When you think of ideas for TV comedies, one of the last topics you would ever think of would be cancer. “Let’s make a comedy series about a woman dealing with cancer,” said probably no showrunner ever. At least until The Big C appeared on television, that is. I wouldn’t say the show is a straight comedy, it’s more of a dramedy (and the final season even turns into an hour-long series) but the emphasis is still on the comedy. The Big C is a reasonably funny show (that can get really funny when it brings its A game) that features some great characters, but it unfortunately is not quite as consistent as I would like.
The Big C ran for four seasons and forty episodes on Showtime from 2010-13. The series stars Laura Linney as Cathy Jamison, a Minnesotan schoolteacher who finds out in the pilot episode that she has stage IV melanoma and will most likely die within a year or two. Before her cancer diagnosis, Cathy was a pretty straight-laced and normal mother who wasn’t the type to spill fruit punch on the sofa. Afterwards, she decides to become more spontaneous and fun (and be the one to spill the fruit punch). She also makes the decision not to tell her loved ones; her man-child husband Paul (Oliver Platt), her teenage son Adam, or her homeless activist brother Sean (John Benjamin Hickey). The one person she eventually confides in is her elderly neighbor Marlene (Phyllis Somerville), your seemingly prototypical “neighbor from hell” who isn’t nearly as bad once you get to know her. The Big C also stars Gabourey Sidibe as one of Cathy’s students she decides to mentor. Guest stars include Idris Elba and Sex and the City‘s Cynthia Nixon in several episodes and Liam Neeson, Alan Alda, and Susan Sarandon in smaller roles.
While Cathy’s cancer is obviously a very important plot point, The Big C is actually more about her relationships with her husband, son, friends, and brother. One thing in particular that I need to point out is the brother-sister relationship between Cathy and Sean. Shows rarely spend so much time on sibling relationships (they usually just get small guest star roles at best), The Big C spends a ton of time on it and it makes it one of the more interesting brother-sister relationships ever covered on television. Cathy’s relationship with Paul is much less unique or interesting, focusing on stories that have been told thousands of times on television already (but there are still a few unique threads there). I also really enjoyed the relationship between Cathy and Marlene.
One of the biggest problems with The Big C: The Complete Series is the lack of consistency throughout the series. The show starts off with two great episodes to launch the series. The first season in general is pretty good other than a few mediocre episodes in the middle of the season. After that though, the show becomes very hit or miss. There’s still some good content here or there but it’s way less consistent. For example, the second season starts off really slow (and the show starts using its premium cable privileges a lot more for some reason) but rebounds towards the end of the season. Season three is very mediocre at best throughout the entire season. Then the show actually rebounds again in the very short (four episode) final season when it becomes an hourly series. This might actually be the best overall season the show put out, though it is far too short.
Even though The Big C is inconsistent, there are some truly hilarious episodes with actual laugh-out-loud moments. If the idea of a suburban mom chasing down her son’s bus to soccer camp and shooting a paintball gun at it until it stops sounds funny to you, The Big C‘s humor is likely for you. I don’t laugh out loud at comedies very often but there are several moments that got me in the first season of this show (and a few in later seasons as well). It shouldn’t be too surprising for a show about cancer but The Big C is often good for a cry as well. It’s pretty much impossible for a show about cancer to not be emotional but The Big C is very good at tugging at your heartstrings. I also absolutely love these characters. It took me about five minutes to fall in love with Cathy Jamison, Marlene is one of the best TV neighbor characters I’ve seen since Wilson in Home Improvement, and both Paul and Sean have their moments of being great characters as well.
Mill Creek has released The Big C: The Complete Series on both Blu-ray and DVD (I received the Blu-ray version for review). While all of the season sets have been made available on DVD before (though the last two seasons are only available via burn-on-demand DVD-R), this is the show’s debut on Blu-ray. Not even the first season was released in high-definition until now. To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting that much in terms of video quality as this is a comedy and those don’t really tend to look that great on Blu-ray. To my surprise, The Big C: The Complete Series actually looks great in high-definition. It might even be the best looking Mill Creek Entertainment complete series Blu-ray release I’ve seen so far. This also isn’t a comedy that just films in the same two or three locations for most of the series, there are a lot more location shoots than most comedies meaning the good video quality is put to good use on this release. I may not be an expert on video quality, but to me The Big C: The Complete Series looks almost perfect visually.
Unfortunately, the extras from the original DVD releases of The Big C are not included in this release. The third and fourth seasons had no bonus features (as they were burn-on-demand releases) but the first season had deleted scenes, outtakes, a featurette, and interviews (while the second season only had deleted scenes and outtakes). Unless they legally couldn’t include those extras in this release, it is quite disappointing that they weren’t included. I’m not the biggest fan of extras and I will almost always prefer a lower price versus a release filled to the brim with extras but for those who enjoy bonus features, this will definitely be disappointing. It means that you might have to keep those two releases if you don’t want to get rid of those extras but do want to get the series on Blu-ray. The Big C: The Complete Series is definitely a good value though, as it is far less expensive than buying all four individual DVD releases (and you get to watch in on Blu-ray instead of DVD).
The Big C: The Complete Series uses the now standard Mill Creek Entertainment packaging for complete series sets. The six discs are housed in an enlarged Blu-ray case with enough trays for each disc to get its own. The packaging problems Mill Creek used to have are now long in the past and you no longer have to worry about your discs being scratched. The outer box isn’t the sturdiest cardboard I’ve ever seen but the Blu-ray case is more than strong enough to protect the discs.
The Big C isn’t the most consistent comedy series I’ve ever seen but it is still funny enough (and the plot good enough) to warrant a recommendation for those who enjoy premium network comedies. Cancer is a topic that comes up in TV shows quite regularly, but is never covered nearly as in-depth as a show like this. The mix of comedy and drama fits the show, the only real problem is the lack of consistency. The show goes from great to good to mediocre, then back to great with possibly the show’s best (and final) season. If you can look past the inconsistency and deal with the sometimes depressing story, I would recommend The Big C: The Complete Series. The lack of the extras from the first two DVD releases is disappointing but this release is such a great value that I’m willing to look past their removal. Recommended.
The Big C: The Complete Series was released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 16, 2019.
We would like to thank Mill Creek Entertainment for the review copy of The Big C: The Complete Series used for this review. Other than receiving the review copy we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation. Receiving the review copy had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.