The Big C came into the cable television programming world and in one year, received much praise for its cast and its lead, who happened to win a Golden Globe for her work. Serving as a lead-in to Weeds, which is arguably the top comedy on the Showtime cable network, The Big C should hopefully find a larger audience and not see the same fate as the recently cancelled United States of Tara, shouldn't it? Here's hoping.
The show is created by Darlene Hunt, who most people may recognize as Marcia Langham, the religious antithesis of Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation. Laura Linney (John Adams) plays Cathy Jamison, a Minnesota wife and schoolteacher who has just found out she has a Stage IV melanoma and has little hope of recovery. Mysteriously, she decides not to tell her family, namely her husband Paul (Oliver Platt, Love & Other Drugs) or son Adam (Gabriel Basso, Super 8) and decides to life her days spontaneously and without care. She cashes out her pension plan, kicks Paul out of the house, buys a convertible and begins plans to have an in-ground pool in her backyard. She also starts communicating to her class in a way she would not dared to do before, along with striking up a friendship with Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe, Precious), a student in her class. Aside from her doctor, the only other person she has told about her health is Marlene (Phyllis Somerville, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), a widow from across the street. Marlene kept to herself until Cathy started interacting with her, and Marlene's dog (who has a nose for those with cancer) started to be around Cathy more and more. Cathy confides in Marlene about her condition and state of mind, though Marlene does not know some of the ways Cathy finds herself coping with the situation.
At this point, it would seem to most that The Big C is a drama based on that synopsis, and there are dramatic (or at the very least, emotional) moments within the show, but the show's prevalent tone is one of dark comedy, looking at the proverbial lighter side of a cancer diagnosis and one's coping of it, whether it's getting a pool built or buying a Mustang. The fact that both the comedic and dramatic elements of the show are handled so well is a testament to the main cast. Linney portrays Cathy superbly in many situations, and while he's barely in the house, Platt's presence is felt in other areas and the two interact exceptionally well, working off of one another's performances yet getting their own moments where they can make you laugh or cry, depending on the scenarios. The casting of the pair as the couple that drives the show is a masterstroke. The supporting casting choices are equally laudable. Somerville's performance as the no-nonsense neighbor is fun and funny in the appropriate moments, and as Cathy's brother/environmental extremist Sean, John Benjamin Hickey (The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3) might be the purest comedic element in the show, and with each appearance, one can be guaranteed one case of the funny. Reid Scott plays Cathy's doctor and his role is also unique. He knows the truth about what Cathy faces, yet the way Cathy faces it is new to this relative young doctor, and the way this conflict within him plays out proves to be interesting.
To some degree, this core cast goes through two halves of the season; the first half where Cathy would act "irrationally" to them, and the second half, where Cathy's acting out settles down and she realizes she can't escape the weight of her dilemma. She has to tell her friends and family that she is sick and will be needing treatment. In fact you could say that this shift couldn't be better crystallized than the guest stars in the season. She spends a multi-episode arc sleeping with a painter at her school (hey, that's Idris Elba from The Losers) in the first half of the season, and seeks treatment from a slightly flighty alternative therapist (Liam Neeson, Unknown) in the second. And as one who found himself as the spouse of someone who experienced her own cancer scare, we could certainly understand the thoughts and motivations behind her actions in the first half of the season, but most everyone seems to go through the second half, and it's this that gave me a personal resonance.
The season ends on a contemplative and open note. Without spoiling things, I can safely say that the show could not have picked a better spot to leave its first season on. There is some mystery to come with Cathy's life and health, and the comfort that she finds in those that are helping her is reassuring. I certainly hope The Big C does not see a premature cancellation a la Tara. It deserves a wider audience, and I think Linney, Platt and Hunt have got a great thing going for subsequent seasons.
Spread over three discs, all 13 episodes of the season are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, consistent with their original broadcast format. The show looks good, with flesh tones replicated accurately without orange or red pushing and colors are sharp without image noise or oversaturation. Blacks look fine without much crushing and the image looks clean and free of edge enhancements and artifacts. Straightforward reproduction of a solid-looking television show.
All of the episodes include a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound option that is solid listening material. Dialogue sounds clear in the front speakers and is consistent throughout the season, and there is little use of the subwoofer in the season. There are moments of some subtle directional effects in the rear channels and even a moment or two of speaker panning, impressive for a show that doesn't really ask that of its soundstage. Good work from Sony.
Before going into the bonus materials, a note on them for a second: the three discs are in two slim line cases and mention deleted scenes on selected episodes, yet to access those scenes you have to go into the episode selection menus and access them individually, moreover they are not listed in the special features menus of each disc. A little confusing and clunky, and hopefully Sony remedies this going forward. That said, the scenes (located on Discs Two and Three) mainly do not add much to the respective installments.
On Disc One, the featurette "Complex Characters" (15:42) doubles as the making-of look for the show as Hunt and the cast share their opinions as to how they came to the material and their thoughts on the characters and the actors who play them. There is some slight spoiler material in this piece so I'd recommend watching it after watching the season. Linney and Sidibe have separate interview segments where they discuss what the show is about, what they think about working on it and their thoughts on their characters. These segments run about four minutes in length and are spread out over the other cast members and the discs as well (Scott, Somerville and Hickey on Disc Two, Basso and Pratt on Disc Three). The outtakes reel on the third disc (3:40) is full of the usual flubs and errors.
The first season of The Big C packs some hilarious moments into its run, but there is also more than enough moments when you might have to bust out the Kleenex, and that's a testament to its superb cast. As it's just started its second season, you can go through the first rather quickly and get caught up to speed rather well, and if you're looking for a good summer television program to watch, this should be on a very short list.