Tuned In

See It Now: The Big C

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When I began watching the first three episodes Showtime sent of The Big C, debuting August 16, I was struck by how thoroughly that network has defined what “a Showtime comedy” is. For starters it’s around 50% drama. There’s a blend of mordant humor, sex, a well-known female lead, a glossy, often suburban setting that serves as a medium to explore some darker aspects of American life, a theme of the illicit or taboo handled lightly enough not to be a total downer.

OK, there are exceptions. Nurse Jackie is more urban, David Duchovny is a dude, &c. The general point holds, I think. The Big C—a comedy about a woman with terminal cancer—looks like a promising successor to the theme. And you can see the first episode* now, streaming at Showtime’s site, or right here in this post for your convenience.

I’m not yet in love with the show. The pilot, as a comedy about cancer is almost inevitably going to, takes its time finding a tone. And some elements are so Showtime-comedy-like (the eccentric teen child, e.g.) as to seem a little repetitive. But the show depends above all on Laura Linney’s performance, and so far it’s entrancing. What I particularly love about her reaction to her diagnosis is the mixture of sadness and hilarity. In so many scenes, she seems equally on the verge of sobbing and laughing uncontrollably, as if incredulous at the cosmic joke that’s been played on her. And she gets unsurprisingly great support from Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) as her student, Andrea. (Oliver Platt is enjoyable as well, playing, well, an Oliver Platt character as her estranged husband.)

It’s going to be a risk to sustain this over the course of a series (and the question of how many seasons it can manage is greater than usual here). But it’s a risk I’m glad the show is taking. Your diagnosis?

*[Update: The episode is slightly edited from the for-air version for some nudity and language. You want the naughty bits, gotta watch old-fashioned TV!]