Friday, August 20, 2010

The Big C: She gets her weird back

Cathy is ordinary - no superheroine here. She's a pretty decent Minneapolis schoolteacher. We learn without being told that she was a compliant, conscientious, deferential, personality.

In fact, it is only through Laura Linney's performance, not the words in the script, that we learn that. (And so we also learn that this is one of those shows requiring the viewer to pay attention, or you might as well flip over to watch psychically challenged people eating worms while immersed in a tank of snakes.)

As her brother says looking a bit puzzled, she's got her weird back. Now we're told something about her that only a sibling would know, so we need to be told.

"The Big C" on Showtime premiered Monday with the  network's best premiere rating in eight years and its best half-hour opener in 12 years. Premier ratings don't say much about a show, but let me state unequivocally - this show meets the high expectations created by its cast list.

The show's lead Laura Linney  - as teacher, wife, mother, and terminal melanoma victim Cathy Jamison - is one of America's best actresses working today. She is a three-time Oscar nominee, a three-time Emmy winner (most recently for her portrayal of Abigail Adams in HBO's "John Adams" miniseries), a Golden Globe three-time nominee and one time winner, a SAG best actress winner, a Tony nominee, etc. That should be enough for a half-hour dramady, but in addition we have:
  •  Oliver Platt, who also has multiple award nominations (including some for his performances in "The West Wing", "Huff", and "Nip/Tuck") is the perfect choice for the hapless recently exiled husband, Paul.
  • John Benjamin Hickey, a familiar face as a guest or supporting actor is the weird, but loyal, brother Sean. 
  • Phyllis Somerville, another even more familiar face, is Marlene, the older, but definitely not dead, woman across the street lost to the world for years because of her husband's demise.
  • The dermatologist is played by Reid Scott who we most recently know from "My Boys".
  • And then there's Gabourey Sidibe, of "Precious" fame, who is "that" student.
The show's creator and writer is Darlene Hunt, another one of those people whose face you'd recognize as a supporting actress. She has a blog on the Showtime website and has multiple credits as a writer. In that blog she tells us the show is "about living the life we want to live and not wasting our precious time!" That is clear from the beginning. Cathy's Stage 4 melanoma has metastasized into bone cancer, so her available time is maybe 12 months.

It's a half-hour dramady, but much was crammed into that time. If you haven't watched the pilot, you should.  It is running all week on Showtime, available to stream on the Showtime website, and on Showtime on Demand.

Perhaps there is one caveat to my recommendation. Times occur in viewers lives when a TV show or movie just doesn't work, doesn't fit. You need to know that whenever this series ends Cathy Jamison is going to die from cancer at a relatively young age.

The humor in the show is about relationships - family, friends, etc. - generally found in how Cathy handles them. In the last scene of the pilot she's talking to Marlene's dog, while both are resting in a large hole taking up most of Cathy's back yard. It's humor, but not necessarily funny.

The last show we watched about a woman dying of cancer was "Terminal City," a superb Canadian dramatic ten-episode series shown on the Sundance Channel covering the last eight months of her life. It was time well-spent watching TV, something that cannot often be said. I believe we'll be able to say that about "The Big C."

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