Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Getting Political on 'Big Love' and 'Brothers & Sisters'

*Warning, spoilers ahead from the recent episodes of Big Love and Brothers & Sisters.*

"I know we used to talk about public service, it was something we dreamed of, but Bill, that was three marriages ago," Barb Henrickson to her husband Bill who’s thinking of running for State Senate despite the fact that they’re married to two other women.

Caught up on some Sunday night TV – watched the first two hours of 24, but hours three and four are still sitting on my DVR – and noticed that election fever has not only gripped my home state of Massachusetts (Have you heard that there’s a Senate race today in the Bay State?), but has popped up as a big theme in the recent episodes of Big Love and Brothers & Sisters.

Bill Runs for State Senate

Big Love’s second episode of its fourth season was a substantial improvement over the premiere, which seemed too enamored of the idea of toting the Romansicle all around the southwest in his white hat (a la Weekend at Bernie’s) and was drowning in gallows humor. This fresh installment assuaded my concerns over the direction of the show in the wake of its stellar season last year, going a little deeper and providing more meaningful storylines.

In the new episode, “Greater Good,” everyone, it seemed, has grown very tired of hiding -- their lifestyle, their beliefs, their ambitions -- and are opting (in a few cases) to openly own their own choices and to live in the light, as Bill “Church of Me” Henrickson would say.

For Bill, living in the light means, somewhat incongruously, running for State Senate in order to improve the image of polygamist families and to protect their rights against other politicians who’d like polygamists to be rounded up and imprisoned. Though Bill’s initial campaign plan was to pretend as though he and Barb were going to return to the LDS church and deny that they were living in polygamy for the entirety of his term if he's elected, Bill had a change of heart, mostly because his eldest daughter Sarah decided not elope because her mother disapproved. Sarah opted to stand tall and own her decision, marrying, at age 18, in her family’s backyard with a justice of the peace. Bill’s current campaign plan is to hoodwink Utah voters into voting for him and, once he’s elected, come out of the polygamist closet. Politically, that sounds like a disaster, but it’ll make for great TV.

Kitty to Toss Hat Into Ring

As for Brothers & Sisters, there’s always been a political component from the get-go. In the pilot episode, Kitty Walker (now McCallister) was a conservative TV political pundit who, in short order, was hired by Senator Robert McCallister to work on his presidential campaign.

That seems like a long time ago. Look at all that's happened since then: Kitty and Robert got married, Kitty penned a controversial political book, the duo underwent infertility treatments and then the adoption process, Robert had a heart attack on the day of his son’s birth, the two become estranged to the brink of divorce when Robert decided to run for governor without consulting his wife, Kitty flirted with having an affair, then Kitty was diagnosed with cancer, had an experimental treatment and is now in remission. (Gotta love soapy nighttime dramas.)

In the latest episode, “Run Baby Run,” Robert cited his heart attack and his wife’s cancer (plus his own lack of political fire in his belly) as his reason to withdraw from politics altogether after his Senate term is completed. And just as he’s exiting the tough world of politics, Kitty, who’s still sporting a head scarf because she lost her hair from chemo treatments, is considering jumping into the fray, considering a seat in the U.S. Congress. Robert thinks she should aim higher, like for his own U.S. Senate seat.

This could provide ample dramatic material, watching a cancer survivor and mother of a baby run for office alongside her ex-pol husband. As we’ve seen from recent political books (Game Change immediately comes to mind), these kinds of campaigns can be brutal, especially on families. To see a fictional female candidate who has a baby campaign for office could be illuminating, if the writers choose to go the ripped-from-the-headlines route. And with the Henrickson family likely to come under intense scrutiny on Big Love, we could see fascinating dramatizations of the impact of political races on candidates and their loved ones. Can’t wait.

Image credit: Ron Tom/ABC.

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