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Polygamist juggles 3 wives on TV drama

Twister star Bill Paxton will play a family man with three wives and seven children in a new HBO TV series.

india Updated: Mar 11, 2006 21:21 IST

Mob boss Tony Soprano may be the toughest dad on television today. But the latest patriarch on prime time, Viagra-popping polygamist Bill Hendrickson on new cable TV drama Big Love, is clearly busier.

Actor Bill Paxton, the tornado-chasing scientist from the 1996 film Twister, stars as a home-improvement entrepreneur and family man with three wives and seven children, all trying to live quietly under the radar in three adjoining houses in suburban Salt Lake City.

The show, produced by actor Tom Hanks, premieres on HBO on Sunday night following the return of gangster hit, The Sopranos, on the Time Warner Inc-owned cable channel.

Fatherhood and the definition of family has come a long way on TV since the days of Father Knows Best, My Three Sons and Make Room for Daddy.

While the super-sized households of The Brady Bunch,Eight Is Enough and The Waltons rival Bill Hendrickson's clan in sheer numbers, his unorthodox family life is perhaps the most taboo ever portrayed on US television series .

Big Love centres on Bill's struggle to balance the competing affections and demands of his three spouses -- first wife and leader of the pack Barbara (Jeanne Tripplehorn); wife No 2 and compulsive shopper Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) and wife No 3 Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin), the youngest, most pliant and most sexual of the bunch.

The three women rotate nights with Bill and pitch in to collectively rear a brood of kids, from infants to teenagers.

Meanwhile, businessman Bill is on the verge of launching his second hardware superstore just as word comes that his father (Bruce Dern) has fallen ill, drawing him back to the breakaway polygamist sect he abandoned as a teenager.

Although the premise suggests endless possibilities for camp, the show's tone is earnest and reflective. "I'm not playing this guy with any judgment or any sarcasm," Paxton said at a recent gathering of TV critics.

The series contains references to the Mormon Church, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as it is formally known. But HBO has gone out of its way to make clear that its series is not a depiction of Mormon life. The first episode ends with a disclaimer, saying the church banned polygamy in 1890.

It also cites a joint Utah-Arizona attorneys general report estimating that 20,000 to 40,000 Americans still engage in plural marriage.

In a message on its official Web site, the church calls the show "lazy and indulgent entertainment" that will "reinforce old and long-outdated stereotypes" about the Mormon faith.

Series creator Mark Olsen insists the show will not gloss over widely documented abuses of polygamy, such as incest and sexual exploitation of young girls.

Although Bill and his three "sister-wives" are depicted as consenting adults having willingly embraced their lifestyle, much of the drama turns on the conflict between their desire to blend into mainstream society and their need to hide from it.

While similar themes pervade the New Jersey mob family on The Sopranos, it remains to be seen whether viewers will find a TV dad coping with multiple matrimony as compelling as one who is married to the mob.