This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
"Big Love" creators/executive producers Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer have done their homework and hired writers who know Utah and Mormon culture (including Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black). "But this is fiction," Olsen said as the series began. "It will look familiar to people in Utah, but it's a drama and we're taking dramatic license."
Nonetheless, "Big Love" has gotten a whole lot right about Utah, including the attitudes of the characters, who have their own perspectives. What "Big Love" has gotten right are the attitudes of the characters on both sides of the Mormon/former-Mormon divide such as when Heather (Tina Majorino), an active Mormon, confronted ex-Mormon Scott (Aaron Paul), who worked at an LDS Church-owned radio station.
"Does anyone from the church tell you what to say?" Heather asked.
"Nope," Scott replied.
"Or bleep things out?" Heather asked.
"No," Scott said.
"Well, then it hardly seems like censorship to me," Heather said.
"There's many different kinds of censorship," Scott replied.
"Well, the church owns the Deseret News and it's one of the best morning papers in the country," Heather insisted.
(Note: I was working at that paper when that episode aired, and we laughed at that line.)
Here, with the help of readers, are some of the ways "Big Love" got it right over the past four seasons.
Geography • The show includes multiple references to Utah localities and landmarks, such as:
• Cities like American Fork, Cedar City, Draper, Provo, Salt Lake City, Sandy, Tooele and West Jordan
• Buildings and businesses like Walker Center, Trolley Square and the Salt Palace
• Thoroughfares like I-15, I-80, First South and State Street
Utah-isms: While Nicki [Chloë Sevigny] and Margene [Ginnifer Goodwin] were unloading groceries, I noticed Cream o' Weber milk! Dorothy Chambliss
And another Utah tradition, locally-produced TV ads, also got a send-up: That cheesy commercial that Bill [Bill Paxton] made for Home Plus I think truly captured the essence of those god-awful Furniture Warehouse commercials, fake cowboys and all. Charlee Kone
Other Utah-specific references included:
• Mountain Meadows Massacre
• Pioneer Day and the Pioneer Day Parade
• Gayle Ruzicka and the Eagle Forum
• Referring to BYU as "the Y." and The University of Utah as "the U."
• A group of ex-polygamists styled after Tapestry Against Polygamy
• The "Lost Boys," teenage boys thrown out of their polygamist families
• When Barb's adopted niece is kidnapped, her brother-in-law worries that it "can turn into an Elizabeth Smart thing."
I think they get a lot of local lingo right "Just sayin'," "Oh my heck" and all those cute little substitute words they use for swear words: "fudge," "sugar," "my stars," etc. Charlee Kone
Utah culture • Like it or not, Utah does have its peculiarities. Including:
The men see themselves as closer to God than anyone else, including all women and other religions and cultures. The women are used as support to whatever the man needs done. The women are replaceable, which makes them disposable. Lots of secret angst. Beth Young
• "In this city, there's a certain interrelationship between the church and the business community," Bill said.
• The deer hunt is a big deal.
• As Bill and his LDS friends were discussing their sports bars and gambling businesses, the hotel-owning Marriotts were mentioned in the dialogue. "Just think of the hue and cry if they didn't have bars in their hotels," Bill's friend says.
"I was referring to their adult movies the in-room pornography in their hotels," Bill said. "And yet they're still stalwart pillars of the community."
• An ad agency pitched a Utah-centric campaign in which models were clearly wearing LDS temple garments under their shirts.
"This is code. It says, 'I'm wearing my garments. I'm one of you.' That's what Utah will see. Even if they're not looking," the ad rep said.
• "I'm not a Mor-bot," said Donna (Lyndsey Fonseca). "Life is too short to eat white bread and Jell-O for the rest of my life."
• A suitor proposed to Margene: "I know this sounds crazy, but I felt this burning in my bosom. … I believe I might have had a revelation. You're the one for me."
• Referencing Utah's high rate of antidepressant use, Barb (Jeanne Triplehorn) said: "There's something unique about Utah women. … We do it all. And we expect ourselves to do it perfectly. We all know what I'm talking about. We turn to our Prozac and our Xanax."
• Barb asked Sarah (Amanda Seyfried) if her boyfriend has a temple recommend.
• In the fictional TV show, there's a reference to a "polygamy primer" a real document drafted by the Utah Attorney General's Office to explain polygamists and their beliefs.
Mormon-isms • These weren't 100-percent accurate, but a lot of them were spot-on:
• There were some mistakes early on with the form of LDS prayers, but that was corrected as the series progressed. And the LDS baptism prayer was exact.
• There are multiple references to missions and missionaries; a pair even show up on Nicki's doorstep.
• There are references to bishops and stake presidents, and to such LDS Church labels as Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood, Relief Society, Young Women, Mia Maids and Laurels.
• "It was just a few years ago that we stopped promising to disembowel and slit throats of people who were monkeying around with temple rules and procedures," said Barb's mother, Nancy (Ellen Burstyn).
• The teenagers attended seminary.
• Terms like "CTR" and "celestial kingdom" are used; the hymn "Come, Come, Ye Saints" is referenced and sung.
• Nonpracticing Mormons are called "inactive."
• There are many references to multiple LDS figures, including Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff.
• On a vacation, the Henricksons visit several LDS Church historic sites, including Carthage Jail in Illinois and Palmyra, N.Y., where they attend the Hill Cumorah Pageant.
• Barb's brother-in-law Ted (Patrick Fabian) "received a new church calling as a member of the presidency of the Seventy."
• People are "sealed for all eternity" in the temple.
• Nancy was unsealed from her late first husband so she could be sealed to her second husband.
• Alby (Matt Ross) used a seeing stone inside a hat (mimicking Joseph Smith).
• Adaleen (Mary Kay Place) testified she saw Alby's face turned into the face of Roman, then into face of Joseph Smith himself (mimicking Brigham Young).
• Although spoken by polygamists, the Mormon phrasing was often familiar.
"We're living the United Order," Nicki said.
"We are the one true church," said Roman (Harry Dean Stanton).
• An angry African-American minister confronts the Henricksons, believing them to be mainstream LDS. "Your faith didn't have the time or the place for my people until 20 years ago, so you're going to hear me now."
The LDS Church's relationship with American Indians comes into play, with references to the (abandoned) program of taking children from the reservation to be raised by Mormons; use of the term "Lamanites"; and how Lamanites were "dark-skinned and cursed."
• "Is he going to have to be turned white and delightsome?" Jerry (Robert Beltran) asked.
Slight twists • There have been many fictionalizations of real-life Utah news events and people that are close enough to be recognizable to local viewers:
My favorite insider reference was in the episode regarding the defacement of Bill's billboards. "I'll call Dewey Owens right now!" Bill fumed. Dewey is really Dewey Reagan, the son of Bill Reagan, of Reagan Outdoor Advertising. Elizabeth Giraud
• The Juniper Creek polygamist enclave is clearly modeled on the FLDS enclave in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
• The UEB in Juniper Creek is modeled after the FLDS' UEP (United Effort Plan Trust) and the Davis County Co-op.
• Like the Davis County Co-op, the UEB has interests in gambling and mining. Both had labor strife with miners.
• A trustee is appointed to oversee the UEB after Roman's death. (For the UEP, it was after Jeffs' arrest.)
• Substituting a Juniper Creek offshoot in Kansas for an FLDS enclave in Texas, JJ (Zeljko Ivanek) recounted that "340 children were taken and then returned when there wasn't a shred of evidence of any abuse."
• Teenager Rhonda Volmer (Daveigh Chase) betrothed to elderly Roman is based on a number of girls who fled polygamy and then went on talk shows.
• Members of the LDS Church are anxious to buy a document that purports that the church never intended to abandon polygamy. (As was the case with the Salamander Letter, which purported that Joseph Smith had dealings with a magic salamander.)
• The letter turned out to be a forgery. (Mark Hofmann forged the Salamander Letter.)
"We've been selling this phony crap to the church for years," Roman said. (As did Hofmann.)
• In the midst of the forgeries, Alby leaves a pipe bomb in a hallway, looking to kill his father. (Hofmann planted similar bombs, apparently to hide his forgeries.) Alby and Hofmann were both injured by their own bombs.
• It's reported that polygamist prophet Roman Grant appeared "listless and distracted" in court, and there were reports he was "struggling with depression" (much like Warren Jeffs).
• Fugitive polygamist leader Orlean Abbott is arrested on a routine traffic stop and is carrying $180,000 in cash (another reference to Jeffs).
• Self-styled polygamous prophet Hollis Green (Luke Askew) often resorted to violence (as did Ervil LeBaron).
• A woman who was a member of the Green sect shot Roman (as a female member of the LeBaron clan shot polygamist prophet Rulon C. Allred).
Politically correct • They continually portray the blurred line between politics and church, which is totally correct in Utah. Travis Cella
Bill's run for the state Senate was ridiculously overblown, but the dominance of the GOP was clear
• "He's not just progressive, he's, like, a liberal heathen Democrat," Heather said.
• "Why would anyone want to be a Democrat when we have all the fun?" Teeny (Bella Thorne) asked.
• The show depicted a radio report about a possible deal to give Utah and Washington, D.C., congressional seats.
• Bill campaigns for delegates and wins the GOP nomination at the convention.
• Bill's GOP opponent tries to make illegal immigration a deciding factor in the election.
Gay in Utah • One reference that caused considerable merriment was when Alby Grant, the closeted son of the prophet of Juniper Creek, became romantically involved with another man, [Dale, who] was a member of an Evergreen-like organization called Alignment, the purpose of which was to make gay Mormons straight. Rodney Johnson
• A married man who wanted to adopt Sarah's baby said, "Someday, I believe, I will no longer have homosexual attractions. It might not be until I'm resurrected from the dead."
• Sarah is appalled that the guy is married.
"If the church says it's OK, maybe there's something to it that we don't understand," Heather said.
"Heather, counseling women to marry gay men and telling gay men to get married is just wrong," Sarah replied.
• Dale, a Mormon struggling with his homosexuality, said, "Being gay is not the sin. Our Heavenly Father forgives us that. It's acting on those impulses that's wrong."
• Dale said he when he was younger, he "was part of the re-orientation program at BYU" that included "aversion therapy" and "electro-shock."
• And unable to resolve the conflict, Dale hanged himself.
The beginning of the end of 'Big Love'
The fifth and final season of "Big Love" premieres Sunday, Jan. 16, at 10 p.m. on HBO. To read an interview with show creators Will Scheffer and Mark V. Olsen, visit http://www.sltrib.com/entertainment.
What did we get right in this recounting of the Utah-isms in "Big Love"? Anything we missed? For a future story, send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.