By Caryn James | James on Screens March 14, 2011 at 3:18AM
How many wives does it take for a guy to get arrested?
The husbands were in legal trouble on last night’s second season premiere of Sister Wives, TLC’s reality show about a Utah man with four wives, and Big Love, the next-to-last episode ever of HBO’s dramatic series about a Utah man with three wives, two symbiotic series that reveal a vicious circle of fictional and real polygamists.
It’s hard to imagine Sister Wives without Big Love leading the way, but now the real-life Browns are living the dream of the fictional Henricksons, appearing on every show from Oprah to Today to George Lopez, the wives chatting about the shared housework and the shared man. And to think that last season on Big Love it seemed absurd when Bill decided to reveal his wives to the world, hoping to make them seem like some ordinary supersized family.
The Browns, of course, are nothing like an ordinary family; if they were, they wouldn’t have a TV show, and a successful one at that. In the first season, Brown had three wives approaching middle age, and through the season added a fourth (like latest-wife Margene on Big Love, more glamorous than the others) with children of her own. That brought jealousy, drama and a wedding to the series, and the total kid count to 16.
But where Big Love has flourished on its rich, conflicted characters, from the start of Sister Wives Kody Brown has just glowed with self-satisfaction. His religion seems like an excuse for a harem, and frankly, he seems like an egotistical jerk. His wives are more likable but seem either self-deluded or pursuing some warped emotional trajectories of their own. In an hour-long special before last night’s show, host Natalie Morales asked Brown if he was the playboy he seemed to be last season and he answered he was more of “a party boy with my four girls.” Oh good, that clears it up.
Last night’s episode existed in a time warp, as we saw the Browns heading to New York to appear on Today and other shows, coming out as polygamists in a big media blitz. These are the very shows we saw when they were promoting season 1, so - deja vu, what were the producers thinking?
We also learned what we already knew from the news, that the Utah police are considering charging them with bigamy. Nothing has come of that investigation legally, but as a result the Browns decided to move to - no kidding – Las Vegas, apparently missing the irony of landing in glitzy pop-culture central. By the end of the episode, Meri, wife number 1, cries and worries about whether the publicity will hurt the children (now they worry about the kids?) but says she doesn’t regret going public because they want to live more honestly and gain acceptance. Maybe.
You never know what reality-show producers can create through editing, or what kind of personality the subjects are willfully putting out there, but you get the sense that the Browns are trying very hard to give the cameras what they want. Their attempt at scrubbed-wholesome polygamy leaves a chemical, manufactured-for-TV aftertaste about the adults and a queasy sense of voyeurism about the kids, though. However many spouses are involved, they are truly married to the media.