The Big C: Love It or Hate It?

Well, I finally got around to watching ‘The Big C,’ that new Showtime series in which Laura Linney stars as Cathy Jamison, a high school teacher with stage four melanoma.


She decides not to have treatment – because she really loves her hair, and her doc says it would only buy her a little time anyway – and starts doing and saying all the stuff she’s been wanting to do and say her whole life. She drizzles red wine on the couch, builds a pool in her yard, paintballs the bus taking her son to soccer camp, then embarrasses him horribly by dragging him off the bus.

Her husband Paul, played by Oliver Platt (known to me as the guy with the big head), is sleeping at his sister’s house. Cathy tossed him out – just got sick of him hanging out drinking and playing poker with his friends. He doesn’t know about the cancer.

Neither does her son, Adam (Gabriel Basso), who thinks his mom is bonkers. Her brother Sean (John Benjamin Hickey) is an eco warrior who hangs out in parking lots and yells at passing motorists about their gas-guzzling SUVs. Her neighbor Marlene (Phyllis Somerville) would just as soon die any time, and her student Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe) has her back on just about everything, whether it’s manning the paintball gun or telling Adam to get his “skinny ass” down to dinner!

Here’s the thing. I don’t want to watch a show about a woman with cancer. It’s depressing enough just thinking about all the friends and family I’ve lost to the awful disease. Showtime sent me the first three episodes, like, a month ago, and they sat on my shelf until the show started airing on Showtime. Then everyone started talking about it, including my friend Ruth Pennebaker over at her Fabulous GeezerSisters blog, so I decided I’d better check it out and write something up.

I still don’t want to watch it, although the cast is sweet enough to make me watch maybe another episode or two. Everyone I know says they’re basically watching it because of Laura Linney. And I do love the scenes where Cathy and her brother fight like they’re back in grade school.

I wonder if I’d feel differently about the show if I’d either had cancer in the past or if I had cancer now. I’m sending the episodes to my friend, Jen Singer, who had cancer (and was treated successfully). We’ll see what she has to say about it.

Being on Showtime, ‘The Big C’ isn’t really for kids. There’s quite a bit of profanity and sex talk (though no actual sex in the first three eps), and it’s rated TV-MA, which means it may be unsuitable for kids under 17. I’d say that’s on target.

What’s your take on ‘The Big C’? Have you watched it? Do you love it or hate it?

Images: Showtime





  1. […] The Big C: Love It or Hate It? […]

  2. Alexandra Avatar

    I have not yet seen this show, but planned to watch. Linney is such a great actor. But now I’m reading so many mixed reviews. Hmm. I have a cousin who had melanoma and was told she would not live. She had a small child at the time, and determined to prove the doctors wrong. She succeeded. Think I would have liked that better for The Big C. Everyone knows people or loved ones who have cancer. I think we need to draw conclusions about why there is so much more cancer, and work to get legislators to regulate toxic chemicals in our environment. Recently, the Silent Spring Institute concluded exposure to household products, and the chemicals they contain, to be a probable cause of breast cancer ….

  3. MarthaAndMe Avatar

    I haven’t watched it, but we don’t get Showtime. I don’t think I would want to watch it if we did. Too depressing.

  4. sheryl Avatar

    I’m a cancer survivor. At first, I didn’t want to watch it, but was curious because I really like Laura Linney. I gave it two tries and disliked it enough not to try for number 3. It’s not so much depressing as it is unrealistic and a bit insulting, in my opinion.

  5. Donna Hull Avatar

    I don’t have Showtime so won’t be watching the show. I’m not much of a tv watcher anyway, but when I do, I want to be entertained – not depressed. Interesting concept for a show though.

  6. Meredith Avatar

    I haven’t seen the show (yet) nor had I given much thought to the concept but I think a series like this one would have to be based on truly believable characters and writing that consistently resonates and respects the viewer.

  7. Melanie Avatar

    I watch TV and movies to ESCAPE the realities of everyday life. This doesn’t sound like an escape to me.

  8. Alisa Bowman Avatar

    Yeah, it’s an interesting premise. Like what if you knew you were going to die, would you live your life differently? I like that premise, but they want they made it happen makes it sound so tragic that I don’t know if I could watch.

  9. Ruth Pennebaker Avatar

    I’m a cancer survivor and conflicted about the show. In spite of my taking potshots at it, I’m still watching. I *do* like the fact it’s steering away from the holy cancer narrative of the battlefield, valor, etc.
    Watching the third episode with my husband the psychologist, I complained that Linney’s character has no consistency, that she’s simply crazy. He pointed out I was similarly crazy during my diagnosis and treatment — and I think that’s true. A life-threatening disease *makes* you crazy for a while. Maybe The Big C is showing that pure craziness right now and will move into deeper waters soon.

  10. Janice Avatar

    I love this show not because of the fact that she has Cancer. Because she’s living life the way everyone should. Be honest with yourself first. Do what you want. LIVE. 🙂

  11. Jennifer Margulis Avatar

    This is one show I will never watch!

  12. sarah henry Avatar

    Like many others, I love Laura Linney, and would have probably watched this for her screen time alone. But the subject matter is a tough sell and the early buzz not encouraging so I think I’ll give The Big C The Big Flick.

  13. Robin Avatar

    I’ve had cancer twice, breast cancer in 2006 and leukemia (AML) last year. Both times into remission. I’ve got to tell you this is the funniest show I have seen in a long time and it feels absolutely wonderful to be able to laugh about it. Her anger is just awesome. Makes me feel brave and strong and terrific. Hope it has a nice long run 🙂 YAY to Showtime’s courage!

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Robin – I’m so glad to hear you say that, because I think the show has gotten a bit of a bad rap, from both cancer survivors and those who’ve never had cancer. If cancer survivors – and those going through cancer right now – can laugh along with the show and Laura Linney, then that, in my mind, is the very best thing that could happen and I hope it has a long, long run.

  14. Katie Avatar

    This is a great show! If not for the treatment of the subject matter, then for the acting itself. I think this show kind of takes a similar tone with Six Feet Under. Yes it is depressing but the writers have also managed to make a horrible situation livable, the show is primarily funny and heartfelt. There is so much meaning to be derived from the way people react in these situations. This kind of show is a modern drama, an insightful play of sorts. There is a fine line between a show that is purely for entertainment value and a show that has just that little bit extra.

    My father had cancer and my family reacted similarly to the horrible situations that one is forced to endure while going through such a battle. People watch shows about love all the time but for some reason a show about Cancer is unwatchable. It doesn’t really make sense because you can only find real love by living through such a situation.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Thanks for your thoughts, Katie. I guess I really need to take another look at The Big C, because I only watched a few episodes of the first season. I tend to shy away from anything too “real” – i.e. cancer – on TV, but you’re right. It can be done in a heartfelt, funny way. I did like Six Feet Under, though must admit that I cried my way through parts of it.

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