Friday, 30 May 2014


THE BIG C – 'Pilot'
Writer/Creator – Darlene Hunt – Director – Bill Condon
30 mins – Comedy / Drama - 2010 – USA

I want to be the one who spills the fruit punch”

Episode synopsis

A storyline – She needs to tell her family she has Cancer.
B storyline – Building a swimming pool.
C storyline – Her relationship with her pupil Audrey

ACT 1 – Cathy wants to build a pool in her back yard, but is easily talked into a hot tub instead. Her husband Paul wants to be allowed to move back in, doesn't know why she has kicked him out. She doesn't give him an answer. She has cancer and has known for a few days. Dr. Mauer, her oncologist, wants her to focus on telling her family this. She goes to tell her Brother Sean, but can't do it, tries to offer him money, which he refuses and tells her she is boring. She goes to dinner with husband, he tells her she isn't fun. When she gets home her Son Adam, just returned from a holiday, pretends to be an intruder. She is angry and sends him to bed.
She is in stasis. She has, up to this point, too easily been what others want. The Cancer is the catalyst but she is trying to manage the change it brings on her terms.
ACT 2 – The next day she insists on a pool, and gets her way. She attempts to make friends with her Neighbour Marlene but is snubbed. At school she has no desire to teach anymore, and when she is dissed by one pupil, Audrey, she turns on her and gives as good as she gets. Whilst cooking chilli, Adam plays another prank, which upsets her. The Police arrive to tell her Marlene has complained about the building work. She storms into Marlene's house and gives her a piece of her mind, and in doing so comes the closest yet to talking about the cancer. Her husband comes back, tells her it is all about her now. She is ready to tell him her news, but he jumps to the wrong conclusion, thinks she is having an affair, and storms out.
She has grown enough to be ready to tell others, but they fail to listen. False Victory / Defeat.
She has lunch with the Doctor, flirts whit him a little, he tells her she is his first terminal patient. She challenges Audrey to get smart and lose weight. Marlene introduces herself, they talk about dying.
She is taking control, and those around her are starting to pay attention to her.
ACT 3 – She pranks Adam back by pretending to have committed suicide. He freaks. She tells him he needs to grow up and take responsibility as she won't be around all the time. She locks Adam in the bathroom until he has learnt to plunge the toilet. She pours herself a glass of red wine, and then, pours the rest over her cream sofa. Satisfied, she flips the cushions over, hiding the stain, and sits, happy. She takes her Brother the last of the chilli and invites him to come and help burn her sofa. He tells her she is starting to get her weird back. She tells him “you have no idea.”
She finally sits on the sofa and opens her heart about the cancer and how she is feeling, she laughs, jokes, cries, let's it all out. She has finally found someone to tell. It turns out she is only talking to Marlene's dog. But he is enough.

The main character is CATHY JAMISON, A Suburban Mom and high school teacher who has just discovered she has cancer.

We first meet her instructing the pool guy on where and how to build a swimming pool. She is light and happy. It is the first day of summer. He quickly points out the problems in her plan and suggests a hot tub instead. She gives in and agrees. This is a woman too used to being the sensible one, to subduing her own desires. Some of her light fades at this. We recognise her disappointment, it is a universal feeling. We are with her. She also has an urgency to getting this done that intrigues us. Her husband Peter arrives and we learn that she has kicked him out. He pleads to be let back home, she says she has to leave. He says he doesn't know who she is any more. We want to know what has happened here, to them, to her. ? We have connected with her, felt her disappointment, but do not know why is she acting this way towards this man ? Several questions are set up in this one scene.

The secondary regular characters are all those who orbit her in her world
Her Husband, PETER, whose every word and action is that of a child. He drives a scooter, uses words like Meany, and Stinky poopoo, is needy, tells her it is all about her, but seconds later asks “how could you do that to me ? “
Her son, ADAM, who at least has the excuse of still being a teenager to explain his juvenile behaviour and disrespect.
Her brother, SHAUN, an eco warrior drop out who still relates to her as they did as young siblings.
Her Doctor, TODD MAUER, young and handsome.And concerned.
Her neighbour, MARLENE, who has lost everyone she cared about and is literally waiting to die.
Her pupil, ANDREA, whose weight issues have marginalised her in her world.

All the men are in some way juvenile, and all the women have, like her, been sidelined by the wider world.

The underlying theme of the episode is death and time. Aside from her contemplation of her own demise, and her pretend suicide, Shaun talks about suffocating a child with a plastic bag, and later fakes hanging himself outside the supermarket, Marlene's husband and friends are all dead, even her lawn mower is. They all talk of the first day of summer,  Shaun declaims “don't let it be the last” When Adam pretends to be an intruder she pleads to not be killed. Peter tells her people die in Pools.

Given the subject matter, the tone of the show is set before we even see anything, in the title music, which is catchy and bouncy. From this we go to two people, in a sun drenched garden, discussing pools. Cathy carries this light quality over into the next scene in the hospital where, despite the examination table and gown, her talk is of summer memories swimming with her brother.

The need for a pool is how she externalises her cancer. She has fixed on needing to recreate for her son this one perfect memory of diving into a pool. All her fear and anger displaced to this one goal. In the opening scene we wonder why she needs this pool so urgently. As the episode unfolds we learn what it means to her, what she values, and wants to pass on to her son before she goes. A wisdom she, in the end, can only pass on to the dog, sitting in the hole in the yard that might one day be the pool, but not yet.


A good example of the rule of three for comedy beats. ( set up, development, punchline ) She accidentally exposes her breast to Dr Mauer during her examination, she laughs and apologies, he says he didn't notice. Then screw you she tells him. Later, her robe falls open when talking to the Police. He tells her her boob is hanging out, embarrassing her. And at the end, when she has opened her heart, she lifts the scene to a close with her final line by asking the dog if it wants to see her breasts, “because no one else seems to give a shit” These three beats sit at the beginning, middle and end of the episode like ribbon on map pins, tying the whole script together.

Adam's pranks run along the same beats. He first pretends to be an intruder, scaring her, then, later he pretends to have cut off his finger, and finally, she pretends to have commuted suicide. Each prank escalates on the last, and her's emphasises the cruelness of all three. She takes Adam on in his own language.

Favourite lines

Cathy to Paul when told what to order in the restaurant

I'm having deserts, and liquor.”

Shaun to Cathy, when she tries to give him money

I don't want to judge, that's your thing.”

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