Sister Wives — premiere review

by subterfusex

TLC's Sister Wives

Last night, we watched the premiere of TLC’s new show, Sister Wives. It’s the latest of a series of shows by TLC that discuss niche — and let’s face it, often batshit insane — families in America. We had some pretty strong preconceived notions about this show before we watched it. Polygamy is a subject fraught with controversy, something that the producers of this show undoubtedly feel works in their favor. We, Pavlov’s dogs, salivate at the mere thought of salacious reality-show steak.

So when we say that we’re not sure what to think of this show, you have to trust us. This show is mind-boggling. Not because of its tawdriness. It’s mind-boggling because this setup seems to work. The family appears normal. In some ways, the arrangement even comes across as progressive.

The patriarch of this family is a man named Kody Brown, the scion of a fundamentalist Mormon family. He has three wives and lives with them and his twelve — thirteen, if you count an unborn baby — children in a Utah compound that consists of three interlinked apartments that combine to make a very large house. Not surprisingly, the previous occupants were polygamists themselves. Pay attention as they explain the layout of their home. It is essential to understanding their lifestyle in general, and this family in particular.

His first and third wives, Meri and Christine, are both products of polygamist families. According to Meri, when she and Kody were married, she insisted on the inclusion of sister wives as a form of protection for her own children. Janelle, the second wife, is the only one not from a polygamist background. She works a very non-specific but demanding job that requires she be away from home for long stretches of time. She is happy that Christine, Kody’s third wife, takes care of the running of the house. Christine is happy to be a third wife, she says, because her presence means that things can get along harmoniously in the family. She would feel overwhelmed by the love of an unencumbered suitor, she claims, and is very happy that she is the third — not the first or the second — wife.

We find that the children are well-adjusted, the household is smoothly run and the wives seem to be satisfied with their familial roles. They seem uncaring when it comes to propagating their particular brand of fundamentalism — or even religious belief at all — though there are scenes where they are shown praying as a family. Their division of labor even seems to transcend gender roles. (The person who makes breakfast for half the household is Janelle’s oldest son, who seems to be amazing when it comes to making scrambled eggs on toast.)

Though the wives do discuss the actual sexual dynamics in their relationship, it’s something they seem to accept. Christine even says in reaction to the question “What do you think when [Kody and a sister wife] are having sex?”, “Gosh, they’d better!”

We say that the relationships seems healthy, because this is only a tiny peek into their lives. Certainly there is a great deal of love and affection in this family.

Conflict is introduced before the end of the first episode in the form of a potential new relationship. Kody is courting a woman in her early thirties named Robyn and she’s about to be the fourth wife. Now the smiles falter; the three wives claim that they are used to their current arrangement because they were all married to Kody before any of them became pregnant. With the addition of a younger wife, already with children unrelated to any of them, things are bound to get complicated.

As we continue to watch the show, we have the following questions in mind:

1. Why did Kody’s father become a polygamist?

2. How religious are they? How do they view the afterlife?

3. What is their position on gender roles?

4. How do they get health insurance? (among other legal quandries.)

5. What do they all do for a living and how can they afford their lifestyle?

6. What do their children think? Will they expect the same kind of lifestyle for their offspring? Will they want something different for themselves?

7. What do their children aspire to do professionally? What do they see as positive roles to emulate?

8. What will Robyn mean for the new family dynamic? How will they house her family? Will they build onto the house?

9. How are they not being investigated by the federal authorities? (At least, we found an answer for that one.)

Damn it, TLC, you’re going to make us watch the rest of this, aren’t you?

One Comment to “Sister Wives — premiere review”

  1. I have ideas for answers for each of those questions, but I’m not sure exactly what religious beliefs they follow. I know it says here that they, or at least Kody, identifies as Mormon. At one time ALL Mormons believed in polygamy, however for Utah to become a state they had to denounce that. They did, but some did not agree. They broke off from the official Mormon church and formed what is now the FLDS. In a nutshell, anyway. :p There’s more to it than that, but still. That’s the gist.

    But, so far it just sounds as if this is the way they WANT to live, and it just happens to go along well with their religion and how the majority of them were raised.

    I’m very curious about this myself and I wonder if anyone managed to put this up online, yet, for people to watch. :p I want to see this episode for myself and perhaps follow it, as well. I’m very curious as to how this develops.

    It’s not surprising that the other 3 wives may be jealous over the potential 4th wife. They’re all used to each other, they are all friends and they all like each other. This Robyn woman is a new comer, they do not know her. In FLDS, I’m pretty sure you need a minimum of 3 wives to get into a preferred level of Heaven. The more wives a man has, the better. But, 3 wives are certainly enough if all you want to do is ensure you get into that specific level. They might see their position as, now that they all know each other and are friends and get along great, the household moves smoothly as it is, Kody and the family don’t NEED another wife.

    We’ll see as the show progresses. I’m very interested in knowing just how much of a role their religion plays into this, and whether they’re part of the official Mormon church, or the FLDS offshoot sect that is not recognized.

    I’m actually a little bit disappointed that they are Mormon. Couldn’t TLC find something a little more surprising? A family that is atheist, perhaps? Or a family that is Christian but not Mormon? It’s a little disappointing that they didn’t, because the first thing most people think of when they hear “polygamy” is Mormons and Utah.

    Either way, though, this might be very interesting. I’m looking forward to this commentary being regular. 🙂

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