Laura Linney is the star of "The Big C" (Showtime, 10:30 tonight) and I mean she's the STAR.
She powers the show, giving a performance in which she's funny, moving, subtle, manic, thoughtful, selfish and smart, sometimes all in one scene. There are some good actors on this show, but Linney (also an executive producer) is the reason to watch.
"The Big C" tells the story of Cathy (Linney), an uptight schoolteacher who learns she has terminal stage 4 melanoma, and with that pronouncement decides it's time to start living. She doesn't tell her family of her diagnosis, which could mean she only has a year to live; instead she just starts changing.
She puts her immature husband (Oliver Platt) out. She vows to start raising her son (Gabriel Basso) 'so hard his head spins,' in hopes of rebuilding the sweet relationship they once had, before he became a spoiled, smart-mouthed teen. She reconnects with her brother (John Benjamin Hickey), a garbage-eating, dumpster-dwelling, non-bathing environmentalist. She reaches out to the cranky neighbor (Phyllis Somerville) who has never spoken to her. She takes an interest in a student (Gabourey Sidibe), and begins paying her to lose weight and eat healthier.
Cathy wants to deal with the cancer on her own terms, which makes her selfish, sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a way that is mean to her unknowing family. Platt's character takes the brunt of the pain; he desperately wants to know what's going on with his wife, and she won't tell him. But he also wants to things to be as they were, and that's just not possible.
As a woman facing and fearing death, Linney's Cathy forces us to think about life, death, the things and people we love, the choices we make. In the three episodes I saw, there were moments where I laughed out loud, and fewer moments that felt false (Sidibe's character, as written, is sometimes a little too, yep, precious).
But Linney gives a fearless performance, one that makes you hope Cathy's life expectancy exceeds the prognosis.