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Cathy gets her weird back

August 22, 2010

Cast: Laura Linney, Oliver Platt, Gabriel Basso, John Benjamin Hickey, Phyllis Somerville

Premium cable network Showtime has done a rather impressive job of snagging great talent from HBO (I see you, David Fisher Dexter) and building fresh shows around them. So I was thrilled when one of the spoils of Laura Linney’s triumphant performance as Abigail Adams – in the HBO Miniseries John Adams – resulted in a television show, which might finally demonstrate to those who haven’t been paying attention why nearly every article written about her includes the phrase, “criminally underused”. Like her seat mates on the “criminally underused” motor coach Joan Chen, Diana Venora, Kerry Washington and Jennifer Esposito (one of the few actors named Jennifer currently working who can – you know – act), Linney’s previous roles have not always allowed her to demonstrate her sublime talents.

Similar to Mary Louise Parker, Linney’s strengths lie her ability to evoke sympathy for characters that would be rendered annoying in the hands of a lesser actor. For example, Linney’s role in 2003’s Love Actually of an awkward ex pat whose crush on a hunky coworker conflicts with her role as caregiver to her disabled sibling was effective because Linney infused the role with so much vulnerability, intelligence and humor. Moments (such as the secret happy dance moments after hunky coworker has entered her home) and lines such, “Does everyone in the office know? Does Carl know? Oh this is really bad!” are pitch perfect. Linney’s ability to deftly capture the unique mannerisms of each character are what make her performances snap, crackle and pop.

On The Big C, Linney plays Cathy, a woman who has recently received a diagnosis of stage 4 Melanoma and opted to eschew aggressive treatment (and keep her diagnosis on the DL) in order to finally live her life. Now this “I’m dying so I’ve gotta really live!” trope has been explored in films and television shows ranging from Beaches to Six Feet Under and ridiculously in The Royal Tenenbaums, so it’s not exactly groundbreaking. That said, despite having reservations, after the first episode I did not find the framework bothersome. Partly, because Cathy isn’t planning trips to exotic locales or engaging in other activities, which often make utilizing the trope so tedious. So far, the readjustment seems more internal than external, though there is a certainly a few amusing moments of the latter. Like when she verbally smacks down her nosy ass neighbor.

As expected, Linney is wonderful as Cathy, though the show does have a glaring flaw: its supporting characters. From the crabby neighbor to the smarmy brother, none seem to occupy the universe as Cathy. Because she’s sharply written, the others seem rather flat and grating. At times The Big C treads dangerously close to hammy-showcase-the-star shenanigans I tend to associate with good (but not always great) vehicles such as Evening Shade, Fraiser and Samantha Who?. Fortunately, this is easily remedied by allowing supporting characters to be defined more by the script and less by Cathy, who – let’s face it – has far more important concerns.

Check out the first episode (careful, it’s edited):

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The Big C airs Monday nights at 10:30 on Showtime.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. August 22, 2010 11:45 am

    Oh that brother is a caricature. But the son is impossible! And yes, this is the most likable character I’ve ever seen Linney play. Sweet, supportive, amusing, brilliant.

    But how does Oliver Platt get into EVERYTHING? Everybody should have an agent like his, and I’m not even joking about that.

  2. August 22, 2010 12:20 pm

    Dean, SERIOUSLY. I wonder that every time I see his name in the credits. I find him grating and unpleasant to watch, even when he’s not playing a jerk, which is rarely.

    I’m hoping the show finds its groove because I actually enjoyed watching it.

  3. August 22, 2010 12:47 pm

    Very little rang false about that, aside from nobody caring about Cathy’s boobs. Good performances all around, I’m very interested in seeing where they take this.

  4. evmaroon permalink
    August 22, 2010 12:54 pm

    I heard Oliver Platt’s agent is God.
    Damn, I wish I had some Showtime because I’d love to watch. I’ll just have to wait for the DVD. But so glad to know Linney picked a better vehicle for her talents than say, Saving Grace. Oliver Platt’s agent isn’t a fan of that one, either.

  5. August 22, 2010 1:47 pm

    I can’t keep up with T.V. shows, but I have had the biggest crush on Laura Linney for about 8 years now, so you know I am going to have to watch this.

  6. August 22, 2010 2:55 pm

    Me too, Poplife. I am sooo bad about checking out new stuff, but I was glad I got to see this show before its overhyped.

  7. August 22, 2010 4:24 pm

    Damn, I wish I had some Showtime because I’d love to watch.

    @evmaroon, I don’t have any Showtime either, I watched the youtube at the bottom of the post. They bowdlerize some of the swear words and I have a sneaky suspicion there might have been more boob in the original but otherwise it worked ok.

  8. evmaroon permalink
    August 22, 2010 4:35 pm

    @redlami well, then I’ll give that a shot! I’ve been watching a lot of TV in a lot of weird online places.

  9. renniejoy permalink
    August 23, 2010 7:50 pm

    I can’t get past the commercial in which Cathy is (vehemently) telling Gabourey S.’s character that she can’t be a fat bitch. “You can be fat and jolly or a skinny bitch.” Pick one. Eh, too unpleasant for me.

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