The latest entry in the genre of Utah polygamy on television feels more authentic than its predecessors.
"Three Wives, One Husband" premiered March 23 on Britain's Channel 4, where it is scheduled to air Thursday nights. I can't find a listing for it on U.S. television, which is too bad. Even if you don't like polygamy, "Three Wives, One Husband" is good television.
It follows the residents of Rockland Ranch, the polygamous community 32 miles south of Moab that's best known for the homes built into slickrock.
The first episode made its way onto Youtube.
The premiere makes clear that the program is not a reality show in the vein of "Sister Wives" or "Escaping Polygamy."
"Three Wives, One Husband" is a documentary. The introduction says the camera crew followed Rockland Ranch residents for a year.
Most of the episode focuses on Enoch Foster and his then-two wives: Catrina and Lillian. Enoch Foster, who has 17 children, is courting a potential wife named Lydia.
As you might expect, the courtship brings intrigue and conflict to the Fosters. They are open about the jealousy and heartache that will result if — make that when — 25-year-old Lydia joins the family.
There's a second family of three wives named the Morrisons. The wives there already have the anxieties the Foster women are acquiring. One Morrison wife worries whether her body is good enough and wonders aloud why her husband would want to be with her when he can be with either of her sister wives.
The drama doesn't seem artificial. There are moments of only one spouse speaking into the camera, but there's no probing of melodrama like you get in reality-show confessionals. In that first episode, there's no one leaving the ranch to encounter people who don't share their views or fretting about how the rest of the world sees them.
At a moment when Utah's governor is deciding whether to sign or veto a bill that could decide the next chapter of polygamy in the state, "Three Wives, One Husband" provides a great Rorschach test. There's ammunition for people who believe polygamy inherently generates an emotional strain on women. If you believe polygamy is patriarchal, then the scenes of Enoch Foster and Abel Morrison coming and going as they see fit and leading their families in prayer are for you.
If you think there's opportunities for feminism in polygamy, then you'll be empowered by the women who have all the children they want and work outside the home if they want. There's no law breaking — other than the polygamy part — and everyone seems well-fed and cared for.
So if you believe polygamous families aren't any more screwed up than the rest of U.S. families, you'll find evidence of that.