Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bonus - The Big C: Pilot (1.1)

Showtime's recent exploration of "half-hour dramatic comedies" makes for a challenging approach to television. While it does create these series that defy any certain genre and appears to attract consistently top-tier female talent, it also proves difficult to get a handle on the show's tone and in certain cases its characters. Nurse Jackie is a titan within this genre, but on the flip side is The Big C, its pilot a sometimes clumsy and sparingly amusing exploration of one of the most disgusting, frustrating and universally loathed of bitches: cancer.

Laura Linney is one of my favorite actors, yet she has a tendency to really. act. everything. She's a classic example of a theatre actor, somebody whose histrionics and enunciation sometimes feel out of place on film. She's unsurprisingly convincing in this show, but some of her work again fell pray to that flaw, the shrieking and yelling becoming unbearable at certain junctures. Alternatively, she's marvellous in the quieter, more understated moments. Her last scene, where she talks about her different approach towards death now that she is terminal, was beautiful. It's unfortunate that series creator Darlene Hunt seems intent on averting away from the subtle approach, instead beating the viewer over the head with a sledge-hammer of obviousness.

The ensemble around Linney is woefully broad. Her son, who seriously needs to burn to death somewhere, is obnoxious. But, as this is a broad and wacky dramedy, he can't just be obnoxious, he needs to throttle his mom and throw her to the ground in a practical joke. Equally annoying was his girlish screams at the end. Elsewhere, Linney's brother is a ridiculous caricature of an environmentalist, choosing to be homeless and participating in elaborate death art on sidewalks. The cast of characters is played so self-consciously "quirky" that they cease to be neither funny nor "quirky" at all.

Don't think that I hate the show, though. Far from it. I actually think it's an interesting premise for a series, and I'm intrigued by how it'll unfold. The character of Cathy isn't particularly original, but her determination to stay upbeat and the fact that she doesn't exploit her cancer for any sympathy from the various assholes that surround her makes her a fascinating protagonist. The show has also attracted a huge array of guest stars, from Brian Cox to Liam Neeson and Idris Elba, so they've got to be doing something right with the remaining episodes. I'll stick with it, at least for a little while. Rating C

Guest stars Gabourey Sidibe (Andrea); Reid Scott (Dr. Todd); Phill Lewis (Contractor)
Writer Darlene Hunt Director Bill Condon

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