I’ve kind of come full circle: back in season 1, my main objection was that I didn’t like anyone in the show. Here we are again. And they’re all being so stupid: Cathy, her demented adoption plan, knocking a big hole in her nursery wall, pretending to be someone else at the “London” “pub”; Sean and his threesome; Adam – I mean, are we seriously expected to believe that his sex education has been so lacking that he thinks there’s no risk of any sort in what he’s doing? This week’s big name guest star is the saintly Allison Janney, playing a film producer. She immediately fits right in by offering to buy the rights to Paul’s blog, then telling Cathy that her character will be killed off in the film. The Big C is underachieving badly just now.
More heavy-hitting guest stars this week, with Mamie Gummer and Hamish Linklater as the biological parents of an as-yet unborn baby. God knows why, but they’re considering handing their baby over to Cathy and Paul for adoption. I still can’t see this plot arc as anything other than dumb, I’m afraid. Cathy ropes Adam in to help convince them how good a mother she’d be, but his reply, which is to the effect that if she really cared what he thought she’d have discussed her idiotic idea with him before going baby hunting, is unanswerable. And Paul starts his career as Joy’s hype man. Predictably, it goes badly when he sticks to his notes; predictably, it goes better when he throws his notes away and extemporises. It’s all boring and pointless. I don’t want to hit the panic button, but there are signs that this show is badly losing its way.
Say what you like about The Big C, but it can attract some fairly heavy hitting guest stars – Susan Sarandon is back this week in what looks as if it will be a recurring role as Joy Kleinman, and she’s joined by one of my favourite TV actors, Victor Garber, as the man whose sex line business Sean has stolen. Garber typically makes the most of what isn’t much of a part, as it happens. Following on from Cathy’s declaration last week that she wants another baby, she and Paul set out to adopt. I appreciate that this is sensitive territory, but it strikes me as a little selfish for a couple to want to adopt when one of them has melanoma and the other has a pacemaker as a result of a heart attack a few months ago. Adam’s hot Christian turns out to be a bit of an idiot – she runs across a busy road, with Adam, to prove that God is protecting them; and she thinks she’s preserving her virginity by suggesting to Adam that he take her up the wrong ‘un. She is pretty, mind you, so I suggest that Adam preserves her virginity with enthusiasm. The Big C is ticking over, but not much more.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and Cathy has booked a couple of nights away for herself and Paul, at a seminar run by cancer-survivor and lifestyle coach Joy Kleinman (Susan Sarandon, barely breaking sweat but still the best thing on the show). Paul is entranced; Cathy thinks it’s all bullshit, and kind of turns out to be right, but in a way which layers Kleinman, her juice, her rocks, and her “joyful path” with ambiguity. Nicely done. Adam is still taking an interest in the hot Christian and, by extension (do you see what I did there? Hee), in Christianity, which the writers for now are resisting the temptation to caricature. And Sean takes time away from his burgeoning gay phone sex career to take Andrea out for a meal; they’re both sad and single on the 14th of February. It’s sweet yet melancholy, and I’m assuming that the writers aren’t going to try and make them into a plausible couple. I’ve given up on expecting The Big C to rock my world, but once again this episode was a little better than last week’s.
Paul has been blogging about his near-death experience, but has started to include some information which Cathy might reasonably have regarded as private, such as her affair with Idris Elba. Adam, in consequence, finds out, and isn’t talking to his mother. During the ensuing argument Paul finds out that his wife doesn’t read his blog, something with which I am not entirely unfamiliar myself. Adam, in search of support, tentatively gives his school’s Bible study group a go; imagining them to be pious and intolerant, they are, instead, cool and friendly. And there are chicks.
On the downside this week, Cathy’s reverted to being unlikeable Cathy of season 1 and decides that the people at her school, who as far as I can recall have treated her pretty well, are all totally lame and deserve her turning up drunk (drinks at the “London pub”) and abusing them. Sean is now working as a janitor at the school, which gives him a whole new group of people to be snarky towards, while providing a gay sex chatline from home. And Andrea/Ababu is trying to start a group for black students. I said last week that I found it difficult to predict whether an episode of The Big C was going to be good or not. I liked this one a little more, but I can’t really explain why.
Cathy is in a “London pub” of the sort which might satisfy people who have never been to London – there’s a Hearts pennant behind the bar, for heaven’s sake – calling herself Alexis and saying that she’s a widow. After the end of season 2, does that mean that Paul didn’t recover from his heart attack? Um, no. Psych, I suppose, if anyone ever seriously expected The Big C to write Oliver Platt out. He’s alive – recovering, for sure, but alive.
As is The Big C: it’s the usual collection of unbelievably serious issues such as terminal illness: Cathy is “less cancer-y”, and we never do find out why she’s pretending to be someone else dahn the Lahndan pub, innit. And somewhat trivial ones: Andrea is back from Africa calling herself Ababu, turning every conversation into a tribute to her new life as a strong African woman, and determined to throw her wedding dress out; Sean’s alone in a freezing cold house; Adam’s learning to drive. There seems to be no surefire way of predicting whether an episode will work or not. This one, I’m afraid, bored me a little.
Unpopcult sort-of-favourite The Big C returns to British screens tonight for its third season. Although the show retained its capacity to annoy me I liked the second season rather more than the first, and Laura Linney as cancer-stricken Cathy is one of the most compelling performers on TV. This third season, at ten episodes, is a little shorter than the first two, but given that the final (four episode) fourth season has already shown on American TV is surely isn’t too much to ask that we might get it immediately after this one. Weekly reviews here (Thursday 11 July, 10pm, More 4).
And two days later, a bit of a curio: Top of the Lake, a New Zealand-set Australian/British/American co-production. It’s created by Jane Campion and her occasional collaborator Gerald Lee, with Campion also sharing writing and directing duties. Elisabeth “Peggy out of Mad Men” Moss stars as a detective who is investigating the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year-old girl. With Holly Hunter and Peter Mullan in the cast, this has the feel of a miniseries which is trying to bridge the gap between TV and cinema. And doing so successfully, if you believe the American reviews, with just about all of the critics lavishing praise on the show. Which means we’ll be giving it a try at the very least (Saturday 13 July, 9.10pm, BBC2).