HBO is taking a big gamble with its new comedy series "Big Love" about the trials and tribulations of a Viagra-popping polygamist and his three wives in suburban America.
The buzzed-about series, produced by Tom Hanks, is set to debut on March 12 after the megahit series "The Sopranos." But the risque show is already riling many Mormons, who say that it dredges up old stereotypes about the religion, which banned polygamy more than 100 years ago.
And some former polygamists worry that the comedy will minimize the real problems that polygamous families -- especially women and children -- can face.
In "Big Love," Bill Paxton plays Bill Hendrickson, a wealthy businessman from Salt Lake City who practices polygamy. With three families and three homes that he tries to hide from virtually everyone, Hendrickson has a ridiculously complicated -- and HBO hopes, watchable -- personal life. Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin play his wives.
The central conflict of "Big Love" revolves around Hendrickson's attempt to deal with the sex, fighting, jealousy and chaos that comes with having multiple families.
But some women say that kind of competition and backbiting isn't the reality of a polygamous life. Elizabeth Joseph writes on polygamy.com that a plural marriage is "the ultimate feminist lifestyle." She says that she's a busy journalist and that polygamy allows her to pursue her career while being assured her kids are well-tended at home.
Linda Earl, a member of a polygamous family in Central Park, Ariz., agrees. She told ABC News' "Primetime" in 2004: "I'm pretty independent. I don't want to have to dote on a guy every night. I don't want to make sure that he has a meal every night. Let somebody else do it that likes it."
And Earl said that jealousy and finding time for intimacy weren't problems either. "It's never really an issue of scheduling," she said. "Um, you just find out if there are ladies that have needs that might be a little more important than your needs. Especially, if a young lady is trying to have a child."
Her husband, who did not want his name identified, is a wealthy businessman. Despite having numerous wives, he told "Primetime" that his life wasn't one big raucous sex party.
"I think you're confusing me with Mr. Hefner down in Los Angeles," he said. "There are much cheaper ways to have sex than to maintain a plural household."
While Earl finds her arrangement beneficial, other women in polygamous homes have said they have been forced into marriage against their will and subjected to abuse.
Don't miss "Primetime" on March 2 at 10 p.m. ET, when the show continues its reporting on polygamy, as a woman who escaped a polygamous community tries to go home after being gone for 18 months.
Flora Jessop, 35, fled abuse as a teenager living in a polygamous community and has devoted her life to liberating other women from the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, a tiny, breakaway group of Mormons.
Based in Colorado City, Ariz., the FLDS maintains absolute control over women's lives, Jessop said, not even allowing them to have contact with people outside the group.
Jessop said of her mission: "It's like taking someone straight from hell — and bringing them to heaven."