Plenty of ‘Big Love’ for fourth season of HBO series

By Kieran Layton

“Big Love” Season Four

Starring: Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn,… “Big Love” Season Four

Starring: Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny, Ginnifer Goodwin

Created by: Mark V. Olsen, Will Scheffer


Sundays, 9 p.m.

Grade: A-

For Bill Henrickson and his three wives, it is a season of change in the small town of Sandy, Utah — a new family-owned casino, a bid for Bill to run for Utah state Senate and the passing of the notorious Roman Grant (at the hands of his son Alby, unbeknownst to everyone else).

And for viewers of the HBO critical darling “Big Love,” the change is for the better. Season four of the show exemplifies everything there is to love about “Big Love.”

The season picks up right where the season three finale left off. Bill (Bill Paxton) and his family are part of the newly formed church following Barb’s (Jeanne Tripplehorn) excommunication from Juniper Creek, and their casino is about to open. The discovery of Roman Grant’s death affects everyone, especially his daughter Nicki (Chloë Sevigny, who won a Golden Globe for her role), Bill’s second wife. Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) continues to find success with her home shopping gig.

Four episodes have run so far, and while the major development has been Bill’s bid to run for state Senate, it is the small subplots that really intrigue. Margene’s relationship with Bill and Barb’s son Ben continues to grow more complicated, and the strain between Nicki and Bill remains fascinating.

If this all sounds confusing because you haven’t followed the series from the beginning, don’t worry. One of the best things about a season that is changing so many things (including the opening credits) is that it offers a chance for new viewers to get sucked in even without an extensive previous knowledge.

And it is very hard not to get sucked in. “Big Love” has one of the strongest casts on television, with nearly every actor performing at the top of their game. Goodwin is a delight, giving off a sweet demeanor even with the traces of a painful history behind her eyes, and Amanda Seyfried is impeccable as Bill’s daughter Sarah.

It is Sevigny, however, who plays a role so out of left field (she is Bill’s only wife raised in the polygamist lifestyle) that few other actresses could pull it off with the same voracity and grace. Her Golden Globe win for the show was well-deserved.

For many, “Big Love” remains a polarizing exercise in fascinating acceptance. Focusing on the polygamist lifestyle of Bill, his family and their fellow members of the fundamentalist Mormon church, some find the depicted lifestyle too uncomfortable to handle in a weekly serial dose. Also, the lack of overtly profane, violent or sexual content — for the most part — may turn off fans of other HBO fare such as “The Sopranos” and “True Blood.”

The latter, however, is part of what makes the show such a thrill to invest time in (and perhaps what makes it such an award show favorite). To watch such compelling and dramatic plot lines play out without the frills of flashy violence or sex is an experience unmatched by any other premium cable series. This isn’t to say that the series is family friendly — in many ways, it is one of the most mature shows on television.

Still, like the Henrickson family itself, not everything is perfect. The Alby Grant homosexuality subplot is tired and awkward, as is Barb’s strained relationship with the Native American casino co-manager Tommy Flute. The series strains through thin writing and forced performances whenever these scenes occur.

Thankfully, these are the only criticisms, and they are minor ones at that. As it stands, season four will hopefully be the season that brings plenty of love to “Big Love.”