a show with people struggling to reconcile their faith with their day-to-day lives.

4. Depth, depth, depth
One episode really stands out -- episode six, "Come, Ye Saints" -- in demonstrating the added level of depth in the new season. Focusing only on the core Hendrikson family (save for a brief scene where Nicki called the worst possible person for relationship advice, Wanda), the episode had hilarious comedy and seriously touching drama while pushing plots forward. The sequence of events leading up to Sarah's miscarriage set up one of the most heartbreaking and touching scenes of any show in a long time -- the entire family pulling over to hug their beloved daughter, set to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing "Softly and Tenderly" (calling all sinners / come home) followed by a totally haunting silent credit sequence. (You can watch the last ten minutes of the episode here, although it cuts off a few seconds too early.) Episodes like this helped bring the characters some much-needed depth.

Not everything this season was perfect. I was disappointed that the casino business from season two and Nicki's fledgeling gambling addiction was pushed to the side, and I could have done without a lot of the Barb's sister and brother-in-law's political manuevering. And although the show definitely needs the Juniper Creek compound business to give proper weight to the differences between compound life and mainstream life, the scenes with the Hendrikson family always ended up being more compelling than those at the compoud (scenes with Grace Zabrieske notwithstanding).

That being said, last night's episode definitely closed things off for the season satisfactorily. I do wonder what will happen now that Bill has apparently started his own church, Nicki has brought in her daughter from her prior creepfest marriage, and, oh yeah, ROMAN'S DEAD! And the show is set up to go at least a couple more seasons without any need to add new characters to create new drama, a habit that brought Six Feet Under down a few notches in its later seasons and is dangerously close to bringing down Dexter. As Bill Paxton said himself ever-so-succinctly in an interview with EW.com columnist Michael Ausiello, the writers have done a good job of not "blowing their wad" too soon. While the imagery is pretty disgusting, there, Mr. Paxton, you are absolutely correct -- Big Love is only getting better. Here's to a fourth season and beyond.

Coming to future Cable Television Rundowns: my thoughts on the second season of In Treatment, the premiere of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, the fifth season of FX's Rescue Me and the conclusion of season two of Damages.

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  1. Anonymous OHD | 9:04 AM |  

    You're so right, this season was amazing. It's pretty easy to portray Mormons as literalist crazies, but the show, despite the fact that the LDS church condemns it, is fairly even keeled about them. It's the most reasonable religion Big Love has!

  2. Blogger chris | 11:04 AM |  

    This just in: I get to go to a wedding at the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake at the end of April!

    And while I feel weird that a piece of pop culture is the reason I am now interested in the Mormon religion, I couldn't have a better even-handed piece of pop culture to spark my interest than Big Love.

    Totally agree on the casino thing, though hopefully that will explode into tales of corruption and greed, Godfather Part II style, in Season 4.

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