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The Big C, “Pilot” (1.01 PRE-REVIEW)

“Oh, come on. Come on, you’ve gotta give it up for me a little bit. It’s kinda funny. ‘Death comedy’.” – Cathy Jamison

Showtime have made half-hour dramedies about edgy subjects and strong protagonists their bread and butter, and another has entered the ring: The Big C, starring Laura Linney as a suburban wife and mother who has one year to live, thanks to cancer. Does the show do justice to its forebears? A pre-review of the pilot, written by Darlene Hunt and directed by Bill Condon, after the jump…

Who hasn’t, at one point or another, questioned everything they’ve come to believe in life? Taken another look at the rules we live by, and declared some of them right, and some of them bullshit? In the face of Stage 4 melanoma, Cathy Jamison is doing exactly that, and Laura Linney is utterly perfect in the role: defeated with a slow undercurrent of iron will, hopeless and hopeful, utterly boring but captivating in how she sets out to find out how to rise above her typical flat life.

Over the course of the pilot, Cathy comes bashing against problem after problem, all small issues that she would have shrunk and accepted, pre-cancer. Her son is undisciplined, her husband is a grown child, and nobody really considers her opinion. She’s considered boring… and, if the glimpses we get at her life before are accurate, it seems she was. She isn’t now, though, that’s for sure.

What I love about this pilot is that it catches all of the feelings that come with a mortality crisis. You do the obvious things first: decide to be more assertive and speak your mind, try an expensive meal of just alcohol and liquor, decide to take what you want while you can get it. Cathy is a whirlwind here, and even at her worst, her journey is admirable as she slowly starts to dig out what makes her her in her life, and taking aim to remove everything she’s silently suffered through over the years.

It also plays well with black comedy; Linney fills Cathy with such life that it’s hard not to laugh alongside her when she comes across something bizarrely amusing, or empathise when she starts rehabilitating her jackass teenage son into someone she’ll be proud to leave behind, rather than a putz who can’t plunge a toilet. The fascinating thing is that, even at her ugliest, she’s engaging and likable: a deal she makes with overweight student Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe), for example is more likely to land the girl in the hospital than “motivate” her to lose weight, but despite that it’s still a heroic moment to see Cathy finally speak up and try to help someone. She inflicts pain on a lot of people in this episode – her husband, son, neighbour and students all bear the brunt of a few blunt truths – but she does so with the intention of finally being heard.

She doesn’t want to be boring, and she doesn’t want to be bored. She’ll soon learn that her first instincts won’t exactly bring her fulfillment, but she’s changing her life. And its well worth watching her do it, if only to remind us o take stock of our own lives before we exit them.

The rest of the cast is uniformly strong, with no particular standouts, and the directing is assured and allows the episode to flow beautifully. The writing isn’t particularly subtle, but it allows every castmate something to do and allows for enough ambiguity to keep the show smart. The show seems to be a surefire hit, but it all depends on whether Cathy’s journey has enough meat in it for multiple seasons. I just know that I’ve watched this pilot three times already, just because I deeply enjoyed it.

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  1. […] I reviewed the episode in greater depth here. […]



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