Time Magazine Critic Jumps Shark On BIG LOVE

big love cast

It’s sad when someone who should be an expert on something reveals just how little they know about the genre on which they’re pontificating. Take, for example, Time magazine’s Richard Corliss, who on Sunday decided to declare that BIG LOVE had jumped the shark several weeks earlier. Unfortunately, he gets off to something of a rocky start by wrongly stating that everything from a wedding to a birth is an indication that a show has jumped the shark (as opposed to those being examples of, um, actual plot developments). But he then goes on to claim that the January 24th episode of the polygamy-in-suburbia drama jumped the shark by having Sarah take in an Indian woman and her child, Margene kiss stepson Ben, Alby begin an illicit affair and Nicki pull a gun.

Did a lot happen in the episode? You betcha. Was it a “jump-the-shark” moment? Not by a longshot.

What Corliss fails to get is that BIG LOVE is, at heart, a soap opera. As with any good sudser, there are the haves (Bill and his wives) and the have nots (the Juniper Creek crowd). There is a star-crossed romance (Margene and Ben), the slightly-unbalanced love-to-hate-her vixen (Nicki), a villain you hate to love (Alby, although he’s getting a run for the money in Zeljko Ivanek’s JJ) and a clan so intertwined that the family tree appears to suffer a bad case of root rot.

But most importantly, like any good soap, BIG LOVE is a show that knows a thing or two about plotting and pacing. To hear Corliss tell it, one might assume the events he mentioned came out of the blue when, in reality, most had been building for months and, in some cases, from the very beginning of the series. The budding attraction between Ben and Margene has been brewing since early last season, and Alby’s sexuality has been a timebomb waiting to explode since his first charged encounter with a hustler during the show’s first season.

A good writer figures out ways to have plots ripple across their canvas each week. A great writers knows how to accomplish that while at the same time laying the groundwork for episodes which bring several plots together for an episode which shakes every character on the canvas up and tilts the entire show in a new direction. That was what Roberto Aquirre-Sacassa, writer of the episode in question (titled, appropriately enough, “Strange Bedfellows”) did brilliantly, all the while introducing several new characters who would become key players in the weeks to come (including Sissy Spacek’s colorful turn as lobbyist Marilyn Densham).

Perhaps Corliss — who is a longtime movie critic for the magazine — should stick to the beat he knows best, as it appears he doesn’t understand the difference between the pace of big and small screen offerings. Then again, as the man who declared that Avatar presented an “impossible but completely plausible” world — as if those two words weren’t completely incongruous — it might just be that the plot-light, effects-heavy spectacle ruined him for, you know, actual scripted entertainment.

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  • makila

    I also read that article and thought the same thing. I do not like the whole mexico thing just because I hated when weeds went to mexico, but some of lois’s lines have been hilarious . I love the pace of the show and how so much happens each episode. Watch an episode of desperate housewives and then watch an episode of Big Love and see which one is more exciting . I love how much development goes into each show and they never have a filler episode. When most shows drag out a mystery until the season finale every episode of big love could be considered a season finale. Big love and dexter really are the most exciting shows to watch on air.

  • http://iamnoahjames.com nkinsey

    I too hate when people comment on things they know nothing about.

  • Nick

    Don’t know why, but I expect more from a Time magazine writer than the trite old “jump the shark” story. Can we just abolish that phrase forever, and realize that shows actually have to write/include shocking content for viewers to be interested? Why are critics always ready to tear down shows with the shark criticism?

    I don’t get Big Love (won’t pay for it), but it sounds like a great show.

  • jess

    I completely agree nothing about that episode was “out of the blue” if you’ve been watching for the last 4 seasons. In some cases it was even more of a about time then Shark Jumping. I really hate when people “jump the Shark” but commenting on a genre they don’t regularly adhere to. Love your rebuttal!!

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  • http://raked.wordpress.com Raked

    I have to say that there’s a mad overuse of the phrase “jump the shark.” Most of the time it’s used in viewer comments, etc., but it’s really a phrase that’s growing incorrectly. I don’t watch the show, but I’m being entertained that someone of higher calibre in the TV review world is being reamed for misuse of the phrase. Maybe people will step back and think before claiming something “jumped the shark,” just because people don’t like a storyline shift.

  • http://www.thetvaddict.com/ Aleks

    I must have completely misread the article, because I got the feeling that he was defending the more “shark-jumpy” elements of the show because it manages to embrace them and make them work without making it seem ludicrous within the context of the show.

  • Marc

    The show didn’t jump the shark until this past sunday with Hollis Green had his arm cut off by a machette wielding Lois, and Bill acted like it was just a flesh wound that could be taken care of with simple medical care as long as it was quick. Why didn’t Hollis’ clan just off Bill and the rest of the clan right there?

  • John

    Big Love didn’t jump the shark because it was never very good to start with. This is the most overrated show on TV. Some of the acting is decent (mostly just Chloe Sevigny), but the storylines are all preposterous. I realize this is a different lifestyle, but it’s impossible for me to feel much sympathy for a family of such recklessly illegal people. Their entire way of life is ILLEGAL. When Anna wanted to leave and Barb said she couldn’t take her baby, I just got mad because of how insanely stupid Barb is. Anna and Bill’s baby has nothing to do with Barb, and that severe detachment from reality that the Henrickson’s have makes it impossible for me to care about any of them.

  • TVFan

    Big Love is an acquired taste and most definitely not the most overrated show on TV. For that look no further than The Big Bang Theory. Without Sheldon and the genius that is Jim Parsons, that show would be nothing, and just as painful to watch as Two and a Half Men.