The makers of Sex and the City and The Sopranos shocked America with the first episode of a drama about polygamy in which a Viagra-popping husband battles to keep three wives satisfied.
Big Love, the latest series from the cable channel HBO, aims to inject prime time territory with human drama, conflict and plenty of sex, incurring the wrath of the Mormon Church in the process.
The series features Bill Paxton, who played a scientist in the 1996 film Twister, as a businessman with seven children by three wives who live in adjoining houses in suburban Salt Lake City.
The consenting “sister wives” share a garden and devise a rota for who gets to sleep with their husband on which night. But tensions build when the husband spends the night with the wrong wife.
Then, because of his father’s illness, he has to return to the breakaway polygamist sect he abandoned as a teenager.
The series of hour-long episodes, produced by Tom Hanks, contains references to the Mormons – officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The church no longer condones polygamy, although an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 Americans in Utah and Arizona still engage in plural marriage.
HBO has sought to make clear that its drama is not intended to depict reality, prefacing the first episode with a disclaimer saying the Mormon Church outlawed polygamy in 1890.
Its creators say that although the show has humour, it is designed to be earnest and reflective rather than mocking.
But in a message on its official website the church calls the show “lazy and indulgent entertainment” that will “reinforce old and long-outdated stereotypes” about the Mormon faith.