Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Diagnosis: Cancer. Prognosis: Promising


There's been a lot of press about The Big C on Showtime with Laura Linney as a woman newly diagnosed with cancer and her choice not to tell anyone. Read the New York Times review and the New Yorker review if you want the professional opinions. The verymarkmccormick opinion after one episode is that it's better than I expected and I think you have the opportunity (again!) to start at the beginning instead of waiting for a season or two then playing catch up on DVD (you know who you are).

The premise is a bit of a cliche: Linney's character is uptight. She finds out she has cancer. She learns to live a little.

Yes, we're familiar with this scenario, but it's the writing and the acting that carry the show. Her particular choices are surprising and entertaining: start eating onions, build a pool in the front yard, spill wine on her sofa ("I want to be the spilling wine on the cushions type, not the flipping the cushions type," she says to her husband), befriend a cranky neighbor, play a gruesome practical joke on her brat of a son.

My favorite scene though is when she tells off her student (we are led to believe she is an ineffectual teacher), played by Gabourey Sidibe (yay there is life after Precious for this talented actress). She says (paraphrasing): "You can be mean or you can be fat, but you can't be both. Fat people are jolly because fat repulses people but jolly attracts. So take your pick: stop with your mean jokes or be a skinny bitch." Later she agrees to pay her $100 per pound if she can lose weight without smoking.

Another casting choice that makes me very happy: Oliver Platt as her (kinda) ex husband. I think he's delightful always. 

I'm not a huge Laura Linney fan, but I recognize good acting, like at the end when she does a soliloquy about how she really feels. We wonder: is she really finally telling someone about her cancer?  This would be the psychologically correct option according to her young HOT oncologist who she may or may not be flirting with and who may or may not be flirting back. Answer, and this is not a spoiler alert, because the whole point of the show is she's NOT going to tell anyone, all season, according to the press: no. But it's a believable speech and kind of cute when we see what she's talking to.

There is a sort of thematic bludgeon going on: "how would you live if you only had a year to live?" Oh god, we've all seen that movie! But I found myself a little exhilarated, because like the show is accomplishing something that I think good art and good cooking aspire to do: take something simple and feed it to you in a different way so it tastes different.