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RUNNING TIME: 363 minutes
- Interviews with cast members
- Deleted Scenes
- 15-minute Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
A woman receives news that she has terminal cancer, stage 4 melanoma, and has to choose how to cope with that life-altering news.
Laura Linney, Oliver Platt, Gabourey Sidibe, John Benjamin Hickey, Gabriel Basso, Idris Elba
Cathy Jamison (Laura Linney) is keeping a big secret from her loved ones: she’s dying. And with that realization comes the ability for her to finally start living her life the way she never could. She’s honest with strangers when she would usually keep her mouth shut, she’s brazen, she’s not afraid anymore, and even though her lying about her cancer has consequences that affect her loving but eccentric husband Paul (Oliver Platt), rebellious son Adam (Gabriel Basso), and self-imposed homeless brother Sean (John Benjamin Hickey), she decides to maintain the facade and keep living life not as a burden but as someone who’s finally ready to stop and smell the roses.
I wasn’t expecting much when I popped this in. Anything I had ever seen of it up until this point had not impressed me. It all looked pretty generic and done before and though I love Laura Linney, and she’s one of the greatest actresses on the face of the planet, it just didn’t appeal to me. And Oliver Platt, well, I can take or leave, so his presence wasn’t exactly inspiring. But this show surprised me. I wasn’t expecting to be so moved and taken aback by how involving it actually was. The show has an addictive quality which compelled me to sit and watch it in one sitting, which is something I rarely do even when writing these reviews. But I had to keep watching this fresh, well-written, well-acted gem of a show. It’s at times hilarious and heartbreaking but always consistently entertaining.
As Cathy, Linney is playing someone who has been dealt a bad hand but realizes that her life is not over. She realizes that she has actually just been given the keys to a new life, a new sense of freedom. As the series begins, she has already received the news and has already decided to keep it from her family. Her reasoning is simple; she wants to enjoy the time she has left without a cloud hanging over everyone. She doesn’t want to bring about a permanent gloominess. While this kind of behavior isn’t exactly realistic, it isn’t far-fetched either. It’s understandable. We don’t want to demean the lives of our loved ones and make it all about us. Linney (in true MILF form) is as strong as ever here; she carries the show. She has always been a fantastic actress, notably in stuff like Primal Fear or You Can Count On Me and that holds true here. She has great comedic timing and also gives Cathy a pretty wicked side. It’s a refreshing take on a character we may have seen before.
So this is the way Cathy deals with her newfound freedom; she kicks her husband out of the house (and keeps both cars, leaving him to ride on a scooter) without any real reason other than she needs time to think. He has done nothing wrong at all. And he’s a really lovable, goofy guy, so much so that if she told him the news he would surely drop everything to help her. But for now, she just needs space and needs time to make sense of it all without the added complication of having to become a burden. She pays more attention to her son, Adam, who at 14 years old is going through that rough time where he wants to be rebellious and his parents are total losers. Plus he is constantly wondering why his mother is all of a sudden throwing heaps of affection towards him. And Cathy decides to meet the woman she has lived across the street from for 5 years without saying a single word to, Marlene. Theirs is a love/hate relationship, as Marlene is an old widow with somewhat of a sour attitude. While she’s going out on a limb and being honest and upfront about everything, she decides to befriend one of her students, Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe), by at first remarking about how she needs to be “jolly” and not such a bitch all the time because she’s fat. She actually makes a deal with her that she will give her $100 for every pound she loses. It sounds cruel, but Cathy actually really cares about her and when she sees her walking around with snacks or sugary drinks, she takes them from her. I don’t know, Sidibe isn’t a BAD actress as Precious clearly showed. I assume the writers didn’t have her in mind when they wrote the character, because she is the only weak part of the show for me. It always sounds like she’s just reading her lines off with little depth to what she is saying. And John Benjamin Hickey as Sean, Cathy’s homeless-by-choice brother is hilarious. He hates what society is doing to the environment and thus refuses to shower because of the energy it uses, refuses to own a car because of the pollution it gives off (Cathy gives him a ride, at which point he asks if she could at least “get a Hybrid”) and he lives in a dumpster. He’s much more than comic relief, to be sure. Her young doctor, Todd (Reid Scott), is attached to Cathy because as a budding 31 year-old oncologist, Cathy is his first terminal diagnosis. So he takes ownership in her treatment, even accompanying her to Canada to see a crazy “doctor” (Linney’s Kinsey co-star Liam Neeson!) who performs “Bee Therapy” in which getting stung over 20 times in a central area could ward off cancer entirely. A painter at the High School that she teaches at, Lenny (Idris Elba) has something of a relationship with Cathy while her and her husband are separated. Elba is using his British accent here and I can never not hear Stringer Bell even when his dialect is so proper. Even Brian Cox makes a small appearance as Cathy and Sean’s asshole father.
The news of her cancer inspires Cathy to do all of the things she always wanted to do but never could, or would. At the opening of episode 1, she’s having a pool put in. She decides to drain her 401k, which has hilarious consequences. She buys the most expensive bottle of champagne she can find and drinks it with her doctor. By the end of the episode she’s pouring red wine on her couch cushions (on a couch she stupidly cared so much about before her cancer diagnosis) and turning them over. She later burns said couch in a hole in her backyard that was dug for her pool. Cathy also feels responsible for teaching her son how to be a man, since she has kicked her husband out of the house. In an awkward turn that’ll make you cringe as you’ve possibly never cringed before, she catches her son masturbating in his room to porn on his laptop. She initially closes the door, but then walks back in, sits down on the bed with him, and explains that women aren’t always going to want to be treated that way. She proceeds to watch porn with her son. Yikes, mom!
The slightly disappointing thing about the show is how jarring the series opens. I had used the “Play All Episodes” feature on the disc and when the first episode started, I had thought that I had actually skipped the Pilot by mistake. She already knows she has cancer, her husband is already out, her pool is about to be built– this “new” Cathy is someone who has already been created without us. That’s fine, I guess, but it would have been a little more impactful, I think, to have shown us a bit of her life before actually receiving the diagnosis. That probably wasn’t necessary, however, when everyone already knows that your show is about cancer.
Some may say that this show refuses to accurately depict just what people with a terminal illness go through, or how they act. That’s certainly a valid opinion, but I think what the show is trying to say is that you don’t always have to think of it as a death sentence. You can look at it as a clean slate and a chance to start again and make the time you have left valuable. I can see the rest of the series (God-willing Showtime lets it go beyond season 2) playing out in a number of predictable ways, but hopefully the writers avoid those paths and just keep this show what it is: a solid half-hour dramedy with a main character you can actually give a damn about and feels real. Don’t do what I did and write this show off. It’s worth your time and then some.
A 15-minute featurette and some outtakes are pretty much it. Standard “I knew this was special as soon as I picked up the script” fare. The disappointing thing to note is the absence of any commentaries.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars