Scott D. Pierce: Like it or not, 'Big Love' is back for Season 4

Published: Thursday, Jan. 7 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Jeanne Tripplehorn, Bill Paxton, Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin star in the Emmy-nominated "Big Love," which kicks off its fourth season Sunday at 10 p.m. on HBO.

Lacey Terrell, HBO

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Big Love" begins its fourth season this weekend (Sunday, 10 p.m., HBO), and it hasn't lost a step from the first three seasons.

It's still a compelling family drama, sprinkled with comedy, about a polygamous family living in Utah. And it's still certain to raise the hackles of some viewers (or non-viewers) who will continue to be offended by its portrayal of the dominant culture in the Beehive State.

If you were offended before, you're going to continue to be offended in Season 3.

As has been the case for the previous 34 episodes, "Big Love" is clearly about a family that is not part of the LDS Church. The Hendricksons are sort of freelance polygamists. Bill (Bill Paxton) has three wives — Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) and Margie (Ginnifer Godwin) — and a bunch of kids.

Some of them used to be members of the LDS Church, but no longer. As a matter of fact, it was made clear last season (and it's reiterated this season) that Bill and Barb have been excommunicated.

Bill and Nicki are also former members of a polygamous church that's an offshoot of the early Mormons. And that church is in considerable turmoil because their leader, Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton) is missing.

We know he's dead. We saw him smothered by Bill's brother, Joey (Shawn Doyle), at the end of last season.

Most of the characters on the show don't know what's become of Roman, however. Except for one. And where Roman turns out to be is, well, pretty funny.

In a macabre way.

In the first couple of episodes, if you're looking for something to be offended by, you can certainly find it. Because there are Mormons in the show, and they aren't all perfect people.

Some of them are far from it.

As Season 4 begins, the Hendricksons are preparing to unveil a new business. It's a casino they're opening in partnership with a Native American tribe in southern Idaho.

The plan is for a family-friendly casino that will appeal to Mormons.

Members of the church are counseled not to gamble, of course. But some of them do make the trek to Wendover or Las Vegas or wherever, of course.

We've seen hints — well, more than hints — that Roman's son and possible successor, Alby (Matt Ross), is attracted to other men. And in Sunday's episode, he acts on that attraction.

(It's not a graphic scene. It's only suggested, but it's clear what happens.)

I don't want to give too much away, but Alby's, um, adventures involve a group that claims it can change the sexual orientation of men who really want to change.

So … it's based in fact.

And, again, I don't want to give too much away, but Bill decides that he's going to run for elective office. And, in order to make himself electable, he pretends to give up his polygamous ways and rejoin the LDS Church.

Again, that's not all that far-fetched. Regrettably.

"Big Love" is not, of course, a documentary. And there are moments that are absolutely hilarious if you know anything about Utah and the local culture.

Like when Heather (Tina Majorino) says that she's got to get back to her BYU dorm by the 8 p.m. curfew. I laughed out loud.

Whether that was intentionally hilarious or unintentionally hilarious, I'm not quite sure. But it was quite humorous.

I'm not for a moment suggesting that "Big Love" is for everyone. And let me repeat — if you've been offended before, you're going to be offended again.

But "Big Love" is fiction. It's entertainment. And, as entertainment, it clearly fulfills its function.

e-mail: pierce@desnews.com

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