BIG LOVE Season 4 Premiere: I Want my Beach Boys!

Posted on

I had big plans to dissect the Big Love season 4 premiere but instead I find myself completely distracted by the fact that, after 3 seasons, the show’s creators decided to change the opening credit sequence. As I sat on the couch, waiting to hear the plaintive strains of French horn and harpsichord that open the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” I was instead assaulted by “Home,”a song by some group called the Engineers.

This should not be that big of a deal, but you see, I’m a big fan of opening credit sequences. Credit sequences are arguably one of the most important segments of the text, both in film and television, because they are the first images the viewer encounters. Traditionally, television credit sequences have served a simple function, namely introducing the show’s cast, creators and guest stars, usually against the backdrop of a few images representative of the series.

The Cosby Show‘s opening credits:

Friends’ opening credits:

This trend has changed somewhat in recent years. Programs like Deadwood (2004-2006), Desperate Housewives (2004-), Six Feet Under (2001-2005), Dexter (2006- ), True Blood (2008- ), and others have replaced this traditional format with a sequence of disconnected, “dreamlike” images that are more “generic,” than specific, more connotative than denotative. These credit sequences clearly borrow their stylistic cues from music videos, which employ chains of disparate images that stress discontinuities in time and space to evoke abstract concepts.

Deadwood‘s opening credits:

Desperate Housewives‘ opening credits:

Of course, in this day of DVRs and TV on DVD, many people fast forward right past the opening credits. But the above sequences serve more than a utilitarian purpose — their imagery begs to be watched over and over. They beg for analysis. And I’m pleased to see that many TV scholars have recently turned their attentions to analyzing opening credits: Angelina Kaprovich on Dexter’s opening credits, Lisa Nakamura on True Blood‘s opening credits, Myles McNutt on Nurse Jackie‘s opening credits, etc.

Big Love‘s original credit sequence:

Although I always watch Big Love via my DVR, I almost always watch the opening credits all the way through. Why? First, there’s the music. I’m not a big Beach Boys fan but “God Only Knows” gets me every time I hear it. As so many music critics have mentioned, it is highly unusual for a love song to begin with the line “I may not always love you…” What I love about the song is precisely this honesty. When Carl Wilson sings, “If you should ever leave me, life would still go on, believe me,” he isn’t making any grand claims — he knows that the world does not begin and end with his beloved. But he still recognizes the beloved’s significance, as well as his own insignificance: “God only knows what I’d be without you.”

This mixture of idealism and realism, devotion and resignation,  fits well with the imagery in Big Love‘s original credit sequence. When the sequence opens we see Bill (Bill Paxton), bathed in heavenly light, reach out with confidence to his first wife, Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn). They ice skate in a circle. When there is a cut to a medium close up of Bill we expect to see Barb again, but instead he is embracing second wife, Nikki (Chloe Sevigny), who studies his face in total absorption. Her gaze is different from Barb’s — less confident, more awestruck. Yet another cut reveals Bill’s third wife, Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin). This may be favorite moment of the sequence — Margene, the youngest and newest bride, seems the most unsteady on her feet. And she embraces Bill like a ballast in a storm.

We then see Bill and the three women form a circle, each hand clasp shot in a close up:

And then in a series of shot/reverse shot sequences Bill lovingly acknowledges each of his wives. They all seem perfectly calm, perfectly content:

The bright blue sky, lush greens and soft lighting reflect the idealism of this arrangement, the “Principle” by which these four adults have chosen to live their lives. But in the midst of their bliss, we see a crack forming in the ice, which splits the four adults apart. This split could signify the various struggles the quartet faces over the course of each season. It could also represent the inevitable separation/destruction that will come with death:

Bill, Barb, Nikki and Margene now find themselves lost, searching for each other amidst a series of white veils:

Until they all finally reconnect…at a dinner party in space?:

This final image could be a rendering of the Henricksons’ existence in the afterlife — the family’s reward for faithfully adhering to the Principle. Or, more simply, this image could represent how the Henricksons are continually able to reconnect after each crisis. By opening each episode in this way the viewer is reminded of the characters’ own “big love.” No, I don’t support polygamy, but I find Big Love compelling because the show makes it easy for me to believe that these four people truly love each other and truly believe in the lifestyle they’ve chosen. They believe the sacrifices of polygamy are worth it — not because Bill is power hungry or his wives are brainwashed — but because they really do believe. A show about the devious Alby (Matt Ross) and his drone-like wives would not be nearly as interesting or poignant.

The new opening credits:

So, I suppose you could argue then that this change in the opening credits signals a profound change in the show’s characters and their relationships with one another. Los Angeles Times critic Allyssa Lee writes “…there’s no togetherness in this one. They’re all pretty much alone in their frames, except for the last one, where Bill and someone else are just reaching — only, they never connect. It’s all so … so distant. And so lonely,” while The Wall Street Journal‘s Dawn Fallik opens her recap with “We’re back in Utah and no longer skating on thin ice in ‘Big Love.’ Instead, the new intro has us falling, falling, falling through the air, as the four members of the Henrickson clan try to build a church, open a casino and bury past problems. We’re no longer in Beach Boy territory, folks.”

Sure sure, I get it. But I feel like this new sequence fails to establish what is so important about Big Love — why viewers keep tuning in week after week — the connections between the Henricksons. In this sequence Bill, Barb, Nikki and Margene are unable to touch each other. I think this is the wrong tone to set for this show week after week. And frankly, the final image’s nod to Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, is pretty ludicrous.

Finally, so it doesn’t seem as if I stopped watching the Big Love premiere after the credits, here are a few things I loved about last night’s episode:

Alby, dressed in possibly the dorkiest outfit ever, picks up a fine hunk of man (Ben Koldyke) at the park. Must have been those pasty white legs.

They served ice cream sundaes at the opening of the Blackfoot Magic Casino. Mormons are so naughty.

When Lura (Anne Dudek) hears that Roman (Harry Dean Stanton) is dead, she immediately goes to the safe to break out…a can of Coors light! So that’s the drink teetotalers choose when they really want to celebrate?

Lois (Grace Zabriskie) always finds a way to make to money (latest venture: smuggling exotic birds), leading me to wonder what kind of life she might have led had she not gotten mixed up with Juniper Creek. CEO of a Fortune 500 company perhaps?

Also, I don’t care what the critics say, I will never tire of Lois’ and Frank’s (Bruce Dern) attempts to kill each other in new and inventive ways. I love how Frank picked up Lois, outfitted in a girlish dress and head scarf, as if they were two kids on their way to the malt shop, a goofy moment made even more ridiculous by the two goons in the pick up truck who were planning to…tie Lois up in public?

Bill, who possibly had the most reason to hate Roman, is the only person who has the decency to close the dead man’s eyes.

So what did you think of the premiere? And are you happy with the new opening credits? Please share your thoughts below.


15 thoughts on “BIG LOVE Season 4 Premiere: I Want my Beach Boys!

    Alicia said:
    January 11, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    SO glad it’s back on. My first thought, after watching the in-case-you-missed-it montage, was that I’ve forgotten most of what happened. I’m guessing it’s a combination of how jam-packed this show is *and* faulty memory. I think I had a newborn last season. See? I don’t even remember.

    Anyhow. The opening sequence startled me. My first thought was that they’re seriously in for it this season. All of them in free-fall (from heaven, I’d assume? maybe from their heavenly dinner party at the end of the prior opening sequence?)… not good. I’m still not clear on the variety of emotions there. Margene mostly looks like she’s thrilled to be doing some modeling with a fan on her, Barb looks terrified, and Nikki is in a series of death-poses. And, yeah, the end hand-reach bugged me, too. (Although kudos on whomever got the dress fabrics to ripple like that. Gorgeous!)

    Overall, loved it. The Coors, the weird park hook-up, the old-people fight… If the opposite of love is apathy, then the opposite of apathy is whatever the hell Frank and Lois have going on. That’s the strangest relationship I’ve ever seen on television (and I mean that in a good way). And, wow, poor Nikki. I couldn’t get over her last night. For the past few seasons, she kept doing one crappy thing after another. Now, she tries to do all the right things (protect her daughter, protect her mother, etc.), and she keeps getting screwed.

    And I hope the casino business gets a bit more interesting. For some reason, I always tend to tune out when the casino plotline appears.

    Brilliant as always, Amanda. Love it!

    mariannem said:
    January 11, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    I don’t watch Big Love, so I can’t comment on that, but I wanted to point to two credit sequences that I really like:

    Weeds (the first three seasons [Little Boxes] sequence). Having different artists cover the song was gimmicky, but generally fun. And this has forever given me a soundtrack for airplane take-offs and landings over places like LA, Charlotte, and Atlanta.

    Carnivale. This show sucked, but the opening credits were gorgeous and evocative.

    princesscowboy responded:
    January 11, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    @alicia I was also very surprised about how much I had forgotten as I watched the “previously on” segment. Bill’s brother killed Roman? Totally forgot. Nikki’s daughter? Totally forgot. I can’t blame it on a newborn either.

    @mariannem Big fan of WEEDS’ opening credits! But like you, I wasn’t particularly happy with the covers of “Little Boxes.” Part of the charm of that song is Malvina Reynolds’ sardonic tone as she sings about the “little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky…”

    AB said:
    January 12, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    A Klein – I was not a fan of the new opening either, but this season appears to be all about change – are you aware that they have replaced Teenie? I also found the premier to be underwhelming, disjointed and anti-climatic. Even Nikki finding a dead Roman in the freezer did not elicit the WOW that we got in most of the episodes of last season, particularly episodes 8-10. The best part of that scene was Adaleen going nuts over making a BLT. For all the hoopla leading up to the opening of the casino (how many more problems can they encounter before getting this thing off the ground?), the “climax” of it was undermined by Margene sitting a card table shuffling cards around looking bored. Fine she may be more preoccupied with her jewelry business but it just seemed that for all the work the family did to get to that point and all the hurdles they overcame, the opening almost became an afterthought, and not just because Bill and Nikki were running a dead body back to Juniper Creek. I was confused over a few other issues too and would love your feedback….
    1) Are we to assume that just because Nikki brought Cara Lynn to the Hendrickson household and they joined in his new church that Bill easily welcomed them back and is now willing to at least work on his marriage to her? Is this because he has finally realized that Nikki’s issues run way deeper than just his existence with her?
    2) Why did Alby place dead Roman at the casino site after Nikki told him to take care of it? Is it because he is a) mad she left the compound again to go back to Bill b) because of the new fortune the casino is to promise her family or c) because she told him he needed to be upset over his death? Did I miss something there?
    3) And why was Alby more uncomfortable than his park hook up when they realized who they both were? Considering that those closest to Alby are already aware (or already suspicious) of his sexual preference….unless he doesn’t want Bill to find out and use the info as the platform to oust Alby and become the next “prophet” of JC…
    Although I was not sufficiently satisfied with the premier, the scenes for the season look very promising. Honestly though after last season I was left wondering how they could ever top themselves anyways….

      princesscowboy responded:
      January 13, 2010 at 9:23 am

      1) we had the same question when we were watching! My memories of exactly how season 3 ended are a little foggy but everyone was pretty pissed off with Nikki, right? I would have liked to see more of that fall out, or at least more evidence of how Bill felt about her various betrayals (being an undercover spy, having an affair, etc). So, I don’t know what the writers were doing there.
      2) I think Alby just always wants screw with Bill, whenever possible. Putting the body there would bring trouble to the casino when Bill wants everything to remain squeaky clean and above board.
      3) People are suspicious but no one knows for sure that Alby is gay (or that he has anonymous trysts in the park). My guess is that he is worried the trustee will somehow blow his cover.

      Who is the new Teenie?

    Constance said:
    January 12, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    Wow Amanda! I actually liked the new opening sequence when I first saw it. I guess visually, I found it more captivating and I definitely liked the music more. But after reading your blog, I find myself kinda pissed off and wanting the old sequence back for all the reasons you so eloquently pointed out in your blog. Impressive!

    Like Alicia, I found that I had forgotten quite a bit from last season too, including Sarah’s upcoming marriage and previous miscarriage, Ben having “a thing” for Margene, Nikki’s daughter, etc. So I’m watching the recap trying to recall everything from season 3 and now I’m barraged with everything going on to kick things off in season 4. To me, it was just too much too soon. Alby’s “big secret”, all of the Henrickson’s “big drama”, Lois and Frank’s “big feud” and no “big love.”

      princesscowboy responded:
      January 13, 2010 at 9:25 am

      The new opening is definitely nice to look at. And it does set up the themes of Season 4–the Henricksons are adrift. But, I think it works much better as a promo/teaser trailer for Season 4 (which is what I initially thought it was) then as the opening credits for the entire season.

    […] Ann Klein has a great addition to the growing number of posts on credits sequences recently with her frustrations with the show’s new opening. I share her thematic concerns, and will add that while the opening is visually arresting in […]

    AB said:
    January 13, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    The new Teenie is this girl:
    I heard in real life Teenie’s parents wanted her to go to school; I also heard that due to the writers strike she grew too fast and that is why she is replaced this season.
    I also heard that this is Amanda Seyfried’s last season in order for her to focus on her movie career (really? am I the only one who thought Mamma Mia sucked??) so that is a bummer as well, especially since her story line was getting great and she is an amazing actress.
    As for Nicki – at the end of S3 Bill told her he didn’t want to work on the marriage anymore and he started moving her into an apartment owned by Don. Maybe they will address this in future episodes but I still really feel that the premier should have tied up at least ONE of the loose ends from the finale.
    Adaleen knows about Alby – she tried to have him killed in one of his public bathroom hookups, a fact acknowledged by Alby to Adaleen as she caressed him after his failed bomb attempt to kill her in her hotel room. I think Nicki is aware of it as well.

      princesscowboy responded:
      January 19, 2010 at 2:06 pm

      Oh I totally forgot that Adaleen and Alby had those interactions. Ugh, this show has a lot of plot twists! I just can’t believe that that hunky trustee has any interest in pasty old Alby. He could get himself a much hotter dude1

    t$ said:
    January 18, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    nice read, A. i’ve been thinking about writing about the cable channels updating of credit sequences for so long that it’s now too late. the sopranos, dexter, true blood, and the original big love sequence that i loved so much. it was just perfect for that show, as you so ably discuss.

    i agree with your assessment of the update – it feels staid and overplayed to me (not to mention i’m disturbed/annoyed by nikki blatantly having her arms over her chest in a closed-off position the entire time – are they going to kill her off?)

    if you can believe it, i no longer have tv (!!!!) so i’m going to have to wait to netflix season 4. hope it’s good – enjoy it for me (with that new jude leroy on your lap!)

      princesscowboy responded:
      January 19, 2010 at 2:07 pm

      T$! No more TV? Unacceptable!

    Gregory said:
    January 21, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    I have a comment not about the show but the credits (citing the original authors comments):”I want my Beach Boys”

    As a designer I was struck by the opening credits. I really loved the original (and it also sort of shaped my concept of the show – I think). But time to move on!

    The new credits were artful and beautiful. Art needs to move forward. Be thankful it’s not the typical American TiVo skip.

    […] Big Love Season 4 Premiere: I want my Beach Boys! […]

    […] “rigor.” I second guess my posts more often now, worrying that they might be too frivolous, too self-indulgent, too weird. But of course, that’s what my blog has always been. It just […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s