Tuned In: Laura Linney brings strength to 'Big C'
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Showtime loves its dark comedies, and the latest new series is no lighter than "Nurse Jackie" or "Californication." And yet, despite its premise, "The Big C" may be easier to watch than some of Showtime's other half-hour dramedies, thanks to a strong, compassionate performance from the show's star.
Laura Linney ("John Adams," "The Mothman Prophecies") stars in "The Big C" as Cathy, a woman who always takes care of others, even after she is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
That may sound like the plot of a morose, maudlin, three-hankie drama, but as rendered by creator Darlene Hunt, director Bill Condon ("Dreamgirls") and executive producer Jenny Bicks ("Men in Trees"), "The Big C" spends more time on how Cathy lives life as opposed to her preparations for death.
The pilot paints an entertaining portrait of the lead character while leaving supporting characters less defined. "The Big C" does not arrive with as sturdy a foundation as "Nurse Jackie," an unusually well-developed show from the get-go, but Ms. Linney completely inhabits a role that's recognizable as a woman who is strong and unusually selfless -- at least until her diagnosis.
In the "Big C" pilot, debuting Aug. 16 at 10:30 p.m. and already available for viewing online at Sho.com, Cathy doesn't share news of her diagnosis with her husband (Oliver Platt), son (Gabriel Basso) or her homeless brother (John Benjamin Hickey) for fear of the toll the news will take on them. She doesn't want people taking care of her ("It's not my thing," she says).
Cathy, a self-described "suffering in silence-type," is judgmental and super-responsible, not a person known for having fun (she likes to clean and organize). But the cancer is bringing out a looser, more rebellious streak, as evidenced by her spur-of-the-moment decision to have a pool dug in her yard. Cathy teaches summer school and tries to get a student (Gabourey Sidibe, "Precious") to lose weight and quit smoking, and she has a crotchety neighbor, Marlene (Phyllis Somerville), who becomes both a foil and a friend.
The series, which films in Connecticut, has attracted a wealth of guest stars for its first season, including Liam Neeson as a purveyor of alternative medicine and Cynthia Nixon as Cathy's wild-child friend.
At a press conference Thursday, Ms. Linney said she was drawn to the series not because of the cancer story but because of its emphasis on time.
"What are the choices we make, how we spend our time," she said. "It's something a lot of people have forgotten in this fast-paced world where youth is overly celebrated."
In addition, she sees the character as having a lot of room for growth as Cathy begins to live her life differently post-diagnosis.
"She's a woman who doesn't really know who she is, and she has the opportunity to find out and she's going to take it," Ms. Linney said. "She's someone who's been functioning very well but she hasn't been living, so she has a whole growth spurt through this experience."
Producers hedged when asked if it was possible for Cathy to go into remission, although it did not sound likely given her stage IV melanoma. To allow the series to run for many years, producers have decided each season will take place during one season of a year, with the premiere set on the first day of summer. That allows the show to run for six seasons while covering just 18 months of Cathy's life.
Producers have discussed the possibility of "The Big C" doing a crossover episode with "Weeds" for a medical marijuana story or possibly other Showtime programs.
"I'd love to see her go see Nurse Jackie," Ms. Linney said.
"I'm gonna try to keep her away from Dexter," Ms. Bicks said, a joking reference to the Showtime series about a serial killer.
CBS sitcom hit "The Big Bang Theory" moves to Thursdays this fall for its fourth season, taking on NBC's low-rated comedy "Community" at 8 p.m. beginning Sept. 23.
CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler said the time felt right for "Big Bang" to move and open a night.
"The show is certainly enjoying an extraordinary amount of support and love, and this was a great opportunity for us to move it into a strategic place," Ms. Tassler said. "It earned its way there. We don't expect it to earn the number it did on Monday yet."
"Big Bang" executive producer Chuck Lorre said no one asked his opinion about the move, but he's not complaining.
"Given where we are now after three seasons, I'd be crazy to argue with the choices CBS has made along the way," Mr. Lorre said. "If they think this is a good call, then that's great. Our job is to make a good show. Our job is not to program the show."
For the new season, Mayim Bialik returns as a potential girlfriend for Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak will appear as himself.
"He'll have a very specific relationship with Mayim Bialik," Mr. Lorre said of Sheldon and the female nerd introduced in May's season finale. "It's a unique relationship."
Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco) remain broken up, at least for now.
"They're such strikingly different personalities," Mr. Lorre said. "It seemed like a natural relationship that comes together, falls apart and perhaps it might come together again."
"I thought it seemed natural to where they're at in their lives," Mr. Galecki said. "I think they have a whole lot to learn in the way of love."
As for the friendship between Sheldon and Penny, something that developed over the first two seasons, Mr. Lorre said it's become an important part of the show.
"She's domesticating him in a way," he said. "The whole process of the series is the ensemble is his umbilical cord to reality.... Her affection for him sets a tone in many ways. Leonard's affection for him is unspoken. Despite how different [Sheldon] is, they stick with him, and that says something to the audience."
"Pitchmen," the Discovery Channel series that starred the late Billy Mays, a native of McKees Rocks, returns Aug. 19 at 9 p.m. The second season will follow Anthony "Sully" Sullivan as he travels the country "to give everyday inventors a shot at catching his eye with their simple solutions to common problems," according to the network.
Next week the Pennsylvania Cable Network will feature interviews with World War II veterans recalling their experiences. On Tuesday PCN will feature Pittsburgh veterans Althea Skelton (7 p.m.), Ezekiel Dorsey (7:35 p.m.), Bob Katelan (9 p.m.) and Ed Halluska (9:20 p.m.) as part of the channel's "World War II: In Their Own Words" series.
Deadline.com reports USA has renewed "In Plain Sight" for an additional two seasons. ... "Nanny" fans rejoice: Reruns of the sitcom will air on TV Land at 6 p.m. weekdays beginning Monday.
First Published July 30, 2010 12:00 am