Polygamists might get under your skin

Critics' picks: New DVDs

October 15, 2006

BIG LOVE -- HBO Home Video / $99.98

When the teasers for HBO's new series, Big Love, first came out, a television show about a family of polygamists seemed indescribably sleazy.

In the series' first complete season, being released Tuesday on DVD, Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) has three wives (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin) who live in adjoining homes, and with whom he has fathered seven children. Because polygamy is illegal, the Henricksons lead lives of subterfuge and deceit.

Before the show made its premiere, it was tempting to think: Throw 'em all in jail, even the kids. But then we saw the first episode. And the second. And the third. Despite our most cherished notions of what constitutes a family, we found ourselves rooting for the Henricksons to remain intact.

The series plays down the more unconventional aspects of polygamy and portrays the Henricksons as almost ordinary. Bill owns two home-goods stores and doesn't overdo his patriarchal role. First wife Barb (Tripplehorn) is a cancer survivor and substitute schoolteacher.

Most important, the interactions between Bill and the three wives are immediately familiar. Barb and second wife Nicki (Sevigny) behave like two fiercely competitive, yet devoted, sisters. Nicki ruthlessly bosses the eager-to-please Margene (Goodwin), Bill's young third wife.

The Henricksons struggle with the same tensions that beset every family, but because of their peculiar living situation, those tensions are writ large.

The characters are marvels of complexity. Nicki, for instance, is manipulative and a compulsive spender, but she also has the street smarts that Bill desperately needs if the family is to survive.

It's fascinating to trace the hidden, psychological kinship between family members. Nicki is a chip off the old block. She has the same instinct for sussing out an opponent's weakness, the same willingness to fight hard and dirty as her father, Roman Grant - the self-appointed "Prophet" of a polygamist commune and Bill's nemesis.

You know that the Henricksons have gotten under your skin when you start to think polygamy might be a reasonable option.

Special features include two episodes with audio commentaries, plus a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of the title sequence.

Mary Carole McCauley

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

ALSO ANTICIPATED

REDS: 25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION --Paramount Home Entertainment / $19.99

Warren Beatty's Reds, a forgotten masterpiece of the 1980s, tells the story of the Russian Revolution as seen through the eyes of journalist John Reed, founder of America's Communist Labor Party and one of the few westerners honored with burial at the Kremlin.

At its core an old-fashioned love story between Reed and Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton), Reds also offers insight into an entire political movement ... not of Soviet communism, but of the American left.

The result, equally about passion and disappointment, about idealism and cold-hard reality, won Beatty a much-deserved best director Oscar.

Extras include short documentaries on the film and its cast.

Chris Kaltenbach

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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