TV on DVD: “The Big C: The Complete First Season”

Written by Television, TV on DVD

Laura Linney is wonderful in her Showtime dramedy, “The Big C,” which finds its first season released on DVD.

Showtime’s The Bic C has a dramatic setup that may seem familiar: Suburban person embraces a new life after receiving life changing news. In this case, the news is stage 4 melanoma, and the person is Cathy Jamison, played with style, wit and most of all, grace, by Laura Linney. Linney has been a gift to theater and film for two decades. If you’ve seen You Can Count on Me or Kinsey, you know what I’m talking about. In addition to her fine dramatic work, Linney also shined during her string of episodes during the final season of Frasier; she’s quite adept at comedy. The Big C is Linney’s first full time gig on television and she’s worth the price of admission (or in this case, the purchase price). That’s not to say that the show doesn’t have other fine qualities besides Linney. It does. In fact, it has a great deal to offer both in entertainment and emotional value.

The series opens after Cathy has already learned she has cancer. She’s kicked her immature husband, Paul (Oliver Platt, in a role that seems catered to him) out of the house, she doesn’t give a rat’s ass about her job teaching summer school (where she meets Andrea, played by the dazzling Gabourney Sidibe), and she’s refusing medical treatment, much to the chagrin of her handsome, young doctor, played by Reid Scott (My Boys). Unsure how to tell anyone her devastating news (she’s afraid to be a burden), Cathy lives in a state of denial. Oh, she’s quite aware that she has a deadly illness, she just doesn’t see the point in trying to beat it. Cathy sets out to do the things she’s always wanted to and she tries to make up for lost time with her 15-year-old son, Adam (an excellent Gabriel Basso), and her younger brother, Paul, a loudmouth, homeless activist, portrayed by John Benjamin Hickey. While Paul tries to win back Cathy and Adam tries to figure out whether his mom has lost it, Cathy embraces her inner wild side.

Although the first couple episodes are a bit frustrating (some of the writing feels a little obvious), The Big C settles into a fine groove by the time it brings in two great guest stars. First is Idris Elba (aka, Stringer Bell of The Wire). This man can make even the most minor role (see Thor) feel significant. He appears as Lenny, a painter with whom Cathy has an affair. Together, Linney and Elba are a pure joy to watch. Later in the season, Cynthia Nixon shows up as Cathy’s old college roommate. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to seeing Nixon as the workaholic Miranda on Sex in the City, but her turn as the free spirited Rebecca on The Big C felt very refreshing. Nixon looks to return in season 2 thanks to a shocking twist in the storyline. By season end, the audience has been on one heck of an emotional journey with Cathy. The closing moments of the season finale back a hell of an emotional wallop. I guarantee you won’t be able to keep from crying.

Technically, The Big C has the look and feel of a weekly, half hour indie film, thanks to the quirkiness of the scripts and characters, and  the tone set by the Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Kinsey) directed pilot. While billed as a comedy, the humor in the show is much more bittersweet and a little darker than your typical network show. Of course, The Big C airs on Showtime, home of Weeds, Nurse Jackie and  Californication, so dark humor is to be expected. Yet there is also a sense of optimism that permeates from beneath this show. I attribute a lot of that to the sunniness of Linney and the way she can light of a scene, no matter how devastating the set up.

The Big C: The Complete First Season contains what I call “standard features:” Interviews with the cast, a behind the scene featurette and nice packaging. The content is what is important; and The Big C has plenty of content to make you laugh, cry, think and feel. That’s quality entertainment, my friends, no matter what the bonus features are.