“The Big C” – Confronting Cancer with Comedy

Facing cancer with a giggle

The Big C: The Complete First Season” (Sony)

The big C of the title is cancer, with which Cathy Jamison (Laura Linney) is diagnosed in the first episode of the Showtime original series. Her response: this tightly-wound high school teacher and fairly affluent suburban woman unwinds in a burst of life-changing turns: she kicks out her husband (Oliver Platt), goes all tough-love on her teenage son, indulges every whim (a backyard swimming pool, permits be damned) and in general becomes a Showtime original series character: exuberant, self-indulgent, self-absorbed. And, of course, she won’t tell a soul beyond her oncologist (Reid Scott), a hunky young guy who has the hots for teacher.

Frankly, I find The Big C, which takes a comic approach to death and mortality, fairly insufferable. It passes Linney’s sunny kookiness and unlimited resources (I guess it helps to never worry about money when you go crazy on Showtime) off as some sort of empowerment in the face of certain death while never bothering to even acknowledge the damage left in her wake. Which would be fine if the show embraced the contradictions and tipped into the dark side, as “Nurse Jackie” does. Here she just skips along, facing death with a goony smile and a leap into the unknown. Even the sudden death of another character does nothing to shake her. Which, to me, seems to miss the point. In other words, it’s no Breaking Bad (to cite another show with a character facing cancer with an abrupt transformation).

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Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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