Judge Brett Cullum practices pet polygamy in that he has two dogs AND a cat.
"You're a sister from the same mister, and you're a brother from another mother!"—Kody Brown, explaining polygamy to his kids
Sister Wives debuted in late September 2010 on The Learning Channel, and it did very well for a reality television series, regularly bringing in two to three million viewers. That's more than HBO ever got for the multiple marriage drama Big Love, and they were selling the same thing. The show focused on Kody Brown and his three wives and thirteen children as they took on the daunting challenge of bringing in another wife who comes with three more children. The new additions cause insecurities to bubble up, and cracks begin to show in the multiple, blended families revolving around one husband. The idea of the whole program was to "normalize" polygamy and offer an intimate look at fringe, fundamentalist Mormons who practice it. You can easily think of it as the reality version of the aforementioned Big Love. The first episode introduces the family and how they are structured, then introduces the drama of the first season, which is the new wife entering the picture. It was a bold move for the Browns to open up on national television, and it did cause ongoing legal trouble for them. Kody claims they are within the law since there is really only one legal marriage with the other three being spiritual unions. Still, they were all investigated by a Utah attorney general's office for being practicing bigamists. It is a fascinating show, simply because it is hard to grasp how all of this works emotionally, spiritually, and financially. It makes the minutiae of life endlessly interesting as we watch how the family divides up labor and makes a home out of a small village.
The DVD set offers us seven episodes and a few deleted scenes as extras. The transfer looks very low tech because the show was shot on the cheap, documentary style, and never broadcast in high definition. It's all clear enough though, and the stereo sound does well with the dialogue. The eight deleted scenes are culled from three different episodes, and they do offer more insight. I wish there was a bit more thought put in to the extras, maybe even the family's take on what it is like being exposed on television after this first year. Of course, maybe that is going to be saved for the second season.
Many people think it is wrong to glamorize what could very well be a punishable felony on a cable program simply for ratings. But isn't that what this type of show is for? It is indeed salacious reality television, and I am tempted to call it The Real Multiple Housewives of Utah or John and Kate Plus Eight and Eight and Eight. It's certainly not meant to sensationalize anybody, but it does seem like something that is done for the curious nature of it all. I can't condemn the Browns, because they seem comfortable in their lifestyle, which does have religious roots. If we go back to the Old Testament of the Bible it seems like polygamy was common even in the roots of traditional Christianity. Yet we live in a world where this family is a group of outsiders and possibly considered illegal. Sister Wives makes it seem more normal, but I doubt it will change too many opinions. The drama works though, and you can't deny that Sister Wives is engaging and interesting television.
Guilty of making big love seem all too normal.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Discovery Channel
• Deleted Scenes
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