More Dogs on Main Street
March 18, 2006
I watched the HBO debut of the new show "Big Love" over the weekend. It’s about a polygamist family living in Sandy. Following on the success of other "family"-themed shows like "The Sopranos" and "Six Feet Under," it takes an in-depth look at the complicated workings of any family group. This one just happens to consist of a husband, his three wives, and a disappointing total of seven children. Not exactly "Ozzie and Harriet." Lurking in the background of the West Desert are vaguely threatening fundamentalist relatives who have lent money to the protagonist, a possible murder in the works, and all the usual stuff that makes our polygamists/fundamentalists so much fun to watch.
I don’t know how it will play to a broader audience. The show received a lot of favorable press before it aired, and after watching it, I have to admit that it was a quality production. The writing is solid, the characters have some depth and complexity not normally seen on TV shows. The plot line is both believable and incredible at the same time. The exterior scenes shot around Salt Lake caught the valley at its best. The scenery of the mountains is knock-your-socks-off spectacular. There are shots of downtown that make Salt Lake look bigger than it really is, and of course, numerous shots of the Temple. Local icons like Henrie’s Dry Cleaners stand out in rich color. The interior scenes were shot on a stage in California, and the neighborhood scenes, which are supposed to be Sandy, were also shot in LA. That may explain why the architecture of the houses is so much better than one would find in suburban Salt Lake.
Parts of the show were almost uncomfortably familiar. There was a scene at a big family dinner that really nailed it, right down to the menu items. The funeral potatoes were served in a clear Pyrex glass dish, which is the only orthodox way to make funeral potatoes. While it may be possible to bake them in a metal pan, or even a dark glass dish, anybody who had been to a Utah family gathering would know that funeral potatoes can be properly served only in the clear glass pan. There was Jell-O on the plates.
The plot lines are rich, with the financial issues between the husband and one of his fathers-in-law, his fundamentalist family, the daughter trying to make friends at her job at a fast-food joint. All the normal pressures and joys of suburban life, plus two extra wives. I thought the sex scenes were a little overdone, even for HBO, but if there is a hook that makes the whole polygamy issue titillating, it’s that. You can’t do a show about polygamy without doing a show about sex.
The only time I recall seeing or hearing the word "Mormon" is at the end where there is a quick statement that the mainline LDS Church has quit practicing polygamy, and that there are still between 30,000 and 50,000 polygamists in Utah. The show doesn’t have to be set in Utah any more than "The Sopranos" has to be set in New Jersey. But where else would either one take place?
This week, the new Utah marketing slogan "Life Elevated" was released. It was released early and awkwardly because the Salt Lake Tribune couldn’t be patient, and used a Government Records Management Act Request to make sure they could publish it first, thwarting a formal, professionally staged announcement. If anybody really cared. Armed with the new slogan and a bundle of marketing money, the Utah Office of Tourism will be out there trying to create a favorable public image of Utah, encouraging people to come and spend money here. I can imagine that at every stop along the way, they will be asked about the polygamy issue. What the UOT can do with $11 million in marketing funds, HBO can undo with three nights a week repeats of "Big Love." "Life Elevated." "Polygamy." I guess we know which one sticks.
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Anybody watching "Big Love" will come away with the idea that it is a reasonable representation of everyday life in Utah. Of course, it’s not. A real polygamist family would have more than seven kids. Honestly, there was an obituary in the Tribune last week for a guy who was survived by his two wives and 22 children. HBO just got cheap when it came to hiring extras for kids.
I need to make a correction from last week. I said that PCMR’s six-pack lifts had a 100 percent failure rate. Actually, McConkey’s hasn’t ground up the clockwork — yet. It’s the newest of the four, and is still running, albeit in the Payday motor house. There are now several betting pools on the exact date next season when the gears grind to a halt. I’ve got Dec. 27, before noon.
The gearboxes are apparently made by one of Switzerland’s foremost cuckoo clock makers, and work fine on the four-passenger lifts. Increasing the load factor from four to six passengers apparently causes things to go all higgledy-piggledy. The Town Lift was stalled for about a half hour earlier in the week. That’s a completely different system. They got it rolling before having to rope people off. But if this keeps up, the next thing you know, HBO will be doing a series about a ski resort that can’t keep the lifts running. Maybe that will be set in Colorado.