Wednesday, 9 March 2011


Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Showtime's The Big C is a comedy-drama I've been watching on Channel 4 recently. The premise is essentially a distaff Breaking Bad; with middle-aged schoolteacher Cathy Jameson (Laura Linney) learning she has cancer, then deciding to keep her diagnosis a secret from her juvenile husband Paul (Oliver Platt) and teenage son Adam (Gabriel Basso) because she'd prefer to tackle her illness by embracing the remaining life she has. Or is she trying to ignore the gravity of her situation?

It diverges from Breaking Bad's basic concept at that juncture, simply because Cathy's midlife crisis and cancer woes combine to create a series of quirky suburban misadventures. See, Cathy realizes that being handed an expiry date makes her live for the moment, and her personality and behaviour thus undergoes a radical transformation.

Rather than continue to play docile housewife and diligent mom, she's inspired to help an obese black schoolgirl lose weight; makes friends with reclusive neighbour Marlene (Phyllis Sommerville), who's naturally reaching the end of her life, but via Cathy is similarly transformed in her twilight years; buys a tandem bicycle and a convertible with her life's savings; shoots at her son's school bus with a paint-gun, to prevent him leaving for summer camp; rescues a lobster from certain death at a restaurant; and attends a swanky house viewing with her good-looking doctor, whom she pretends is her boyfriend, etc.

There's an appealing, goofy charm to The Big C. Laura Linney's a great actress and clearly having a whale of a time getting to embrace her feisty, crazy side. The only time the show flags is when events calm and you have time to question the divisive principles of Cathy -- who's essentially denying her family and friends the chance to mentally prepare for her death. She's a selfish character, whose actions are questionable, and I'm not wholly convinced someone like Cathy would choose to face cancer alone if the show didn't demand it.

There will, naturally, come a time when Cathy's forced to tell her family about her illness. I'm not sure the latter years of The Big C will offer the same breezy fun as the show does currently, if it goes the distance, or if its serious side will come to create a more bittersweet tone. I'm sure Cathy's ability to lead a proactive life will remain intact, even if dramatic license is employed. You can't have a comedy-drama where the lead character's bedridden or too exhausted from chemotherapy to actually do anything -- or can you? There are interesting storytelling obstacles for The Big C to deal with one day, if it gets the chance to.

Overall, The Big C's an entertaining show and Linney's wonderful to watch, but I'm not sure how long the writers can sustain this tone without it become tedious, predictable, or increasingly uncomfortable to watch a dying woman lie to her family about her condition while acting like a free-spirited teenager.

Charlie Brooker's an insightful and talented writer when it comes to dissecting television, although it sometimes feels like he hates things simply because it's easier to write disparaging remarks and poke fun at people's appearance. How many times do you remember him eulogizing a TV programme or celebrity? The answer: occasionally and very briefly. There's no comedy in loving something passionately -- but most people, especially Brits, love a good, articulate, vociferous moan.

Brooker's latest series, BBC2's How TV Ruined Your Life, took a pessimistic view of television (as the title suggests), which is a default perspective of Brooker's that can be wearying. He also recycled material from his BBC4 show Screenwipe and Channel 4 series You Have Been Watching, or at least made the same broad points, which is a shame for existing fans craving new opinions. Still, HTVRYL was as acerbic and intelligent as we've come to expect from Brooker (king of the withering, effusive putdown), with the only real downside being the inclusion of comedy sketches that either outstayed their welcome, or delivered a weak punchline that didn't justify the effort.