Big (Business) Love Is a Bust

biglove.jpgLarry Ribstein, Ann Althouse, and Christine Hurt all have recently commented on HBO’s new series “Big Love.” To one degree or another, each has focused especially on the business-law themes in the show, which they see variously as a source of weakness (Althouse), social commentary (Ribstein), or tremendous fun (Hurt).

For what it is worth, I’m mostly with A.A. here. The show’s evil character, Roman Grant, and its main hero, Bill Henrickson, are engaged in a long-running conflict which nominally regards the scope of profit-sharing clause in a loan agreement. Does the clause cover only the first store Bill built, or later stores as well? I like these issues well enough when I teach them, but as conflict fodder on a nighttime-soap, this is weak gruel. Compare the contract problems in B.L. to the simmering fight between Swearengen and Bullock and Wolcott (and others) on Deadwood about the proper role of law in constraining business, sex, and violence: the better show stands out by a mile. Plus, the writing on Deadwood is better – product, no doubt, of series creator David Milch’s golden pen. I’d give an example, but they are all profane. Notwithstanding Filler’s example, this is a family-friendly blog. Oh, ok, one link.

However, in the last B.L. episode, there was a hint that the conflict between the protagonists will soon move from accounting tricks to religion, as a character suggested that Bill was forced to leave his home at an early age because of Roman’s worry that he was a true prophet. In my view, this would be a good dramatic move. Contract interpretation, even including a neat parole evidence issue or two, simply isn’t sexy enough to compete with T.V.’s other offerings.

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10 Responses

  1. Eh Nonymous says:

    Huh. Parol evidence? I figured this was an example of a case where the contract was so weak (lack of formalities, aversion of one or both parties to formal recourse, absence of good faith on one side at signing, absence of willingness on both sides to abide by terms that are inconvenient, etc. etc.) that the usual dispute-settling mechanism for business disagreements would inevitably recur.

    That is, Bill’s decision to invade the home of, and threaten the integrity of a historical artifact/ beloved heirloom belonging to Roman meant that law was right out the window.

    At least, contract law.

    They didn’t clearly spell out the consequences of the contract should Hendrickson Home open a third store- so? As far as I could tell, the confrontation was quickly spinning out of control, and soon somebody would be dead, and Roman would be in jail.

    I had no hope for a future for the show. The Third Wife’s extra-familial fraternizing was going to result in exposure; the oldest daughter was ready to run off; everyone was ready to snap.

    If the exposure issue can simmer down, though, and if Bill decides to take a more active religious role, I could see the series continuing into another season.

  2. John Armstrong says:

    I just can’t see the contract conflict as being the real issue. The issue is Roman’s lust for power and control, which comes out in his relationship with his daughter, his behavior as patriarch, his ephebophilia, and (of course) his use of the contract. They’re all methods of obtaining and maintaining control over everyone he possibly can. Take the contract on its own and it’s weak. Put it in a larger context (not everything is law), and it’s an important facet.

  3. Christine says:

    The most interesting thing about the contract dispute is that neither one of them can really use legal mechanisms to enforce because the truth is on neither one’s side. I have no idea what Bill was thinking the last few episodes — he can no more sue Roman or be a witness against him in a criminal case brought by the AG than he can show up with all three wives at the Piggly Wiggly. The parties are only left to private enforcement mechanisms.

  4. Dave Hoffman says:

    Christine, interesting idea, but (1) they both were using legal mechanisms – Roman filed suit, Bill had one ready to go; and (2) we don’t know enough about the contract to know if Roman is right or not. Certainly there were some shady dealings, but as Bill’s lawyer pointed out, the original contract seemed to favor Roman’s position. That said, it is true (of course) that there is something interesting about watching businesspeople work out disputes in the shadow of the law – here in the deep twilight – where reputational costs are the key contraints. It just isn’t AS interesting as Deadwood.

    My point on PE was that I had thought that there was a latent ambiguity on whether additional stores were to be covered, and Bill suggested that negotiation evidence would have supported his position that they were not to be.

  5. Lucy says:

    I really want to understand what makes people watch series… They are so much alike! I have seen a couple of episodes, and I was really bored. The Sopranos was rather good (or maybe I just was younger…), the rest don’t make me glue to the TV.

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