Posts tagged ‘HBO’

The Fall of the Roman Grant

I miss Roman Grant already.

We just caught up on season three of HBO’s Big Love and are already diving into season four, which is about five episodes in. I seemed to recall having some negative thoughts about season two, and sure enough, there they were. (I had totally forgotten an actual producer on the show popped by to discuss my points with me, and I kinda was slightly snarky in response to his snark, but it ended in a cool way.)

I’ll admit–I look back on that post and wonder what I was thinking, but at the same time, I think I approached season three with a slightly freshened take. I took the show more on its own terms; I acknowledge now I probably have an issue with where my expectations for a series and my own hopes for it collide with the reality created on the teevee screen.

At any rate, season three of Big Love was really good stuff. This may come off as insulting, but I absolutely don’t mean it that way–I view Big Love as HBO’s response to Desperate Housewives. I don’t view it as a show that is trying to depict a reality of life as a way of illuminating humanity and the culture in which we live. That’s Sopranos territory; that’s Wire territory. I would say the consensus view is that such art is somehow “superior” to escapism, even if that escapism illuminates the human condition at times in its own way.

Big Love is a series that has its own version of a heightened, altered, soapy TV reality. Though there is certainly polygamy in the world and they may have taken their version of a fundamentalist polygamist sect from real-life reports, any reality in the show’s foundation has been spun into manic flights of emotional and character-based insanity. Attempted murders, secrets kept, teenage boys falling for their dad’s third wife, middle schoolers getting busted for selling nudie mags…to me, it’s a tumultuous, riveting, heightened world they’ve created.

There’s a moment near the end of season three when Sarah Henrickson announces to her parents, Bill and Barb, that she has decided to marry the man who impregnated her outside of wedlock, a child she later miscarried. Barb, Sarah and the fiance confront Bill with the news. Before any real conversation can take place, another of Bill’s wives, Nikki Grant, calls from the polygamist compound where her father is considered a “prophet” and where she has been exiled after admitting a dalliance with the district attorney assigned to prosecute her father’s child molestation case.

(Insane, right? Soapy as hell? Delicious.)

So the call comes in, and suddenly a relatively normal scene of familial tension becomes an elaborate drama conducted via phone, with Bill and all of his wives jumping in to either defend or condemn Nikki in her actions. You see, briefly, Sarah’s crushed expression as she realizes how unreal her life and family have become, and that despite her attempts to alternately accept and dismiss it, she will always be shackled to this circus.

I tend to read the audience’s role into Sarah’s reaction, as if the writers were implicitly admitting that yes, they’ve concocted a melodrama beyond real life and we’re just supposed to strap in and enjoy the ride, something I’m happy to do. The characters are incredible, the situations are outlandish and fun, and the acting is across the board fantastic.

Which brings me to Roman Grant, the now-deceased patriarch of the Juniper Creek polygamist compound, portrayed for three seasons by Harry Dean Stanton. I worship the ground Mr. Stanton walks on, so I would wish him no ill will. But if he were to now retire and never again perform before a camera, his work as Roman Grant would stand as the most remarkable legacy I can imagine to an amazing career and talent.

It’s that good–so sly, nuanced and manic within the span of a second, seductive and scary. You fear the man, you find him pathetic and even laughable, yet you understand above all how the weak-willed could absolutely accept his authority as the voice of God on earth.

Another season three scene burned into my brain–Roman’s final encounter with Bill Henrickson, who is building his own version of “the Principle” with his three wives and eight children. He delivers an intense monologue to Bill about “seizing the Keys” and having the will to claim power from God. It’s chilling…doubly so when a few scenes later, Bill essentially quotes Roman in establishing his own church with his family in his backyard. It underlines the fine line Bill dances between living in a modern world with a modern family and honoring the alternative lifestyle and religion he’s chosen to follow.

More often than not, Bill stumbles onto the wrong side of that line, and never more so than in his many encounters over the years with Roman Grant. At times allies, they’ve more often than not been adversaries. Even as Bill has attempted to distance himself from the compound, he can’t seem to resist this urge to exert his own force of control over it, and doing so has put him on the wrong side of Roman on plenty of occasions. At the same time, the guy’s his father-in-law, and the daughter he married, Nikki, is her father’s child in every respect–manipulative, manic, yet at the same time seductive. You can see why Bill might fall in love with her, even if you can’t imagine why he stays with her.

I don’t know if Roman Grant was my favorite thing about Big Love; Chloe Sevigny’s Nikki is another tour-de-force performance and an amazingly written character, and in his father’s stead, Roman’s son Alby has inherited much of the prophet’s squirm-worthy mannerisms and behavior. But I will miss Roman Grant, and Harry Dean Stanton’s presence on the show. It’s a bold statement, but I’ll make it–he’s one of the best TV villains of all time.


February 10, 2010 at 2:17 pm Leave a comment

Big Love: Big Disappointment

It’s hard to say exactly what made Big Love so compelling last season, except to say that it was really good TV.


I can’t really pretend that it presented some kind of in-depth, realistic portrayal of polygamy, because Christ, who the hell knows? All I know about polygamy is what PBS and Dateline NBC have shown me. I can’t even say that the characters were all that “real,” since their behavior frequently pushed the boundaries of what one would call “believable” (yeah, right–a pretty little young twentysomething is going to give up her prospects at a REAL husband and a REAL life to shack up with Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Chloe “I Once Blew Vincent Gallo In A Movie” Sevigny).

So it’s not real and it’s not illuminating…except when it’s both. And that’s when it portrayed its characters with some measure of shades of grey.

If anything’s missing from this season, it’s that greyness. Instead, unfortunately, the producers have made the disappointing shift from that grey to a more black-and-white good guys/bad guys approach, with the Henrickson family of course as the good guys. And I’m sorry, but Bill Henrickson is no more a clear-cut “good guy” than Tony Soprano.

Take the most recent episode as an example. Bill Henrickson has met a waitress he begins to woo as a potential fourth wife. Their initial meeting makes it pretty clear that aside from her sweet personality, he thinks she’s sexy.

At one point, Bill sits at the counter in this diner and chats with the waitress over pie. There’s some light flirting going on, and both of them are into each other.

What do we hear on the soundtrack? Tender, tenative music, a cue from producers that they think this love affair is a great thing and that we should, too. Bill’s the “hero” and he’s gonna “win” the lady, and this is good news.

Except that it’s not–if you give us grey, we can see the subtle flaws and cracks in the Henrickson’s lifestyle. If you try and convince us to root for these people, it’s gonna fail. They’re interesting because they’re flawed, and the second the show itself stops acknowledging that, it feels like a con.

July 14, 2007 at 12:39 pm 7 comments


Unsolicited opinions, snarky comments, and links aplenty—one man’s endless journey through the wild, wacky worlds of pop culture, fatherhood, and life in Central Florida.

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