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.