by Suzanne Schreiner & r & & r & Big Love & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & F & lt;/span & or suburban Salt Lake City polygamist Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton), his Big Love wraps a wide embrace around three wives, three mortgages and every possible kind of trouble. Yes, he visits a different wife every night, but the middle-aged patriarch needs a handful of Viagra just to keep up the pace.

First wife Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), manipulative Nicky (Chloe Sevigny), and puppy-like Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) are willing "sister wives": no teenage concubines here. If anyone is oppressed, it's Bill, trying to remember whose bed he should be in, whether his passionate trysts with Barb at the local motel constitute an affair, and how he will escape the financial stranglehold of Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton), the ruthless, scheming, polygamist patriarch (he has a teenage wife) whose followers live in squalor as he pursues his shady deals. Oh, yes, he's also Nicky's father.

Because Bill owns a couple of prosperous home improvement stores, he can almost afford his seven children, the car that Margene is whimpering for, and the boatload of credit card debt that Nicky is secretly harboring. Nicky calls Barb "Boss Lady" because as Bill's 'official' wife she manages the finances of the family and is the arbiter of disputes among the wives. She works as a teacher, too, which gives her a kind of independence Nicky and Margene lack. Back at Roman's remote compound, Bill's father, Frank (Bruce Dern), an unrepentant old goat given to peeing in the kitchen sink, and his raging, wacko mother, Lois (Grace Zabriskie), heap abuse on one another and relish the feud they have pursued for years. It's a lively bunch.

HBO has done another off-kilter, well-written turn on the American family that succeeds because the Henricksons are not the subjects of winks or sniggering. Instead, they are played by the talented cast as sincere believers who are trying to live a life that neither their suburban neighbors nor the mainstream Mormon Church are prepared to tolerate. The church fears that the evil of polygamy, outlawed in 1890, may be trivialized by the show. Well, this is television, not a documentary. But any viewer seeing Bill Henrickson plot his tricky course knows that Big Love is Big Trouble. Watching him, however, is Big Fun.

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