The Big C

If you haven’t watched it, heard of it, or basked in it – I insist you must see “The Big C”

Here is a link to the pilot episode, watch it. Sure there are about a million reasons NOT to watch it, it reminds you of your mortality, deals with weighty issues, and let’s face it > WHO WANTS THAT? Well believe it or not—you do. Who knew you could take Cancer and make a comedy out of it? They did. No for many of you — who aren’t possessed of a dark streak in their humor like myself — should still find it funny and heart-warming, if a little quirky.

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Since Cancer is the #1 killer in my family, and my family love to deal with all grave matters with our humor in tact, if tempered by a touch of southern gentility and manners. Privately we use humor to ease the pain. So I was predisposed to be drawn in by the premise. To some you might not find the subject matter funny, but strangely the cancer portion of it—only takes up a small portion of a 30 minute show. Maybe a few minutes of each show will deal directly with it. The rest is about how do you get through life, petulant teenagers, a husband who is insufferable, a homeless brother, and so on. You know: life.

Even in the first 12 minutes the writing come through, as in the following quip from the main character Cathy Jamison (Larua Linney) to Andrea (played by Gaby Sibide):

“You can’t be fat & mean Andrea… You’re gonna dish it out you gotta be able to lick it up. Fat people are jolly for a reason, fat repels people, but joy attracts them. Now I know everyone is laughing at your cruel jokes, but no one is inviting you to prom. So you can either be fat & jolly or a skinny bitch, it’s up to you. Now sit down – we’re watching a movie.”

That is a bitter pill to swallow, and may (out of context) sound like the sort of thing that is impolite to say out loud. Yet they make it work, because overall they are dealing with the things we humans don’t want to talk about. If one good thing would come out of every viewing – it would be the way we deal with such matters – grief/loss/sickness – the show drives home the point in several ways about how when someone confesses cancer, has lost a loved one, and so on – the preliminary reaction of most everyone is to make it about them: “…i know what you are going through…I lost my dog recently,”…etc…(that was an extreme reaction for illustration) – yet it is more prevalent and disturbingly common than you know. If even just one person went forth and dealt with these interactions with more empathy – they should consider their job done, and done well.

What is hard for us as humans is to greet these situations and say nothing, but to feel. Not just the pain, loss or grief – but the scarcity and sanctity of life. Sure we could insert a ton of platitudes here, revisit all the hackneyed emotive thoughts that are used at such times. We could encourage you to live life, and this too shall pass, and the things that have worked since people learned to speak. Yet a hug, and a reminder that you are there for someone, and giving someone the space to grieve individually – just as you live life (with fierce independence at times) is a wonderful thing.

The core cast are incredible, Laura Linney, Oliver Platt, the bratty teen (Gabriel Basso), John Benjamin Hinkley and Reid Scott really play off of each other in extraordinary ways. Yet the rest of the casting is also remarkable — even if they only have 5-10 minutes or less on screen. Bryan Cox as the surly disinterested father is notable, Cynthia Nixon as the estranged college best friend work seamlessly. Oliver Platt in a version of the same character we’ve seen him play (brilliantly) many times over, manages to find something unique in this one. I am reminded in most ways of his character in Huff (another SHOwtime series that was cut short all too quick), yet the twin brother who married and moved to the suburbs.

Phyllis Somerville and Marcia DeBonis both should be up for Emmy’s;  both actors who are rescued from what could have been background careers —- modest and respectable but barely visible, and given a chance to shine. Phyllis plays Marlene the crotchety neighbor who seems a bit callous, and strangely seems to be the voice of the audience: ‘Why should I give a shit, we all got problems, don’t we?’ Yet she delivers a performance that it will be completely impossible to forget. Marcia has a guest spot appearance and maybe 4 minutes of screen time—if that, and two minutes is a monologue that I felt in the pit of my being. She has been the Nurse, and so many other roles that were lucky if they have a first name (except Lipstick Jungle which I never saw) and yet she in under two minutes time did what ever actor should — she made you feel it. Her part could have been delivered by anyone and easily forgotten, it is a coda on a certain experience of a certain subordinate storyline and yet she delivered it and said what everyone who has ever dealt with cancer touching their life knows in their bones and deals with. She in effect drives home the central premise of the show; which I’m sure each person can decide for themselves, but it (to me) completely reaffirms what is great about life.

This isn’t in some great achievements, or in the milestones we normally use to measure — that most of the time they can be found in a child’s smile, a friend’s comforting words, or in having desert first. I know, right? Yet it is true, the serendipitous friendship that can spring up with your neighbor, or the discovery that sometimes we live life to please others at our own peril, or that putting our needs first is sometimes not selfish. I can not do the full story arch any justice without giving away tons of spoilers – and even though I’m the type of person who always knows where a storyline is going to go; this series truly surprised me almost in every episode.

So there are many reasons NOT to watch it, you don’t want to be reminded of death, but to do so is to miss out on why it is so wonderful to be alive! Believe me no matter what you are going through this show will make it seem doable, possible, and give you more than a little bit of hope. I hope you’ll watch it, because honestly I’m hoping they not only have a terrific 2nd Season, but a third & fourth as well.