Mar 10, 2006

HBO's polygamists and mobsters

Last night for the first time I saw a commercial for Big Love, HBO's new series about a family of wacky, loveable polygamists. But I'm not gonna watch it. And not just because I find polygamy distasteful, though I suppose that's part of it.

I'm relieved the show is not pro-polygamy, as Cathy Seipp writes in today's NRO. But I don't really buy that view, either.
I don't think the show glamorizes or even sanitizes polygamy, except that of course actual polygamists never look as fit and attractive as the Big Love family. When you see the real-life versions on talk shows, they all seem dumpy, pasty-faced and on the dole — like that ridiculous Tom Green, who got in legal trouble a few years ago for marrying five underage wives and failing to financially support his 29 children.

Pardon me, but making the polygamists fit and attractive seems like glamorizing them to me. As Seipp points out, most of the American polygamists are fat, uneducated losers who marry teenage girls against their will. They don't own big-box home improvement stores and live in attractive suburban cul-de-sacs, each wife with a separate home. The wives and children are chattel and their lives are anything but attractive.

And outside the US we have Osama bin Laden, whose record on women's rights speaks for itself. So, I'm leery of the whole concept and more apt to agree with Louis Wittig's view that a show about polygamists that dresses them up and makes them just like us is apt to lead the greater American public toward more acceptance of polygamy.

I'm perfectly able to see polygamy as a conceit used by the writers to "explore" the dynamics of the family ("sex, jealousy, secrets, in-laws — raised to the third power"), I'm just not interested. Partly because I think a skillful writer/director with a skillful cast should be able to make a conventional family just as interesting as a bunch of freakish polygamists. And partly because I just plain don't have the energy to invest in getting to know the characters of another TV show.

Which brings me to The Sopranos, which returns after a long hiatus with much fanfare. I missed the first season as I didn't have HBO at the time. By the time season two rolled around, I had repaired that deficiency and I resolved to catch up on season one.

Somehow I never got around to it. As I recall, at the time I was already invested in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-files. There just wasn't room in my life for another TV series.

It was the same thing with The Wire. I missed season one. Then I moved to Maryland and, not having much else to do, I thought I'd start watching. Everytime I turned on the show I was asleep within 15 minutes. Everyone tells me and told me it was great. But missing that first season meant I hadn't absorbed the cosmology of the show. I didn't know the backstories and I didn't care to learn.

Now I have 24 and The OC. And frankly they're about all I can handle. Jack and Chloe, Ryan and Marisa and Kirsten and Sandy are enough for me. On the days they're not on, if I really must watch something I can always turn on some version of Law & Order.

Shows like Law & Order or CSI don't make similar demands on the viewer. You either watch them or you don't. If you miss an episode, you'll catch up later. Or not. They're the one-night stands of TV. Always up for a good time. Always available.

Frankly, taking up with Big Love or The Sopranos seems wrong, like I was being unfaithful. Or trying to juggle four wives.

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