[Note from TW Web Producer Dan Gibson: Reader Gregory Heathco sent in a eulogy for the HBO series Big Love, which ended on Sunday. Since The Range's regular TV columnist, Jordan Green, is on a not-really-at-all deserved vacation this week, Gregory provides a nice perspective on a show that ran for quite a while, but didn't grab the popular success of The Sopranos or Six Feet Under or the critical success of The Wire.]
Bill Hendrickson passed away on Sunday and with him an era of series drama that may never be equaled. That era was a twelve year stretch of story-telling excellence brought to us by the once peerless HBO. It began in 1999 with the ground breaking first episode of The Sopranos and ended with the heart wrenching finale of Big Love. My own appreciation of good television was born during this era, along with so many others, and I find myself grappling with the fear that my best viewing years are behind me.
It was not always honeymooners’ bliss with HBO. Like the Hendricksons, our relationship hit some bumps along the way. There was the infamous conclusion for Tony and family, the devastating cancellation of Deadwood, its insult of a replacement John From Cincinnati, and the season 4 slump for Big Love. But through it all HBO remained my rock in the always stormy seas of television. Sunday nights were spoken for. Always.
Big Love rebounded in a big way this season, refocusing on its most important thematic element- the family. These final ten episodes brought the polygamist pilgrims face to face with their enemies and set the stage for a final epic showdown. The finale also had some great full-circle moments. The end credits rolled to a reprisal of the original theme song “God Only Knows”. Even more meaningful to me was another musical cue that took me back half a decade to a season 6 episode of The Sopranos that ended to Moby’s “When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die”. The song playing when Bill’s wives go for a drive in Barb’s new convertible was a cover of “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters”, also by Moby. The tracks appear back to back on his album Everything Is Wrong. I was personally moved almost to tears by this stirring rendition by Vitamin String Quartet which culminated in Margene’s ominous moan “Let’s go pick up Bill and all of us just keep on driving.”
This isn’t to say that the finale was perfect. I thought the martyring of Bill was too virtuous and would have preferred to see the show close on a strong but more realistic note. For example, Bill proudly and defiantly rising to hear the charges read against him in court and then a fade to black. Nevertheless, the series bowed to a great run that erased most of the tarnish from last season.
Surviving Big Love are a host of shows that HBO is confident will bring back many of the subscribers that left for Showtime. The most popular of these are True Blood and Boardwalk Empire which deal almost exclusively in the elements that Showtime uses to lure less discerning viewers- blood and sex. The much anticipated Game of Thrones looks to deliver more of the same.
There are still some wonderful programs on HBO like Treme, Eastbound and Down, Bored to Death, and the ageless Curb Your Enthusiasm. But the true HBO masterpieces, those that built genius narratives and ripped open cultural wounds, those that transcended the medium, transcended entertainment even and touched the face of modern art, they have passed. Among the current lineup, only Treme has the potential to meet those criteria. Creator David Simon and his team certainly have the chops but they face huge obstacles in shifting viewer demands and increasingly impatient network brass. It would surprise few if Treme only lasted two seasons.
So here’s to the memory of The Sopranos and The Wire and Deadwood! Cheers to Band of Brothers and The Pacific! Farewell, Big Love! You have meant more to me and millions else than we thought television could and maybe more than it should. Thanks for the memories!
Gregory Heathco is 29, grew up in Tucson, graduated with a bachelor's degree in media arts from University of Arizona and a master's degree in adult education from University of Phoenix, and currently lives in Changwon, South Korea, where he teaches English to elementary, middle school, and high school students at a private academy.