I started out watching Big Love out of sheer morbid curiousity, coupled with the fact that I was watching The Sopranos anyway. I didn’t think it was very entertaining at first, and I figured I’d check it out for two or three weeks and then move back to Gray’s Anatomy.
But the show is getting more entertaining as the characters develop. It is still no Six Feet Under, but it has potential. So I’ll probably keep watching for now.
I’ve been interested to see how the show handles its occasional forays into mainstream Mormon culture. I was expecting to see lots of things that didn’t ring true, and there indeed have been some clunkers. The one that comes to mind is when Bill asks first wife Barb whether she wants him to “lay a blessing on you.” That one clanged off the back of the rim. Unless that is some sort of fundamentalist patter, the normative expressions would be to “give you a blessing.”
But I’ve been surprised by a string of “hits,” language or conversations that seem plausible for the religious culture. Obviously someone has done some homework on this, they’re not just rolling the ball out to a group of Hollywood writers. Here are some hits that I’ve noticed:
1. In an early episode, a group of teenage girls is talking at a fast food restaurant, and one of them asserts that she’s no “Morgbot.”
2. Here’s a really subtle one, and my personal favorite. In the show a week ago Sunday, the oldest daughter in the family wants to go to a typical high school “party,” with drinking and sex. The good Mormon girl, played by the girl who was in Napoleon Dynamite, wants to go to The Spaghetti Factory in Trolley Square. On the surface, there’s nothing distinctly Mormon about that. But it rings true to me. I was first introduced to the Spaghetti Factory by my very Mormon Utah cousins. It is in a fun and interesting setting, but since it is spaghetti, after all, the prices are very reasonable. (And my vegetarian daughter loves the “Homer,” as do I.) While I, the pioneer descended fifth-generation Mormon, love the Spaghetti Factory, my convert spouse does not. She would rather go to Tony Roma’s. So I thought this scene was a very impressive, subtle pick up of the possible resonance of The Spaghetti Factory in LDS culture.
3. Last Sunday’s episode had several hits. First, Bill’s polygamist colleague at the store casually mentions the Polygamy Primer. This is a resource written jointly by the Attorneys General of the States of Utah and Arizona. (It is really well done, BTW, and I suspect it was an important resource for the producers as they planned the show.) While most mainstream Mormons may not be familiar with it, I am sure that a suburban polygamist would be.
4. The oldest son in the family thinks about sex all the time, as teenage boys (or should I just say “men”?) are wont to do. He thinks there is something spiritually wrong with him, so he wants to go to seminary. His girlfriend tries to talk him out of it; she doesn’t want him to become like the other Mormon boys she has dated (not her words, but self-righteous prigs). I can well imagine a girl making such a speech. And I can also imagine a boy who had an early LDS background, but is now in a polygamous family, actually wanting to attend seminary, even if a lot of the LDS kids try to avoid it.
5. After Bill and Barb meet another couple, Barb laughs at how the other man’s wife was trying really hard to check out her garment lines. That struck me as very realistic.
In fact, it reminds me of a story. When I was a teenager, a guy who was in his 20s and new to our ward (in Illinois) was asked to speak in sacrament. He talked about how before he joined the church, or maybe it was shortly after, he had attended BYU (or maybe it was some other Utah college). He quickly learned that he couldn’t get any traction with the local girls unless they thought he was an RM. So he found a place that sold scoop necked t-shirts, and before he went on a date he would put rubber bands on his thighs just above his knees. During the date, the girl invariably would caress his lower thigh, surreptitiously looking for the telltale garment line. Why he was telling these stories in a sacrament meeting talk, I don’t know, and I’m sure the adults were aghast, but we boys were taking notes, I assure you.
Have you been watching the show? What hits or misses have you noticed in how it deals with LDS religious culture?