TLC's controversial series Sister Wives attempts to put a normal, suburban spin on the concept of polygamy and the family of Fundamentalist Mormon Kody Brown. No "Little House on the Prairie" dresses here. No hair swept up in those 19th century buns. All three Mrs. Browns are blondes, dressed like anyone you'd see at Walmart or Target. Their blended family of 12 kids could pass as any normal (albeit super-sized) family; one even has her hair dyed goth black. But that's where any semblance of 'normal' ends.
Nowhere in my suburban neighborhood is there a single family house containing three separate apartments with kitchen, living room, and bedrooms for each wife and her kids. Or a husband with three wives who rotates through each of their beds -- one per night -- doing his manly duty like a stud bull.
Kody Brown, Polygamist PlayerKody is a reality TV producer's dream -- telegenic and charming on-camera. Photos of him from age 22 (when he wed first wife Meri, 19) through 27 (when third wife Christine joined the family) show a good-looking blonde man with a ladykiller's smile. In a group photo, his three wives arrayed around him dangle like ornaments hanging from his family tree.
Now in his early 40s, he could easily be confused with that guy who starred in the Fox/WB Network show Grounded For Life with his long shaggy locks, scruffy facial hair and "I wanna rock!" glint in his eye. He may be devout in his faith, but he comes across as an aging player who oh-so-conveniently found a religion that enables him to get it on as often as he wants with as many women as he can bed and wed.
When we first meet Kody he's speeding down a highway in a two-seater sports car, nattily dressed in suit, striped tie and striped shirt. He clearly has the air of a man who's used to being the center of attention.
In comparison, his wives are the backup singers to his lead vocals. Rather than being the proverbial peas in a pod, each possesses distinct and different qualities. Their roles are almost iconic in their specificity -- the conciliator, the nurturer, the breadwinner -- and reveal different facets of what it means to be a wife.
Meri Brown, "The Bait"Meri, the first Mrs. Brown, didn't go to college after marrying Kody as she was intent on having a big family. But only one child was born to the couple and though it's never said, infertility seems to be the issue. Now Meri's studying psychology and hopes to work with at-risk teens.
At various times during the first episode, Kody refers to Meri as "the bait," the one who lured the other sister wives into marriage. Clearly, Meri is the most accommodating wife, serving as chief tooth-puller when loose baby teeth worry two of the kids, and smoothing the way for the family.
As Meri tells us, "When you're looking at this lifestyle as 'what can I do to help you? or what can you do to help me?' it works out fine."
Janelle Brown, Career WomanJanelle, the second Mrs. Brown, was raised in the mainstream Mormon faith and didn't know anything about polygamy when she became friendly with both Kody and Meri. She called them her "polygamist friends" and at 22 years old came around to the idea of sharing a husband when she thought about marrying Kody. Janelle is the career-minded wife who has always worked.
She's frank about preferring to work outside the home rather than caring for the kids and doing housework, and credits her sister wives for giving her that freedom. Because her income is essential to the family and she works a 12-hour day, she's treated almost as a second husband. When she gets home, dinner is waiting for her courtesy of her sister wives. Since she leaves for work so early, her own teenage son handles the morning routine of waking up his siblings and cooking a hot breakfast for them.
Christine Brown, Stay-at-Home MomChristine, the newest and youngest Mrs. Brown, is the family caregiver and stays home with the kids. She even homeschooled all 12 children until a school for children of polygamist families opened up nearby.
She seems as interested in having sister wives as having a husband, saying, "I was raised in a polygamist lifestyle so I wasn't interested in single guys." She admits to being enamored of Kody while acknowledging the attraction wasn't as intense on his end. "I loved him tons, and he kinda loved me," she explains, saying that it took years for Kody to decide to marry her.
Christine, well aware of her special status as the newest addition, is the wackiest of the three wives. Her children are saddled with oddly-spelled offbeat names à la the Palin kids. She won't have a toaster in her part of the house because she claims toasters kill more people annually than sharks, yet she's unable to brown a slice of bread in the oven without burning it each morning.
Revealing Body LanguageEach wife makes a point of mentioning that none of them gave birth until all three wives had joined the family, and the fact that all the children were born and raised together holds great significance for them. It's a point that subtly foreshadows the conflict that shapes the remaining episodes of the show.
Next page: Homewrecker...or the Next Mrs. Brown?