THE SHOW "The Big C"

WHEN | WHERE Monday night at 10:30 on Showtime

REASON TO WATCH Second-season premiere

CATCHING UP Cathy Jamison (Laura Linney), high-school teacher, mother of Adam and wife of Paul, has cancer -- likely fatal cancer, unless she responds to treatment. As the second season of this comic tragedy begins, that doesn't look too probable. Under the heading, "That Which Makes Matters Worse," her doctor, Todd Mauer (Reid Scott), tried to kiss her last season while Adam (Gabriel Basso) is having behavioral problems, and so is Paul (Oliver Platt), who had an affair after Cathy had one.

Cranky neighbor Marlene (Phyllis Somerville) committed suicide, and Cathy inherited both her dog and her house. As the new season commences, she decides to find a new doctor with a more aggressive treatment protocol. She finds Dr. Atticus Sherman (Alan Alda), who also, unfortunately, has a more aggressive bedside manner. Meanwhile, there's the matter of her bipolar brother, Sean (John Benjamin Hickey), who now lives across the street in a tent while dating Cathy's sort-of friend, Rebecca (Cynthia Nixon). He doesn't know about the cancer, and one must break news -- any news -- to Sean very delicately.

MY SAY Cancer isn't funny. Never has been. Never will be. (Never could be.) Yet, "The Big C" continues to insist that some almost-clever patter, overly mannered acting, awkward sex scenes, a few sitcom tropes as hoary as "Father Knows Best," and Laura Linney will make us forget or overlook this. Tragedy and comedy aren't necessarily incompatible (in life or on TV), but "The Big C" just can't seem to get the recipe right. With all this incredible talent -- Platt! Linney! Nixon! Alda! -- what could possibly go wrong? Linney is a fine actress, but her material here doesn't match her talents.

BOTTOM LINE Too cute, too silly and too unreal, "The Big C" remains "The Big Twee."


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