Anyone who argues that this show about cancer isn’t funny clearly isn’t watching. The Big C began its second season tonight, and the result was both hilarious and sad, effortlessly combining the two and creating a show that seems to do the impossible. There was aggressive farting, an embarrassingly awkward drug deal and wacky dead dog hijinks. Yes, The Big C centers on a woman dying from cancer, but it’s still a whole lot funnier than Glee or Desperate Housewives.
The Big C season 2 got off to an ominous start as this year takes place in the fall, a word with many sinister meanings. The Interleukin-2 isn’t working, Cathy is seeing dead people and her brother has turned on her, but despite those obstacles, there’s still a lot of fight left. Seeing dead people is a particularly positive side effect from her treatment, because it allows the show to bring back the superb Phyllis Somerville as grumpy neighbor Marlene, who committed suicide at the end of last season.
Laura Linney continues to deliver one of the best performances on TV, one that deserves to win an Emmy regardless of any complaints about her being too dramatic. Cathy is a woman who needs to find the comedy in every situation, because if she doesn’t laugh, she’ll probably cry. It’s both funny and uplifting.
The second season also finds Cathy’s brother Sean in a new world as he tries to adapt to becoming a father and living in a house. When Sean and his baby mama Rebecca finally learn the truth about Cathy’s cancer, it’s a relief that the show has stopped delaying the inevitable. Sean’s reaction may seem selfish, but it completely fits with the character and John Benjamin Hickey impresses me more and more every episode. Like the best classic clowns, he adds emotional weight to a seemingly ridiculous and over-the-top performance.
But the performances aren’t the only comedy. Here are my six favorite funny scenes from the season 2 premiere that prove The Big C isn’t a drama.
A Basset Emergency: When Marlene’s dog swallows Cathy’s pills, Paul’s madcap reaction and frantic 911 phone call combined with Cathy’s attempts to make the dog throw up was the kind of wonderfully joyous absurdity I love.
Rebecca’s Reaction: When Cathy’s best friend (Cynthia Nixon) learns she has cancer, her first reaction is: “You’re gonna be my first really good friend that has had cancer. I will be forever changed.” It’s a shamefully selfish but very funny reaction.
The Drug Deal: When Cathy and Paul went to buy marijuana, her gleeful, childish excitement was ridiculously silly.
Cathy’s Timely Meltdown: In a supremely awkward moment, Cathy stormed into the doctor’s office and demanded an appointment, only to be called by a receptionist in the office at that exact moment to schedule an appointment. It’s the kind of thing that would happen to Michael Scott on The Office if he were in Cathy’s position.
Aggressive Farting: It’s juvenile and childish, but farting is still funny to me, and Adam’s aggressive farts made me giggle, as did Cathy’s ultimate revenge. Not only is it funny in the basest way possible, but I’m also impressed by the family’s superhuman ability to pass gas on demand.
The Dead Dog Switcheroo: The Big C‘s ability to switch from tragedy to comedy was highlighted in the final moment of the premiere as Paul told Cathy that Marlene’s dog was dead. It was a truly sad moment, completely undone when the dog, still covered in a sheet, walked in, forcing Cathy to demand that her husband get a second opinion if he thinks she’s dead. Going from one extreme to another is what makes The Big C so special.
The Big C is off to a strong start for its second season. Cathy is getting a new doctor (the great Alan Alda, who knows a thing or two about shows that combine serious issues with comedy), she’ll make some new acquaintances (most notably the very charming Hugh Dancy as a fellow cancer patient) and the show finds a great way to integrate Gabourey Sidibe’s sassy Andrea into the main storyline.
Season 2 might be called “Fall,” but The Big C is raising its game and continuing to be a heartwarming and laugh-out-loud series.
The Big C airs Mondays at 10:30pm on Showtime.
(Image courtesy of Showtime)