HBO has been adrift since the smash-cut closing of "The Sopranos." Its reputation for cutting-edge, commercially and critically successful TV dramas and comedies hasn't diminished, necessarily, but the glory days of "Sex in the City," "The Sopranos" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" are certainly behind the network. Cult favorites like "Rome," "Carnivale" or "Deadwood" have flourished and died (must be something about those single word titles), leaving epics like "The Wire" or arty misfires like "Tell Me That You Love Me" to fill the gap.
Big Love, a satisfyingly complex and lurid soap opera that premiered in March 2006, follows the lives of the Henrickson family, a clutch of Utah Fundamentalist Mormons that practice polygamy living somewhat under the radar in an ordinary Utah suburb. Led by patriarch Bill (Bill Paxton) and held together by Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) and Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin), the sprawling clan must dodge disapproving neighbors, combat unctuous relatives and attempt to carve out their piece of the (admittedly unconventional) American dream. Co-created by Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, Big Love has grown into its own, shedding the reliance on prurient sex scenes (although those haven't entirely disappeared) and relished exploring the murky underworld of this .
Jamie S. Rich's excellent overview of the first season does a great job setting up the characters, their motivations and what transpires over the course of the initial 12 episodes (without giving too much away, of course). The second season finds that the stakes have been raised, what with the season-ending public revelation that dealt Barb a humiliating blow. In this set of episodes, Bill finds himself again sparring with the sinister Roman (Harry Dean Stanton) and fighting to keep control of his family, as the ever-willful Nicki angles to receive a bigger piece of the pie and Margene begins to contemplate inviting another wife to the fold.
Simultaneously, Bill's ambitious plans to grow his thriving business and cut out his relatives leads to tense confrontations and, naturally, unexpected twists. It's to the showrunners and filmmakers' credit that, for all of the myriad plotlines, Big Love never really feels bogged down or distracted. The top-flight cast also pitches in, further deepening and exploring these fascinating characters. As the second season of Big Love draws to a close, fans will be even more smitten and those who might've passed initially could be tempted to revisit the equally excellent debut season.
Big Love: The Complete Second Season is spread out over four discs, each with three episodes and the bonus features contained on the fourth and final disc. Each disc is housed in a slimline case, which tucks into a slipcover that's covered by a removable slipcase. The DVD
Presented as originally broadcast on HBO, Big Love is crisp, clean and vivid with its 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. All 12 episodes look practically flawless, with no print damage, softness or any other notable defects. A very smooth, film-like image. The Audio:
None of the episodes pose any particular challenge to a home theater set-up, as Big Love is predominantly driven by dialogue. As such, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track isn't taxed and replicates the broadcast experience faithfully, rendering dialogue, score and the occasional sound effect with clarity and precision. Optional Spanish Dolby 2.0 stereo tracks are included, as are optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. The Extras:
In a curious move, there is scant bonus material until the fourth disc -- no making-ofs, no commentaries and no featurettes. HBO isn't known for copious supplements, but the decision to only offer a trio of "prequels" set in the years prior to the events in Big Love is a headscratcher. Presented in fullscreen and playable separately or all together for an aggregate of roughly 10 minutes, these three prequels detail "Post-Partum" (set five years before season one; Nicki's meltdown following the birth of her first child), "Meet the Baby-Sitter" (set three years before season one; Bill introducing Nicki to Margene, the family's new babysitter) and "Moving Day" (set a year before season one; the three wives decide a move to Sandy, Utah will relieve the strained household). A series index, found on each disc, is the only other extra. Final Thoughts:
Big Love, a satisfyingly complex and lurid soap opera that premiered in March 2006, follows the lives of the Henrickson family, a clutch of Utah Fundamentalist Mormons that practice polygamy living somewhat under the radar in an ordinary Utah suburb. As the second season of Big Love draws to a close, fans will be even more smitten and those who might've passed initially could be tempted to revisit the equally excellent debut season. The curious dearth of supplements is troubling, but the episodes themselves are worth the price of admission. Highly recommended.