About Christmas TV History

Monday, January 31, 2011

Big Love Christmas

The Henrickson family ice skating at Christmas

Last night's episode of the HBO hit family drama brought it's first Christmas episode "Certain Poor Shepherds." This is Big Love's fifth and final season of the melodrama about the polygamous family. I've watched this show since its beginning--I love the ensemble cast which includes Chloe Sevigny as Nicky, Mary Kay Place as Nicky's mother Adaleen, Grace Zabriskie as Bill's mother Lois, Bruce Dern as Lois' husband Frank, Harry Dean Stanton as the prophet Roman Grant who is also Nicky's father, and even Sissy Spacek played a regular character last season. And of course, Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Ginnifer Goodwin as Bill, Barb and Margene. There's a whole lot of crazy happening on that show and it's fun to watch it unfold each week.

Margene, Bill, Barb and Nicky--too bad the fourth didn't stick around!

On last night's episode, the Henrickson experienced--no surprise--an unhappy holiday. Nicky's mother, Adaleen, and Bill's mother, Lois, both joined the family for Christmas but each brought the burden of their own dramas: Adaleen is nearing sixty years old but pregnant from bizarre fertility treatments and Lois has recently been officially diagnosed with dementia. The family is still reeling from Bill's recent election win of Utah's Senate and his public disclosure of their secretive polygamous lifestyle. But amongst all the dramas, conflicts and obstacles to a peaceful Christmas, Margene emotionally erupts to reveal a secret that seems to challenge not only Bill's public image but the foundation of the Henrickson marriages. We'll have to keep watching to see how this plotline plays itself out.

Though the Henrickson's polygamous family doesn't look like most of our families, they still experience a troubled and difficult Christmas not too unfamiliar from many of our own Christmases. Hopefully, your holidays aren't made difficult by too many wives and too many lies. But our compassion for the Henricksons in this episode may come from a very human understanding about how the melodrama often doesn't take a break conveniently for December each year. This episode also reminds us of the multiple car collision on the highway that you slow down to watch and can't take your eyes away from.

One final comment: this is becoming more and more common--have you noticed? Christmas-themed episodes are being broadcast for the first time not just at holiday time but throughout the year. This Christmas Big Love episode is being first released in January and last season's Mad Men Christmas episode was first released in the summer (August, I think). As cable shows continue to grow in popularity, no longer bound to the old traditions of Fall schedules and Winter replacement line-ups, we're seeing more and more holiday-themed episodes running year round. So keep your eyes open and let me know when you see a Christmas episode released outside of December.

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