Laura Linney is a fantastic actress. Nominated for three Oscars in the last nine years and the winner of three Emmys, she’s never put on a bad performance and regularly draws attention away from the other performances. That said, she rarely gets the chance to showcase her talent without sharing the screen. The Big C finally gives her a proper platform and, if the first episode is any indication, she is going to use it brilliantly.
Like every series premiere, The Big C does its best to establish its characters upfront. At the head is Cathy Jamison (Linney), a suburban mother who has just been diagnosed with cancer. But rather than suffering a breakdown, she instead treats it as a license to live. Formally uptight and worrisome, she decides that she wants a pool in her front yard, her husband (Oliver Platt) to stop acting like a petulant man-child and her neighbor across the street to stop being such an incredible bitch.
But a show can’t just stand on one character; there has to be something engaging about the other people in the in the protagonists life. Fortunately, there’s no shortage here. Cathy’s son, Adam (Gabriel Basso), is a rebellious teenager with a perversely fucked up sense of humor. Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe), is a student of Cathy’s at summer school with an incredibly bad attitude. Her brother, Sean (John Benjamin Hickey), is an insane environmentalist who eats discarded food to prevent waste and pretends to hang himself with plastic bags in the parking lot of the local mall. Lastly, there is Dr. Todd (Reid Scott), Cathy’s nascent doctor who is the one to break the bad news.
As alluded to in the opening paragraph, what is going to make the series work is Linney and with this episode she has a running start. It’s not easy to believe that a person can take news of cancer in stride as well as Cathy does, but her character type is enough to convince you that it’s real. What’s going to keep people watching is the balance struck between Cathy’s acceptance and rejection of her disease and the first episode tells us that creators of the show know this.
One gripe that that the episode leaves you with is the subject of money. Obviously it’s something that can be cleared up in future episodes, but Cathy can’t possibly have a high enough salary as a teacher to support her newly acquired purchasing habits. If that’s the case, the show is going to suffer with an unsympathetic character as it comes across as selfish when you think about the fact that she has a son and a husband. Everything could be cleared up in the next episode by mentioning that Platt’s character is an executive pulling down a seven-figure salary, but it’s up in the air right now.
From the outset there is a lot to like about The Big C. The show fits perfectly into Showtime’s line-up of damaged protagonists, including the pot-dealing mom, the serial-killing cop, the pill-popping nurse and the drug/sex addicted novelist. Sure, Cathy seems pretty normal compared to the rest but who knows? We’ve only seen the first episode.
You can watch the full episode below, but know that it is edited for language. The Big C premieres Monday, August 16th at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.