Sunday, August 15, 2010

How other TV Characters have dealt with the Big C

tommorrow, Showtime premiers yet another darkly humorous show around a very dire subject anchored by a resonant female lead. But this one has even more difficult job than making MPD and drug addiction -- the subject is a woman with cancer.

Now having a show based around a central character developing cancer is nothing new. Bryan Cranston has already won two Emmys for playing cancer-ridden meth dealer Walter White on Breaking Bad. And other shows have had central characters deal have battles with cancer. Lynn Scavo went through a bout with it on Desperate Housewives, but the highest degree of her suffering seemed to be that she wore several handkerchiefs around her head symbolizing weeks of chemo. Dana Scully went through a bout of cancer as a result of her experience on the X-Files, but that seemed even harder to measure as the most symptomatic she ever got was the occasional bloody nose. Also she miraculously went into remission while on death's door, but considering they never explained how that happened either, I think the writers lost a lot of fans in that particular story arc.

In his last two seasons on ER, Mark Greene suffered from a brain tumor. He underwent radical surgery for it, and he seemed to be in remission. Then little more than a year later, he suffered from recurrence, and succumbed a few months later. That one really did hurt because Anthony Edwards was the pillar of that show, and without him, there always seemed to be a gap at Cook County that was never refilled.

The most pertinent case of cancer appeared to be that of Dr. Daniel Auschlander on St Elsewhere. 73 years old when he was diagnosed with liver cancer in the show's Pilot, one would have expected him to succumb within the first season, at the very latest.. But he battled with it nobly for the entire six season run of the show, dealing with bouts of chemo, struggling with the battles with old age. One could make the argument that he was the symbol of St. Eligius--- as long as he was still alive, the hospital could survive. And he did outlive quite a few younger cast members, which is probably symbolic as well. Of course, he might just have been Tommy Westphall's imagination, but I don't buy into that particular theory.

What will separate Cathy from the characters that have come for her is trying to keep this show funny while staying true to the source. Nurse Jackie is still amazing two seasons in, while Weeds has become so dark and so far from where it started that it should be put out of his misery. Laura Linney is one of the most subtle actresses that I have ever seen and God knows she has the capable to make comedy emerge from death. (Watch her Oscar-nominated role in The Savages and you'll see why) And arguably, her bio is more varied than Toni Collette's or Edie Falco's. Seeing her interviewed on Wednesday's The Daily Show demonstrated that she has an understanding of how to make death and comedy merge. Can she do it for real?

Tomorrow at 10:30, she starts proving it. Stay tuned to this spot for more updates, because this is one show I want to get behind.

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