Cable series about desperate circumstances do well because they put our daily lives into the sharpest possible focus. Somehow, they make characters who deal in drugs (“Weed,” “Breaking Bad”) or mental illness (“United States of Tara”) or even the compulsion to murder (“Dexter”) seem if not normal at least accessible. The latest addition premieres this week and the first episode (slightly edited) is available on YouTube.
Laura Linney stars in “The Big C” as a wife, mother, and teacher who has always taken care of others and colored in the lines who discovers she has terminal cancer. This causes her to think carefully about who she is and what she wants and needs. She had organized her choices based on having a lot of time. When she discovers that her time is limited, she tells a waiter, “I’m just having desserts and liquor.” She does not tell the people around her about her illness, but she begins to tell them the truth about other things. The cast includes Gabourey Sidibe of “Precious” as an outspoken student and Oliver Platt as an affectionate but needy husband. I especially like her interaction with her young doctor. Even he is relying on her for support because it was the first time he ever had to tell a patient she was terminal.
This may be a comedy, but it is no sit-com. It is an adventure with a woman trying to maintain some sense of control and achieve some sense of meaning. It is the way her diagnosis liberates her that makes the show bracing, provocative and yes, even funny.
Linney is one of the finest actresses in Hollywood and it is a treat to see her show us how a woman finds that the prospect of death makes her begin to understand for the first time what life really means.