Cultural complexity has always been an eyebrow raising factor both in fictional work and real world scenario. In real world; fanatics throws Molotov cocktails for no reason at times, in fictional world; people b-slaps everyone and all but is overall discreet. Point being, fiction works that revolves around cultural complexity represents real world scenario in a more discreet way. The character interactions and complex world often makes for a melodrama, which is often associated with soaps (not literal soap people…). HBO (this is not TV, blah, blah, blah)’s Big Love is an intriguing series as its premise incorporates cultural complexity that it reeks for soapy treatment instead of a serial.
To those who are unfamiliar to the series, Big Love is an American television drama that aired on HBO between March 2006 and March 2011 (yours truly by wikipedia). The show Big Love for the most part follows the makings of drama film, on a more mainstream note that is. The context behind each character in the film, i.e. Bill Henrickson & his three wives, is obviously polygamy which in all fairness is an eyebrow raising concept as (you have to admit) pretty fucking daring even with the public sphere more open to uncommon social standing.
Throughout the seasons however, the characters slowly diminish each of their “charm” in their respective arcs before a jointed convolution point, as if each character is struggling to make things as complex but understandable as possible, which sadly doesn’t work. That said, the show’s genre is questionable in that it can be taken in as soap instead of series.
“As a genre, soap opera is nothing if not resilient” (Ford, S.).Soap Opera’s use of multiple character arcs are similar to a Serial’s use of complex narrative. The two have an open ended end of an episode which ends up requiring viewer’s continual investment into the respective genres. Soap operas, however, tend to have multiple stories run simultaneously that doesn’t end at the same time as well. Serials tend to wrap every plot arcs into one main focal point to which it ends and everything is concluded, for a sequel serial that is.
“At most, then, genres are associated with but not defined by textual form, – those formal traces do not define or constitute the genre.” (Devitt, Amy J).
The mix of two genres’ aspects isn’t something unfamiliar but is otherwise a bit odd as the contextual meaning of each genres covers two rather different area. This is a bit of a surprise cause on a personal note, I totally thought the melodrama factor of the film would have made one of my butt cheeks sore for watching some episodes to cope with the complex interlinking narrative. Despite this however, the series is simple enough to follow in terms of narrative and it doesn’t necessarily need that much time invested to it to make sense of the show. The themes begs for a complex narrative but the extent of execution in terms of narrative sometimes feels simple enough to follow but the overall progression throughout the series somehow feels slow.
– Missing a week of a soap opera would cause less confusion than missing a week of a primetime serial (assuming the viewer does not watch the “previously on” recaps on primetime), because daytime incorporates far more recapping into the dialogue than on primetime. (Mittell, 2009)
As Mittell points out, most episodes have a line that explains what has happened consistently in proceeding episodes, which as Mittell argued in an interview is the making of soap; i.e. soap tell events instead of showing us. Love (what’s a drama without love eh?) and religion being two massive complication factor for the possible causality chain already serves as great foundation for a melodrama series, the cultural engagement and anomalies poses intriguing conflict but the prolonged continuation of problems turned this series into another neighbors ….. dang that title creeps me out. No offense.
Jokes aside, despite the possible narrative complexity by the two main themes used in the series giving possibility to well written character and conflicts, you just can’t help to feel some materials are overused and could have ended in certain parts of a season instead of forcibly prolonged. This prolonged use of story adds confusion more than adding quality. In other words, it sucks to a certain extent, lets leave it at that. This is one of those example where complex narrative does NOT always equate to quality TV.
Cultural complexity is a major driving force in this series, sometimes representing the conflicts of real world culture in an aesthetical approach. “This ultimately begs the question of what kinds of characters, settings, dilemmas, can be seen as cleverly complex, deserving of the “quality” label, and which will be relegated to the scrap heap of soapy excess.” (Kackman, 2010)
Again as Mittell pointed out, soaps use dialogue to recap (telling it) which makes Big Love’s theme, that “hungers” for complex narrative (to a certain extent), feel a bit too simple but is at times lengthy otherwise. The little details makes series such as Big Love a great show, problem is, developers seems to be too fixated to handle the series aesthetically instead of keeping the integrity of the show’s continuity. Don’t get me wrong, each episode concludes conflict quite concisely but the seasons as a whole can feel sluggish as some conflicts could’ve been put to an end for a new one. The intricate plot demands the smallest of details to hook viewers but too much detail puts everyone off.
All in all, Big Love is like a bastard child of drama soap and serial, if that makes any sense. It asks you to invest as much attention and time as you would to a serial as it incorporates (rather) complex narrative but concludes as slow as that of soap that it often deters you to follow every single episode in the series. Cultural complexity serves as themes used for the series which screams for complex narrative approach but ends up getting developers confused on crafting new arcs for characters in each seasons. This prompts it to a serial but as far as series goes it must be concise, something that this series fail to follow sometimes that it feels like we’re watching soaps instead. Nevertheless, the melodrama within character relationship and each of their arcs adds depth to the intriguing base story making it a decently solid drama soap-series thingy majjigy.
Devitt, Amy J. “A Theory of Genre.” Writing Genres. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004. 1-32.
Ford, S., Kosnik, A.D., & Harrington, C.L., The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era, 2012. P.127.
Mittel, J. Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television,” The Velvet Light Trap, no. 58 (fall 2006): 29-40.