The Big C: The Complete Second Season (Sony) brings back Laura Linney as Cathy Jamison, a wife, mother, and high school teacher who turns a diagnosis of cancer (the big C of the title) into a springboard to live her life to the fullest in the second season of the Showtime series. It’s terminal but treatment may give her extra years, and she dives into every possibility with an optimism that her former self never had.
I found the kooky eccentricities of Linney’s character close to unbearable in the first season of the show. But this time around, her Cathy is more committed to actually living her life and looking after the people she cares about in, from her flailing husband (Oliver Platt) and struggling son (Gabriel Basso) to a student (Gabourey Sidibe) who moves in and the school swim team, who gets a taste of her maternal ferocity and likes it. Compassion tempers her reflexive rebellion and she’s no longer as self-absorbed, merely self-aware. And given the instability of those around her in the face of comparatively minor crises, she’s now the most well-grounded person in the show.
13 episodes on three discs, plus deleted scenes and outtakes. DVD only.
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).