Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Big Love—an Honest Discussion of Faith?

Big Love was one of my favorite shows on television. It aired for five seasons on HBO. It came to an end this past Sunday. Like all finales, there is always a sense of loss, especially if you’ve invested five years with the characters. You hate to see it end.

No finale can tie up all the lose ends or answer all the questions that fans may have. I’m sure many people still have problems with Lost, Seinfeld, or The Sopranos. But if feels like the producers of Big Love did find a balance in providing a satisfactory conclusion. In case you’re not familiar with Big Love or have not seen the finale, I will not spoil it for you. The previous four seasons are available on DVD if you are interested in catching up on the series.

If you know something about Big Love and have not been a fan, you’re probably wondering why an evangelical Christian such as myself would find this program interesting and worthy of my time. Why did I love this show so much? What drew me in? Was there a message in Big Love? Oh yes, I do realize that the creators and writers, Mark Olsen and Will Scheffer, are both gay and married to each other.

First of all, I think as Christians there is something that we can learn from Big Love. But before I get into that, let me tell you a little something about the show. Big Love is primarily about a polygamous family. Bill Paxton plays Bill Henrickson, who is the patriarch of the family. He lives in the suburban community of Sandy near Salt Lake City, Utah. Hendrickson is a prominent businessman who owns a chain of home improvement stores. He is not open about his polygamous lifestyle and attempts to hide it from the community. His three wives are played by Jeanne Tripplehorn as Barbara, Chloe Sevigny as Nicolette Grant, and Jennifer Goodwin as Margine Heffman.

Each wife, along with their children, have separate houses built next to each other. You can only imagine the complications and problems that arise with such an arrangement. Making matters worse, Hendrickson has an ongoing feud with Roman Grant, who is played by Harry Dean Stanton, a self-proclaimed prophet of Juniper Creek, the same compound that Hendrickson was thrown out of as a teenager.

Juniper Creek is a sore spot for the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Mormon Church. This provides a significant conflict for the Henricksons as well as the political backdrop that Big Love plays out on. Of course, you can imagine that over five years there are multiple plot lines that take place. One thing that defined the show was Bill’s desire to lead his family according to his heavenly Father’s plans. He was the shows protagonist (hero) in every possible form. He tried so desperately in his own mind to do the right thing—to be the best husband and the best father possible. But what I believe makes Big Love special is that it portrays an honest and forthright discussion and dialogue on matters of faith and family. This is extremely unusual for any weekly television show whether on broadcast or cable television.

You are probably thinking that Big Love would be nothing more than a sex romp or just a punch line for some form of sick humor. But you would be totally wrong. Faith drives these characters. The decisions they make are based on their desire to please God, or as they say—Heavenly Father. They believe in plural marriage and The Principle because they believe it is ordained of God. It is their key to enter into the Celestial Kingdom as a family for eternity.

Whether you agree with what they believe or not, you cannot escape the fact that faith matters to the characters in Big Love. I realize that the writers both being openly homosexual could be making a case for redefining the concept of what a family is. I’m certainly not sure what their original intent was. But I think they have been fair with the material and not heavy-handed.

However, somewhere along the way in the development of Big Love, something happened. This show started to be about something. I can’t prove it, but I have to believe that God was at work on the set and the writing rooms of Big Love. I certainly don’t endorse the concept of plural marriage or for that matter the teachings of The Church of Latter Day Saints. But Big Love did challenge me. If only, as Christians, we could be this committed to our faith and live our lives in such a way that is pleasing to God. Could we put our convictions into practice as the characters did in Big Love?

I suppose that’s why I like this show so much because it challenged me, and I could see the characters struggling just as I do to find a balance in how I can apply my faith now in a real tangible form. I’m not sure that’s what the writers intended, but somehow that’s where they took the show. Ultimately, the show was about family and the bonds that cannot be broken.

Bottom Line.

I know you may still have some reservations; however, I highly recommend the show. You might be pleasantly surprised to find the possibility that God could be at work in this television series called Big Love. After all, isn’t that what God is really about—Big Love

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