Quick take: If you own the other four seasons on DVD, just buy the fifth independently.
Long take: For five glorious (and sometimes frustrating) seasons, HBO's "Big Love" took polygamy family drama to new heights. While not always perfect, this show boasted some of the strongest and most underrated performances that you're likely to encounter and challenged the conventions of familial obligations and acceptance. As a long time fan, I recognize that the show could be uneven. I'm not one of those people who think that as long as you like or watch a show, it automatically ranks as five stars. Different seasons can vary in quality, and while "Big Love" had its share of growing pains--it never lacked heart or conviction. Playing with diverse elements including family drama, comedy, suspense, politics, religion, and everything in between--the show became benchmark must-see television as a savvy and sophisticated adult soap opera.
I'm not going to dissect the plot of "Big Love" over five years from 2006 through 2011. At its core, however, it is the tale of Bill Henrickson and his three wives Barb, Nicki, and Margene dealing with the trials and tribulations inherent in living a polygamist lifestyle in contemporary America. Played by Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin respectively--this primary quartet is reason enough to accord the show the highest rating possible. The fact that none of these stars was EVER nominated for an Emmy Award is perhaps the biggest mystery in "Big Love" history. Tripplehorn in early seasons, Sevigny in middle seasons, and Paxton in later seasons all easily deserved nominations. Heck, while I'm no great fan of Sevigny, her Nicki is an unforgettable character creation and was two years running my favorite performance on TV (she won a 2010 Golden Globe). Also inexplicably excluded from Emmy competition was the great Harry Dean Stanton as one of the best villains in modern television. The only Emmy acting nominations the show received were in the Guest category where Bruce Dern (as Bill's ne'r-do-well father), Mary Kay Place (as Nicki's manipulative mother), Sissy Spacek (as an unscrupulous political lobbyist), and Ellen Burstyn (as Barb's disapproving mother) got nods through the years. Also invaluable to the show was Grace Zabriskie as Bill's mom. I could go on all day about the extended cast, but there's not enough time for everyone.
If I were to break down the seasons to my personal perspective, they would look something like this:
Season One (12 episodes): 4 Stars. A provocative beginning that was finding its footing. Had yet to capitalize on the family dynamic that would prove so irresistible in following seasons.
Season Two (12 episodes) and Season Three (10 episodes): 5 Stars. Returning, in my opinion, as the year's most improved drama for its second season--these two years were a fine balance of storylines and big ideas. The central relationships are solidified in perfect harmony and the performances are among the best on television.
Season Four (9 episodes): 3 Stars. A cluttered and overstuffed year in which far too much was going on. I call it everything-but-the-kitchen-sink plotting. Some realistic, some outrageous--it is easily the series weakest year, but it is still eminently watchable.
Season Five (10 episodes): 4 1/2 stars. A fitting and powerful end that brings the clan together in defiance. Eliminating many of the extraneous plot threads of the previous season, this brought the focus back to family. A solid and memorable ending to a landmark series.
The Complete Series DVD is bringing all the previous years together into one set, of course. All of the original extras included on individual seasons will be provided with NO additional supplements. Season Five (which is being released separately on the same day) will have a Special Feature called "Inside The Episode" which will have insight from the show's creators about each episode in this season. If you already own the other four seasons of "Big Love," there is no particular reason to invest in the set--just buy the last year. If, however, you are a newbie to the show--it receives my wholehearted recommendation. Bye, Bye Henricksons--you will be missed! KGHarris, 9/11.