Linney can be a lemony/acerbic presence in the right role (she was great as the phony wife in The Truman Show and fantastic in You Can Count on Me). As Cathy Jamison, she does get one or two well-delivered zingers, like her punch line to a speech about how all parents hope they’ll die before their children: “Hey, I’m living the dream!” But mostly, she’s less a charming mess than a self-involved nightmare, and, worse, not that funny.
Oliver Platt is terrific as Cathy’s husband, a big baby with huge appetites. Their marital problems make more sense than anything else on the show—she’s the neatnik cursed by slobs, the martyr mom curdled by years of resentment. “Your dad isn’t living here because I only wanted to raise one kid, and I chose you,” she tells her son, and the show’s best scenes play off the flawed intimacy between these weirdos.
Of course, it’s possible The Big C will get better, even if (maybe especially if) Cathy never does. And if it takes two seasons to become a great sitcom about dying? That might be worth the wait.