Big Eeeewww!

The Bird likes nothing better than watching what Hollywood does with real-life catastrophes and miscreants.

Whether it's softly lighted and eyelinered queer cowboys (Brokeback Mountain, my feathered ass!) or desert island plane crashes peopled by a bevy of sexy supermodel survivors (this taloned scribbler isn't too proud to admit that it perches before ABC's Lost every Wednesday night), Tinseltown producers like to pretty things up.

No matter how dire the subject matter.

There are exceptions, of course, like the guys who made the movie Monster starring Charlize Theron. And HBO.

It was HBO that made us love mean, ugly mobsters in The Sopranos and deeply flawed morticians in Six Feet Under. And, come on, if the Western drama Deadwood got any more realistic, this foul fowl would puke up its Sunday night popcorn. (Did you happen to catch the one where the doctor's digging around in character Al Swearengen's private part to remove a kidney stone?)

But now comes the heralded pay-cable network's latest attempt at turning gnarly real-life situations into TV drama -- Big Love (which debuts March 12).

The Bird couldn't wait to see what co-creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer would do with this subject matter! That is, how they would wring entertainment out of a practice that most everybody in Arizona knows a whole lot about and isn't proud of.

What this feathered fiend is talking about is polygamy. Yeah, the show's about the religious practice where a man's not only got to bring home the bacon for a passel of wives and a herd of kids, but who often has committed pedophilia in the process with his underage "spiritual" brides.

If you've read New Times' "Polygamy in Arizona" series by John Dougherty, you know about the abuses of polygamy in the northern Arizona and southern Utah towns of Colorado City and Hildale. You know there are all kinds of shocking stories about this real-life cult.

Thing is, from any of the big-three public networks, The Bird would've expected sanitized scripting on even this subject -- you know, a catchy theme song (maybe "Seven Brides for One Brother"), possibly a cameo appearance by Jessica Simpson. But from HBO, it anticipated gritty fare on the perverted practice that enslaves women and should reduce men to forced registration as sex offenders.

It thought wrong. The advance screener the show's producers were kind enough to send The Bird, along with an endless string of promotional spots for the show, are about as down and dirty as the old sitcom Three's Company.

Originally scheduled to première last August, Big Love focuses on Utah polygamist Bill Henrickson (played by Bill Paxton), who lives with his wives Barb, Nicki, and Margene (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin) in three separate houses on the same hunk of suburban crabgrass.

Just as in any old rerun of said Three's Company, Bill and the babes have to keep the nature of their arrangement semi-secret because polygamy's illegal in Utah and banned by the mainstream Mormon Church.

According to Olsen, the Big Love characters aren't necessarily Mormons, but an "unspecified offshoot." Yeah, right.

The stories concern how Bill, who owns a chain of home-improvement stores, swings the whole three-wives-are-better-than-one thing. There's even a facts-of-life scene where father tells son that polygamy's "not for everybody."

The Bird can't wait to find out if this guy's spouses have to take a number and get in line for sex. Did this third middle finger let on already that Bill pops Viagra so he can keep everybody satisfied?

Talk about desperate housewives!

If its pilot episode is any indication, Big Love-style polygamy is just as tidy as a deodorant commercial -- a fact Olsen doesn't deny.

"I don't think we made everything too pretty," Olsen told The Bird. "Big Love shows challenges that every family faces, just times three. After a while, you stop seeing polygamists and start seeing human faces."

Cute explanation.

Except those "human faces" are a whole lot prettier than their real-life counterparts. This pugilistic pigeon is here to tell you that the actors hired to play Big Love's wives and wife-collectors bear little resemblance to the inbred, Little House on the Prairie-dressing frumps along the Arizona-Utah border.

The Bird's new friend Pennie Petersen agrees -- and she ought to know. Pennie was born and raised in the Colorado City-Hildale polygamy cult, but busted out at age 14 after church elders told her she had to marry a 48-year-old guy who already had four wives.

Petersen promised that the polygamy peeps she knew had neither hair and makeup crews nor Chloë Sevigny's bone structure.

"After a while, polygamy wives get a hardened look, like a zombie," Petersen informed The Bird. "There's so much abuse that you're just walking around like an empty shell, with nothing behind your eyes."

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela