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Over the Edge: Brief Thoughts on Showtime's Weeds and The Big C

It's only fitting in a way that Showtime would schedule Season Six of Weeds with the new dark comedy The Big C, both of which kick off tonight on the pay cabler.

In their own way, both series deal with the efforts of two women to survive in any way possible when faced with the insurmountable obstacle of death. On Weeds, Mary-Louise Parker's Nancy Botwin has spent the last five seasons attempting to keep her family together, getting deeper and deeper into treacherous waters after the untimely death of her husband, willing to literally get in bed with dangerous people in order to survive.

While the drama isn't as (soapily) high on The Big C, which airs a half an hour later, it's just as powerful as Laura Linney's Cathy receives a terminal cancer diagnosis and attempts to create a new way of living when faced with death itself, embarking on a journey in which she discovers her crazy again. For an uptight and controlling woman like Cathy, her last chance at living means living free: it means spilling wine on the couch, getting a pool put in her backyard, and attempting to reconnect with her loathsome teenage son.

In both cases, there's a lot of darkness going on but also a lot of humor to be mined from these extreme circumstances. Season Six of Weeds picks up moments after the cliffhanger ending from last season, where Shane killed Pilar with a croquet mallet blow to the head, knocking her into the pool. Wisely, the writers have realized that there's no time jump necessary here, finding both pathos and humor in Shane's new role as a "killer" and in Nancy's efforts to stay one step ahead of everyone likely to be on their tail.

It's a strategy that not only means that they ditch their new lives to hit the road but also removes Justin Kirk's Andy from the love triangle he was enmeshed in with his girlfriend Audra (Alanis Morrisette) and her obsessed, pro-life stalker. While Nancy selfishly doesn't allow Shane or Silas to pack any of their belongings, they hit the road with more than enough baggage--both physical and emotional--of Nancy's to last them a lifetime.

While Weeds has proven itself more than willing to shake up its foundations every few seasons (remember when she burned down their Agrestic home and they ended up by the Mexican border?), I have to say that I'm far more intrigued with this new on-the-lam picaresque than I was with the last two seasons. Publicity materials promise new identities, bizarre disguises, and odd jobs as the Botwins--plus Andy and Doug (Kevin Nealon), of course--attempt to stay alive and out of the hands of the Mexican drug cartel hungry for their blood.

The first episode--the only one sent out to press in advance--gave the series yet another jolt of adrenaline, quickly establishing the high stakes for this season and refocusing the viewpoint onto the Botwins as they attempt to get the hell out of their predicament and, more than likely, encounter a colorful menagerie of eccentrics, deadbeats, and kooks along the way. If you haven't been watching Weeds for whatever reason, this is the perfect opportunity to jump on board right now.

Showtime did, however, send out the first three episodes of the Laura Linney-led dark comedy The Big C, which is a good thing as it takes about that long for things to begin to click into place. The pilot episode, which airs tonight, has a few strong spots, one of which is--unsurprisingly--Linney herself, who stars here as the supernaturally uptight Cathy, a school teacher who keeps her terminal cancer diagnosis to herself and instead kicks her immature husband (Oliver Platt) out of the house and attempts to find new ways to remind herself that she's alive. For the time being, at least.

She sets out to wave her freak flag loud and proud, attempting to build a pool, spending the summer with her son (even if it means chasing down his soccer camp-bound bus with a paintball rifle), and reconnecting with that thing that she forgot how to do: live.

Cancer comedy is a hard thing to pull off and the pilot episode has the danger of becoming maudlin at times, particularly in scenes where Linney's Cathy interacts with her homeless brother Sean (John Benjamin Hickey) or her bitchy neighbor Marlene (Phyllis Somerville)... or Marlene's dog. A scene with plucky student Andrea (Gabourney Sidibe) crackles with nasty wit (just wait until you see what Cathy says to her) but seems separate from everything else.

Which is why the third episode seems to unify the various threads into something cohesive and enjoyable, as Cathy arranges a dinner party that brings together Sean, his new Whole Foods employee girlfriend, Andrea, and Cathy's supremely awful son (Gabriel Basso). Which, in true Showtime fashion, sort of goes horribly awry, really.

Episode Three is also the first episode where I began to see just what the series was capable of achieving and it's also the first installment where the show itself seemed to relax a little bit and, like Cathy herself, stop being so controlled and uptight. For a series about life, The Big C needs to embrace the messiness, humor, and emotion that this episode encapsulates.

If it does, The Big C, despite its subject matter, might just transform into a series that I hope lives for some time to come.

Season Six of Weeds premieres tonight at 10 pm ET/PT, followed by the series premiere of The Big C, on Showtime.

Comments

Got to love the Botwin's, I do believe this is going to be a great season for the Botwin family.

I am glad to see Andy went along with them when they went on the run.

I have never seen "The Big C" but if it is half as good as weeds I think I am going to watch a few of the shows to check it out. Got to love Oliver Platt

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