On TV: Big Love


Suburban polygamy is not what it used to be. At least for the Henricksons, who are opening up a Mormon-friendly casino, hawking jewelry on a home shopping network, selling exotic birds on the down low, indulging in homosexual urges and parading a dead body around Salt Lake City like a Weekend at Bernie's sideshow in tomorrow night's fourth season premiere.

Don't let those plot elements startle you though. If you've been able to open your hearts to HBO's Big Love the past three seasons (like I have), and suspend your disbelief enough to buy that Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin are bound by a fundamentalist Mormon marriage, a three home compound and nine children, then enjoying tomorrow night's premiere will be no problem at all.

In "Free at Last," we return to Juniper Creek where Bill, the consummate provider is preparing for the grand opening of his Indian casino while the Feds question him about the disappearance of Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton). Apparently after Joey (Shawn Doyle) strangled the Profit last season, Adaleen (Mary Kay Place) panicked and shoved him in a walk-in freezer for tomorrow night's comic relief.

Back at the Henrickson household, Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) throws herself headfirst into casino preparations, from menu-planning to modifying uniforms. Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) settles into her new career and self-sufficiency. Meanwhile, Nicki (Chloë Sevigny) remains the most complicated and compelling of the sister-wives, emerging from her father's shadow while battling her ex, getting to know her estranged daughter and trying to repair her relationship with Bill after last season's affair. As usual, the best scenes belong to the elders, Bruce Dern and Grace Zabriskie as Bill's bonkers, feuding parents and Mary Kay Place as Roman Grant's recent widow.

The heartiest story line this season promises to be the power struggle that Roman Grant's death leaves behind. Alby (Matt Ross), Roman's son, assumes himself the heir apparent but finds himself distracted by a new and unlikely romance. Nicki figures Bill to be a formidable candidate but is also distracted by her own romantic feelings. But it was Harry Dean Stanton who grounded the past three seasons as the clear and corrupt leader of Juniper Creek, and you can't help but wonder if without Stanton, Big Love will lose some of its footing. In tomorrow night's premiere, it is too soon to tell.

And then there are a few casting changes: Amanda Seyfried's character will get married early this season before moving away, freeing the Mamma Mia actress to pursue her film career. Barb and Bill's daughter, the precocious Teenie, who is away at camp during tomorrow's episode, will be played by Bella Thorne instead of Jolean Wejbe, a decision co-creator Will Sheffer attributed to Wejbe's unfortunate growth spurt. Also joining the cast is Sissy Spacek for a multi-episodic arc.

Last season, the HBO drama attracted controversy when it depicted a sacred Mormon ritual that happens behind closed doors. Executive producer Will Scheffer has already said that because of the response, the show will not return to the temple in the next nine episodes of Big Love's abbreviated fourth season, but it will feature a few "game changers" that will shake the Henrickson clan and send them into unchartered Utah territory.