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Big Love: Second season premiere (HBO)

Meet the Henricksons: Clockwise it's Bill, Barb, Nicki and Margene.

So now we turn to HBO's other turbulent family of note. But first a word from Bill Paxton, who spoke volumes about his network's immediate future prospects during the lead-up to Sunday's finale of The Sopranos.

"We've gotta hold it together. We've gotta go about our business as if everything was normal," his character, Bill Henrickson, said in reference to The Sopranos no longer being among HBO's living.

Series such as Big Love, which returns for a second season Monday (8 p.m. central), will have to pick up the considerable slack. The polygamous Henricksons of Salt Lake City aren't as explosively showy or even as aggressively amoral as Tony and his two families. There's a lot to like, though, about HBO's version of Ozzie and Harriets. Or as aggrieved second wife Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) puts it, "There are four of us in this marriage, Bill."

One of the four, first wife Barb, found herself outed as a polygamist at a "Mother of the Year" ceremony that capped last year's season finale. Bill's determined to finger the snitch while traumatized Barb furiously swims laps in the backyard pool when not sinking further into depression.

The second season's first two episodes are in no particular hurry to make ends meet. Barb moves out of the house to recalibrate whether she wants to remain a Henrickson. Nicki, daughter of conniving Mormon kingpin Roman Grant (Harry Dan Stanton), lobbies to become first wife. Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) remains sexy and simple.

Bill's belief in polygamy remains firm, and it's never been all about the sex. He's devout and upstanding in ways that most conventionally married TV characters aren't. It's paramount for him to hold his family and children together. One of them, teenager Sarah (Amanda Seyfried), is only being half playful when she tells a new male acquaintance, "I should go. My moms don't know I'm here."

A happy and prosperous home life otherwise is greatly dependent on the success of Bill's Home Plus warehouse stores. And in Episode 2 they're endangered by billboard defacers -- "Home Plus +us +us +us" -- intent on spreading the word about the owner's lifestyle.

Bill and Home Plus lieutenant Don Embry (Joel McKinnon Miller) confront a billboard magnate who uses Lady Bird Johnson's image as a backboard for his trash basket. As first lady, her famed highway beautification project threatened the very existence of billboards. The guy hasn't forgotten.

Look also this season for two fake "polygamy lifestyle" ads airing during HBO program breaks and three mini-"In the Beginning" episodes currently available on Time Warner's digital On Demand channel. They'll also make it to the HBO mothership on Sunday, June 24th at 6:45 p.m. central.

Big Love is a very welcome re-addition to a network that's just suffered a big subtraction. Far more accessible and coherent than the new John From Cincinnati, it keeps the lights burning with a much softer glow than The Sopranos ever managed. We won't be gabbing about it as much, but it's a conversation-starter nonetheless.

Is Bill the most henpecked hubby on the TV planet? Or would you trade places with him -- or one of his wives -- in a New York minute? That's a lot to ask right there, isn't it?

Grade: A-minus