The Big C on Showtime


You find out you're dying. Now what?

Well, you might want to pamper yourself. Right some wrongs you've been living with.

Spend time with loved ones. Leave your corner of the world better than you found it.

That's what Laura Linney's character, Cathy Jamison, faces in The Big C, a fabulous, somewhat dark series that finds its humor not in cancer (nothing funny about that) but in how we live our lives.

Cathy is a prim suburban school teacher who gets a jolt of mortality when she's diagnosed with incurable skin cancer. Knowing time is short, she decides to change her life. No more worrying about what things cost. No more sleepwalking through life.

She plans to spend as much time as possible with her son (Gabriel Basso) and as little as possible with her ex-husband (played by Oliver Platt). She'll do what she can for her homeless-by-choice brother (John Benjamin Hickey, in a role that's both brilliantly written and acted) and try to put one of her students, Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe), on a better path. And she'll even try to befriend her grouchy neighbor Marlene (Phyllis Someville).

Cathy's about-face approach to life jars those around her, and at least for the first few episodes she doesn't tell anyone what she's going through. So no one understands why she's trying to help Andrea or why she's suddenly desperate to keep her son from going to soccer camp for the summer. The show mines that situation for some good laughs as the surrounding characters try to come to grips with her change in attitude.

Linney elevates the writing even further. She gives Cathy's emotional mix of dismay over her situation and delight at her new-found freedom a certain giddiness, nervousness and, ultimately, charm. When she asks her doctor to evaluate her 46-year-old body, Linney plays it with a perfect blend of bravery and skittishness.

Hickey, too, gives the show some lightness and craziness, railing against societal ills while wolfing down whatever creature comforts Cathy offers. And Sibide, best known for the movie Precious, proves she's more than a one-note actress. Her Andrea is nasty, but she also shows wariness as well as genuine joy when Cathy takes an interest in her.

A lot's been said about The Big C being a "cancer comedy." But that's not a fair or accurate description. Rather, it's a show that subtly points out through Cathy how much time we waste on trivial matters and, ultimately, that we shouldn't wait to find out we're dying to start actually living.

The Big C

10:30 p.m. Mondays


Email Mark Allan at MALLAN@NUVO.NET.