05 March, 2012

Why I Love 'The Big C'

'The Big C' began in 2010, and has gone on to two full series, with a third upcoming. I'm not exaggerating or being morbid when I say that it is my favourite thing on TV. Ever. Hopefully, this will explain why.

Laura Linney, starring as Cathy Jamison, is the star of the show, which has a wide and massively talented cast. Oliver Platt, John Benjamin Hickey and Gabriel Basso play the rest of Cathy's immediate family and turn in fantastic performances in their respective roles and in their relationships with Linney's protagonist. What is essential about the cast is not just that they can act (and boy, can they act) but that they show a wide variety of age, sexuality, nationality and, most importantly, have differing views of the world. But the appeal of the show rests on the likeability of Linney, who acts so powerfully in every scene, I doubt she could act badly if she tried (although, she probably could - I mean, she's amazing). As you would expect of a good cancer programme, characters come and go - such is life; we have gained and lost some other stunning characters over the series, but the programme doesn't lose anything, as the losses strengthen Cathy's centralised experience and resolve.

I'll use the most recent episode to have aired in the UK, on More4 (where, let's be honest, it is wasted) to explain my thoughts on the series' plot. Season 2, Episode 7 was 'Goldilocks and the Bears' which involved the burgeoning friendship between 'molemates' Cathy and Lee, a visit to a 'bear bar' and Andrea's date with Myk, all of which rest on our relationships with our intimate friends and wider circle of community. Now, my favourite episodes of Season 2 are 'The Little C' (because swimming is an excellent motif in the show), and the upcoming 'The Darkest Day' (because who doesn't love crying on a Thursday evening?) but this episode, as with them all, was stellar. The way in which Cathy throws herself at life, going to bear bars, making new friends and going for acupuncture is (and I know it's a cliché) the way we should all live our lives. But as we see with Adam, not everybody's perfect and people react to things differently - he has gone a little off the rails. There is never only the good, or only the bad, in 'The Big C'.

Criticisms of 'The Big C' rest on its 'tone' and it's fierce dark comedy. To those criticisms, I say watch the programme. To be fair, I don't know how I would respond to the programme if I, or somebody I knew, was in the same situation as Cathy. But to me now, it feels like it prepares me, should, god forbid, something like that happen. The tone is spot on, and has faired consistently well over the good and bad times for Cathy and her family over two seasons. Darlene Hunt created the series, and Linney acts as producer - there is a sense that it is her baby, and that she has a wide amount of input into what I see as her character, more than anything else she has played.

The humour (and yes, it is a dark humour - what else could it be?) forms a great amount of the series and balances such subject matter. What sort of programme would this be if Linney didn't raise a smile once in a while? My favourite comedy moments of the series are, in season 2, Paul's phone conversations with their insurance company, which come to a head in the series finale, with a killer line I won't spoil for you. But the comedy, it seems to me, comes naturally to the characters and the situations. Nobody forces a laugh, and one is never far away from a devastating setback. To truly be able to swing between pure happiness and dehabiliting tears is an art, and truly great television - I defy anyone to watch the final scenes of series 1 (or 2) with dry eyes.

Whilst cancer is a universal theme in itself - most people will get the disease, or know someone that will, the series in itself is not solely about cancer, or not even solely about illness. It is about family, friendships, the hard times and the blindingly fantastic times. It is about the purpose of life, the seizing of opportunity and the pain of living. It is the stress of relationships, the unity of companionship and the importance of the self. In all, it's about you.

If you don't already watch 'The Big C', I hope I've swayed you - give it a go. I promise you will find something in it that moves you.  If you already watch the show, I bet you're as excited as I am for series 3 - there's a sneak peek here. Now, what is also true of the programme is that it doesn't shy away from the truth - Cathy might have brief respites but is still terminally ill, and in the end, I think the makers of the programme know what type of programme they are making - there will be no magic cure.

Cathy will die, but at the end of the series, we will rejoice. Because Cathy Jamison has fulfilled herself and those around her. She has lived a full, successful life that's made her happy. And we'll go out and do the same.

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