In the bonus interviews on the second season DVD set for the Showtime's funny, heartbreaking series The Big C, someone makes an insightful observation about the show. Drawing a parallel with the Five Stages of Grief, the speaker observes that the continuing saga of Laura Linney's Cathy Jamison coming to grips with a likely fatal cancer diagnosis has reached its "Anger" phase in season two. The first season was defined the chaos and uncertainty of a "Denial" stage, with Cathy hiding her condition from her closest family and friends, callously having an affair and desperately grabbing for whatever strange method (bee venom?) might yield a cure. While this particular season has its share of wacky escapades, it's a bit more tightly coiled and controlled - and better than ever.
The second season of The Big C finds Linney's suburban teacher, wife and mom still adjusting to her stage 4 melanoma, but willing to open up more (a few episodes in, most everyone knows - thus avoiding the Nurse Jackie trap). The shocking suicide of Cathy's crotchety neighbor and confidante Marlene (Phyllis Somerville) at the climax of the previous season spurs Cathy on to take more risks in eradicating her cancer. Hearing that a new experimental trial is producing positive results, she consults her lovesick doctor Todd Mauer (Reid Scott), who initially advises against it but ultimately wants what's best for her own well-being. That brings her to the office of Dr. Atticus Sherman (Alan Alda, seemingly born to play smirky doctors). After getting a sought-after slot in the program when another patient dies, Cathy finds a kinship with fellow patient Lee (Hugh Dancy), a gay marathon runner who shares Cathy's ultra-sardonic view on the world. A series that dwells so much on dying might seem like a huge bummer, but as in Season 1 the filmmakers developed a light, funny tone that continues to be life-affirming.
Another winning thing about The Big C that carries through in this season is the loving yet complex dynamic that Cathy has with her husband, Paul (Oliver Platt), and teenage son, Adam (Gabriel Basso). At the first season's close, the relationship between Cathy, Paul and Adam is, putting it mildly, frayed. Without revealing too much, this season's happenings bring the family back together in a realistic way. Unlike, say, Weeds, the characters are written in a nuanced, easily relatable manner. The Jamison's extended family is also subject for some good subplots during this season, including the ensuing drama from the previous year that had Cathy's mentally unstable, homeless brother Sean (John Benjamin Hickey) getting romantically involved with Cathy's flighty ex-college buddy, Rebecca (Cynthia Nixon). Although Rebecca is an annoying person (maybe it's the fact that she's a complete turnaround from Nixon's Sex & The City character, Miranda), Nixon does a good job and delivers a heartbreaking turn when Rebecca faces a life-altering choice midway through the season.
The Big C introduces a lot of new characters in this season. Normally that would be a bad thing, but several are welcome additions (Hugh Dancy's Lee) and the show blessedly doesn't dwell too long on the more shallowly defined ones (like Parker Posey's Poppy, a free-spirited but damaged woman who befriends Sean in an online support group for kids with cancer-afflicted parents). Gabourey Sibide's Andrea, a student of Cathy's that never quite fit into the milieu of the first season, becomes better integrated with the show when her parents' leaving for missionary work in Africa prompts the girl to move in with the Jamisons. There's also an intriguing, funny suplot that emerges when Oliver Platt's character is laid off and forced to take on a less dignified job at an electronics retailer (think Best Buy with yellow shirts). The dead neighbor, Marlene, continues to show up as well - how she comes back is one of the surprises in store for this season.
Once again, Laura Linney's excellent performance is what drives this show. For those who have been patiently waiting for her to return to series comedy after making a splash in PBS's Tales of the City twenty (!) years ago, it's a pleasure to watch how her Cathy continues to evolve. While Weeds and Nurse Jackie continue heaping flaw upon flaw upon their leading characters until they're hot messes, it's a tribute to Linney and the screenwriters that they manage to keep Cathy both quirky and real.
A footnote: I also enjoyed how the show is contained in one season, literally - it starts with the beginning of the school year in September and winds up with Cathy completing an arduous marathon run on New Years Eve. Although there are telling moments when it's obvious that the autumn leaves and snow is faked, the attention adds a lot to the ambiance of this moving, emotionally resonant show.
Sony's DVD edition of The Big C: The Complete Second Season consists of the following thirteen episodes, spread over three discs:
The Big C: The Complete Second Season comes packaged in two slim-width cases housed in a cardboard slipcover the same size as a standard DVD case.
The Big C's digitally shot 16x9 image is given a great presentation on disc. Considering that they fit five half hour episodes on Disc 1 and four on the other two discs, the DVD image comes through fantastically with excellent mastering and a beautifully balanced anamorphic widescreen picture.
Sony has provided a nice array of audio and subtitle choices on this set, with the 5.1 digital soundtrack available in English, Portuguese and Spanish. It sounds good and well-balanced with clear dialogue and music throughout. Subtitle options include English and English SDH.
Totaling about 30 minutes in length, various Deleted Scenes and Outtakes are spread across the three discs. They aren't essential, but the deleted material fills in a few character development blanks and the outtakes prove that the lighthearted mood of the series carried through the production.
Another well-produced goodie from Showtime, given a solid treatment on disc. The Big C ups the bar in its second season with more compelling drama, funnier situations, a bigger array of supporting characters, and Laura Linney's ass-kicking excellence as cancer heroine Cathy Jamison. Highly Recommended.