Don't let the patriarchal overtones of HBO's polygamist drama fool you. It's the women who rule the roost in Big Love. Sure, Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) has three wives, but he only appears to be in charge of his family and life.

Whether it's his compound past forcing him to deal with his crazy family and cult leader Roman (a fantastic Harry Dean Stanton) or the wives banding together and withholding sex, Bill's always got his hands full, juggling business, family and plenty of lies. The show walks a tightrope and is tenser and more tightly written than most action programs because its main character runs around like a chicken with its head cut off. Bill Paxton does excellent work as the overworked, overstressed, "overwifed" husband trying to hold it all together, but the wives outshine him at every turn.
As first wife Barb, Jeanne Tripplehorn's performance is translucent, letting every emotion shine through. Soft, sensual and strong, she proves older is better. Second wife Nicky is more prickly and secretive, and Chloë Sevigny plays her like a pet cat you love, but you sometimes feel is secretly watching you. Ginnifer Goodwin, who plays the naively perceived Margene, confirms she's one of the best young adult actresses out there.

All these women deserve to hear their names called during next year's Emmy nominations, and that's not even acknowledging the supporting cast. "Big Love" is reason enough to get HBO. Having recently finished their second season, it's also a good time to catch up on DVD.

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Story by Vlada Gelman contritubuting writer