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Quick! Name all the president’s wives. I’ll let you ponder that.
Polygamy has always been a subject of great debate. In order to put a spotlight on it in a fair manner and without seeming judgemental, Will Scheffer and Mark Olsen researched the topic for three years. The result is the TV series Big Love, which began its fourth (and penultimate) season on TopTV late last month.
Polygamy in the US is given a face when Bill Henrickson steps on to the scene. Played by Bill Paxton, Henrickson and his own are a fundamentalist Mormon family who practise polygamy in Utah. Bill is married to Barbara (Jeanne Tripplehorn), the stereotypical uptight first wife, Nicki (Chloë Sevigny), the one who is weary of just about everyone, and Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin), the youngest wife who really acts her age.
Between them they have nine children and in the fourth season, their parenting skills are truly put to the test. The oldest daughter, Sarah (Amanda Seyfried), frowns upon her dad’s polygamist lifestyle and in an effort to distance herself from the practice, begins going to a counselling class run by former members of Mormon families. It’s there that she finds herself in a pickle her father, whom she no longer respects, would relate to.
The oldest son, Ben (Douglas Smith), intends following in his father’s footsteps by having more than one wife. But first he has to overcome his obsessive sexual attraction to Margene who is – when it comes down to it – also his mother.
In the fourth season, Bill has plans to become Utah’s state senator and just might get what he wants if he stops trying to legitimise The Principle of polygamy to the public.
Over the years, Big Love has become a critically acclaimed series and a commercial success, too. Various social networking methods have been used to make it even more popular than it is, but the good old-fashioned method of using awards to make people pay attention has also worked.
In 2010, Sevigny took home the Golden Globe award for Best Supporting Actress in a TV Role for playing Nicki in the show’s third season.
Imagine if people who practise polygamy in real life also had a shot at the awards.
And in case the answer to my question still hasn’t come to you by now, the first names of the president’s wives (who are still married to him) are: Sizakele, Nompumelelo, Thobeka and, as of last month, Bongi.
• Big Love, Top One (TopTV channel 150), Mondays at 9pm.