Tuned In: Take Two -- 'Big Love' and 'Kyle XY' return

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'Kyle XY'
When: 8 p.m. Monday, ABC Family.
Starring: Matt Dallas.

'Big Love'
When: 9 p.m. Monday, HBO.
Starring: Bill Paxton.

Two dramas that premiered last year return for their second seasons, and in their season premieres, both manage to avoid a sophomore slump.

'Big Love'

Curious eyes will be looking to HBO's post-"Sopranos" future with tonight's debut of "John From Cincinnati," but fans of compelling character dramas are advised not to withhold big love for HBO's "Big Love" (9 p.m. Monday).

HBO has attempted to expand its original programming to Mondays before, with lackluster results ("Six Feet Under" attempted to gain a foothold on Monday in 2005 before scurrying back to Sunday), so this time the network is taking a smart precaution: "Love" episodes will debut at 9 p.m. Monday and replay the following Sunday at 8 p.m., giving the show a presence in the familiar HBO Sunday-night, original-series block.

Anything that gives viewers more opportunities to find this unique but easily accessible drama is fine by me. Although the story of a polygamous (not mainstream Mormons) Utah family is going to be fairly adult by nature (there are occasional sex scenes), "Big Love" characters are not likely to curse a blue streak -- " Jiminy Crickets!" is about as profane as the first episode gets.

The series performs a deft balancing act, creating sympathetic characters in a nontraditional family that viewers care about while making polygamy look like a much bigger relationship headache than any two-person union.

"The life we've chosen leads to eternity," husband Bill (Bill Paxton) tells first wife Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), "but there are consequences."

Season one ended with the Hendrickson family exposed as polygamists. Barb was denied a mother-of-the-year award. Second wife Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) and third wife Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) attempted to console Barb, but as season two begins two weeks later, she remains inconsolable, even spending nights away from the three homes she shares with Bill, her sister wives and the family's seven children.

Adding to the family's headaches are continuing entanglements with evil polygamist compound leader Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton), Nicki's father and Bill's nemesis. At the end of last season, Bill's sister-in-law, Wanda (Melora Walters), poisoned Roman's secretly gay son, Alby (Matt Ross), who now wants revenge, and not necessarily on his father's terms.

It sounds complicated, but the characters are so distinct and the performances so uniformly excellent (especially Sevigny as forever bitter and incensed Nicki) that the plot pieces fall into place with ease.

In addition to the new episodes, three mini-sodes (about four minutes each) are available via Comcast On Demand or at HBO.com. These episodes, set before the start of season one, fill in some background on the wives and their relationships both to Bill and one another. Viewers also see how the space constraints of a single home led the three wives to live in three side-by-side houses.

'Kyle XY'

ABC Family's hit series about a bellybutton-less boy returns at 8 p.m. Monday, answering plenty of first-season questions right away (no dragging out the mystery for this show). Smart move.

When viewers last saw Kyle (Matt Dallas), he had met Adam Baylin (J. Eddie Peck), who appeared to be an older version of Kyle. The "Is Kyle a clone?" question gets resolved early on as the teen with amazing abilities learns about his past from Baylin while missing the Trager family that took him in last year.

They miss him, too, moping around their Seattle home. Mom Nicole (Marguerite MacIntyre) sees a shrink and daughter Lori (April Matson) finds her one-time bad boy beau Declan (Chris Olivero) is so busy brooding that he has little time to get frisky with her. Hmmm.

"Kyle XY" has always been a welcome mix of mystery and family drama, but it veered too far toward the former at the end of last season. This season premiere readjusts the delicate story balance, resetting the story to coax fans back to this light, engaging series.

TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.


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