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Scott D. Pierce: More often than not, 'Big Love' gets it right

Published December 28, 2010 10:28 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Through its first four seasons, "Big Love" has captured Utah in a way no television series ever has. And it has nothing to do with polygamy.

The HBO series, which returns for its fifth and final season on Jan. 16, understands local culture. Understands our idiosyncrasies. Understands the whole Mormon thing.

That's never been done in a weekly TV series. Which isn't all that surprising, given that there haven't exactly been a lot of Utah-based TV series.

While other weekly TV shows have been filmed in Utah, they weren't set here. "Touched by an Angel," "Promised Land," "Cover Me: Based on the True Life of an FBI Family," "Everwood" — none of them were about Utah.

Other shows have visited here and sometimes had Utah-related storylines, such as "One Tree Hill," which came to Park City.

But the last show actually set in Utah may have been the short-lived, syndicated Western "Union Pacific," which followed the adventures of a Union Pacific Railroad employee supervising the construction of the railroad to Promontory Point.

Not surprisingly, it lasted only a single season — 1958-59.

"Big Love" may understand Utah, but that doesn't mean the show always gets its Utah references altogether right.

For example, Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) makes references to "that large institution off the I-15 in Draper called the federal penitentiary" in the Jan. 16 episode.

Of course, that's a state prison, not a federal penitentiary. And while Southern Californians use "the" when talking about their freeways — the 5, the 405, the 110 — we don't do that here.

So Bill should have referred to "that large institution off I-15 in Draper called the state prison."

That's nitpicking, of course. Nobody outside Utah would even get that any of that dialogue is a fact-based reference, let alone that it sort of missed the target.

And "Big Love" continues to mine Utah reality for its fictional drama as Season 5 begins — such as when State Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Thorn tells Bill, "I was pulled over last night and refused to take a breathalyzer. They got a warrant to draw blood, and arrested me on a DUI. It's going to be splashed across the evening news. It's over. It's all over for me."

Any resemblance to former State Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack is purely intentional, as just one of the fictional events on the show that closely mirror the actual events.

That just one of dozens of times "Big Love" has hit the bull's-eye.

Let us know what else you've seen over the first 41 episodes that was right on the mark. Send me an e-mail and we'll collect them all for an upcoming story.

spierce@sltrib.com

Dish out your top 'Big Love' details

As we look ahead to the final-season premiere of "Big Love" on Sunday, Jan. 16, we want to know what you've noticed in the show that's spot-on about Utah. E-mail your observations, with "Big Love" in the subject line, to spierce@sltrib.com.