It was not, however, an assured hit. Before The Big C's pilot even aired, critics and potential viewers wondered how a dark comedy about cancer could succeed. After all, what's funny about a killer disease?
According to showrunner Darlene Hunt, The Big C is "a humanistic view of what happens and how comedy is what people lean on to survive. It is not about living with cancer, but it's about living - with cancer." The first season proved this. Cathy Jamison (Linney) is a teacher, mother, and wife whose outlook on life takes a drastic turn when she is diagnosed with stage four melanoma. She strives to get the most out of each day as she clings fiercely to who she is, refusing to be defined by her disease. Cathy's story is at once humorous and poignant but never mawkishly sentimental.
Throughout most of the first season, Cathy gets treatment on the sly from Dr. Todd, a youthful oncologist whose feelings for Cathy occasionally get the better of him. His deepening emotional attachment is the least of Cathy's concern. She is more focused on hiding her illness from those closest to her until, finally, after an extramarital affair leaves her emotionally spent, she reveals all to husband Paul (Platt) and son Adam (Gabriel Basso). Cathy's manic depressive brother, Sean (John Benjamin Hickey), his relationship with Cathy's friend Rebecca (Cynthia Nixon), Adam's emotional detachment from his family's problems, and the suicide of neighbor and friend Marlene (Phyllis Somerville), all serve to further complicate Cathy's life.
The second season addresses the ramifications of Cathy's revelation and finds her agreeing to an experimental, possibly life-saving course of treatment which ultimately fails to improve her health. Subsequently she seeks help from renowned oncologist and part-time magician, Atticus Sherman, played by Alan Alda. Atticus will eventually enter Cathy in a clinical trial to help her further battle her disease.
Coinciding with The Big C's second season premiere is the release of the first season DVD set. If you need to catch up, this is the way to do it. Besides the original 13 episodes, you'll find enough extras to give you a clearer understanding of what The Big C is all about. Interviews with the principles, outtakes, deleted scenes, and the "Complex Character" featurette will all serve to enhance your appreciation of this very unique show.
The second season of The Big C premieres on Monday, June 27 at 10:30 PM ET on Showtime.