The Big C Series Review
Series: The Big C (Showtime, 2010)
Starring: Laura Linney, Oliver Platt, Gabourney Sidibe, John Benjamin Hickey
Reviewed by: K.H.
Despite all the advances in medicine, it’s still a scary word. Hearing that you have cancer, or being the friend or relative of someone who has it, these are clearly complicated experiences. The disease afflicts its sufferers both physically – masses, growths – and emotionally – tears, rage, depression. It is a very big deal, of literally life and death proportions, so when watching The Big C, Showtime’s new dramedy about cancer, it is easy to understand why Cathy Jamison (Laura Linney), the series school teacher protagonist, seems so unhinged and why her reactions are so extreme. Linney masterfully gives us an endearing character who becomes very earnest about the living she has left. Cathy seems to be realizing, sadly a little late, about the kind of person she wants to be. The Big C shows a woman who, face to face with her mortality, finds the freedom to speak her mind. Its sweet, engaging, and, well, funny. If it appears a little glib, a little too clever, a little too easy, it is perhaps because, up to episode five, at any rate, she hasn’t seemed desperately sad, only…desperate.
She’s perhaps most desperate about her teenage son Adam (Gabriel Basso). In Cathy’s opinion Adam at 14 is becoming too much like his father Paul (Oliver Platt) – selfish, self-absorbed, and uncaring. Her time is so limited, the prognosis is that she has in all probability less than five won’t learn all she has to teach him before she dies. This leads to some very funny scenes, such as when she catches him watching internet porn in his bedroom and she insists on using that as a moment to teach him about what women desire sexually from men. Her need to spend time with him also leads her to cancel his soccer camp plans and force him to spend the summer with her. Anxious to recreate the closeness they shared when he was younger, she evens sleeps on the floor of his bedroom, just to be close. Unfortunately, because she keeps her cancer a secret, he cannot understand what she is doing and grows completely exasperated with her.
She tells no one in her family that she is ill. The only person who know are her doctor, the neighbor’s basset hound who literally sniffed it out, the dog’s crotchety owner Marlene, who deduced it from the dog’s behavior, and members of a cancer support group that she abrupty abandoned after one meeting. Her brother Sean (John Benjamin Hickey), an environmental activist who chooses to be homeless and treats her and her middle-class lifestyle with contempt, also not know. In the support group she confessed that she didn’t think her loved ones could cope with the news, and one can understand that position given that she appears, prior to her illness anyway, to have been the most mature individual in her family. One can’t help but wonder, though, whether her inability to tell them isn’t more to do with her own unwillingness to face her impending death. It might be very simple: she wants to enjoy life in the time she has left and she can’t do that and be a wife, too. It seems like a deep desire to experience a life that she gave up by making the choices that she did, in fact, not only does she not tell husband, but she kicks him out of the house. We sympathies with Paul because he is more than a little confused.
Without her husband she seems to be, deliberately or unwittingly, on a path to becoming more daring sexually, a risk taker. At first she asks her doctor for his opinion on her breasts (he’s very complimentary). Next she pretends to be his very sexual fiancée while helping him to choose a house. Then she watches porn, fleshing (Sharon Stone-style) the black handyman at the school where she teaches (played by Idris Elda in a guest-starring role).
This self-exploration, though, is not only sexual; she generally becomes much more assertive in her personal life and uncaring about social conventions and boundaries. She takes the fat girl (Gabourey Sidibe) in her class under her wing and encourages her through a combination of bullying, bribery, and kindness to lose weight, and she tries to reconnect with her brother estranged from her since he set out on a life journey that is completely different from hers.
Cathy Jamison is a woman who has a little crazy instead of becoming really depressed. The mix of emotions is delivered ably by Laura Linney, who is supported by a strong cast. Worth mentioning, too, is the performance by John Benjamin Hickey as the self-righteous brother, Sean. He is irritating and yet lovable and Hickey does very well in this role. The first series has already proven to be popular with viewers and a second season has already been confirmed. No doubt Cathy’s entire journey will be an interesting one to watch and this is certainly recommended watching.