Are the polygamous lives on ‘Sister Wives’ creepy or convincing?

10.13.11 8 years ago 8 Comments

Watching “Sister Wives” (Sundays at 9 p.m. ET) can be a deeply unnerving experience. Like a lot of people, I’ve never exactly cottoned to the idea of polygamy. I’m happy to share lots of things — sandwiches, sweaters, tabloid gossip — but husbands I prefer to keep to myself. Selfish, I know. It doesn’t help, of course, that in my mind the word polygamy is inextricably tied to the sordid and deeply creepy trial of Warren Jeffs and the less creepy but no less chaotic HBO series “Big Love.” On some level, polygamy just gives me the willies. So why, at the end of most episodes, do I (very briefly) find myself thinking, well, maybe having a few spouses isn’t such a bad thing after all (though personally I’d prefer polyandry, as I suspect that if I had three or four husbands at least one of them would know how to fix a damn faucet)? 

The credit (or discredit, depending on your point of view) goes to the Browns, specifically the sister wives. Though at times patriarch Kody seems like a bouncy, hyperactive kid who needs four or more wives just to keep his ADD in check, he seems to have chosen pretty well in the marriage department. Meri, Christine, Janelle and Robyn, while not above human emotions like jealousy and yearning, are able to articulate their feelings with surprising ease when cameras are rolling. They don’t ask us to believe that they don’t sometimes want more time with their husband or feel slighted when Kody lavishes more attention on one wife over the others, but they are able to explain how they cope with those emotions (prayer, talking it out) and behave themselves. There’s not as much drama as we’ve come to expect from reality TV, but maybe the stars of “The Real Housewives” franchise could learn a few things from these gals about playing nice.  
A sincere bond connecting the wives is evident as well — instead of competing with one another, they seem to value what each wife brings to the table (to say nothing of the joys of having three back-up babysitters). Surprisingly, on this show, the conflict isn’t internal but comes largely from the outside world, which in this case is more than enough to keep things interesting.
Last season ended with the family fleeing Utah after officials in Lehi, Utah began investigating whether or not to file charges of bigamy against the Browns (which could have resulted in a 20 year prison sentence for Kody and up to five years in the clink for each wife), and the clan has settled in the relative safety of Sin City, Las Vegas. Inevitably, this season is about adjusting to change — and lots of it. The older kids are miserable and counting the minutes until they can get back to Utah, each wife is settled in a separate home instead of a sprawling connected compound, and the parents are collectively worried about their kids meeting other kids who share the “same moral values” (I’m sure there are plenty of men in Las Vegas living with multiple women, but I’m guessing these would not be church going types). 
While we do see moments in which the Browns discuss religion and hold at-home church services (not having found a congregation to their liking in Las Vegas), for the most part the show tries to focus on the everyday, familiar elements of raising a family rather than the otherness of this particular family. We watch the Browns struggle with finances (Kody and Janelle had to quit their jobs in Utah and haven’t found similar opportunities in Las Vegas), have pool parties and go out to dinner. If anything, TLC has found a way to make polygamy, yes, boring. 
In a world of “Dance Moms” and “Jersey Shore,” “Sister Wives” is a jarring anomaly — a show with a prurient hook that retains viewers by being downright wholesome. Heck, if you can get past the whole husband-swapping angle, this is family-friendly programming. I told you that watching “Sister Wives” could be a deeply unnerving experience. 

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