Well, I promised that I would take a look at Showtime's latest entry into the dramedy field, and now after two episodes, I think I'm ready to make an assessment.
First of all, there are very few actress capable of hitting notes of subtlety that Laura Linney. In both salary and talent, she hasn't gotten her fair due in awhile. And I can see why the idea of the character of Cathy Jameson would appeal to her so much. And she manages to make the show come alive whenever she's on the screen. Some of the funniest moments in the first couple of episodes come to life when we see Linney just hang lose. The problem is we've never gotten a picture of why she was so uptight or what exactly has begun to free her so much. The family life was very confused, but considering the condition that her brother seems to be in (we'll get to that in a moment) they can't have been happy.
Then there's the problem of making the surrounding characters accessible. This is not something that most of the Showtime half-hour shows, with the exception of Nurse Jackie, have managed to do very well. Oliver Platt is one of the most buoyant personalities in any medium, and his manboy of Cathy's husband is very entertaining at tiems, but we've got no idea what happened to make their mariage fall apart, and when it comes to figuring otu what's going wrong, he seems pathetically clueless. Cathy's brother is apparently living the ultimate green lifestyle by being homeless, and while John Benjamin Hickey's h occasionally entertaining, I can't help but be reminding of Steve Buscemi's 'God' on Nurse Jackie, who in a much smaller part managed to seem much more real. And I loved Gabourey Sibide in Precious and I know that she's a real talent, so why the hell would she want to play a character who barely seems more recgnizable than half a dozen other black teenagers on any television show? These characters might be multidimensional, but the script rarely lets them loose or see them outside the parameters of how they relate to Cathy. This is the kind of thing that will sink a new program if it isn't rectified fast.
The writingis, so far, hit or miss, mainly because the writers while they've been able to make Cathy and her surronding characters amusing, still haven't realized a way to make cancer funny. I know that dying is easy, while comedy is hard, but the overall purpose of this show is to entertain, not lecture Right now, Cathy's interactions with her doctor are by far the most real thing about the show, but they're only funny in the darkest sense of the term. We know he's going to be seeing her as the disease progresses, but how is it going to work as television.
I'm not going to give up on The Big C. I like the actors too much not to give up on the show, but it doesn't solve the problem--- if the show survives, how will they justify Cathy's being alive? I hate to put things in such dark terms, but that would be giving the show more gravitas than it currently has.
My score on a scale of 1 to 10: 6.5
Stay tuned this week for my predictions of this years Emmys.