The Big C will be ending its series with a special, four episode, four hour event, taking Cathy's (Laura Linney) story from the months of September through May as she struggles with the decision to stop chemo treatments, spend time with her loved ones, and meet a few new colorful characters along the way. Each season of The Big C that has ended without knowing if the show would return for another installment carried a greater weight than with most shows because of the seriousness of Cathy's situation and the looming question of whether or not she could beat this thing. Season three was no different, and although its open-ended finale with Cathy sailing off on a boat could have allowed audiences to envision a peaceful-- and perhaps tropical-- life, regardless of how long it ended up being, it was extremely important to series creator Darlene Hunt to tell a bit more story, to give everyone-- the cast and crew included-- a sense of closure.
"It could have just ended abruptly after three seasons, but David [Nevins] and I specifically really talked about the themes of the show and what we could tackle and talk about in this last season and how important it was to give it a proper ending, maybe more so than another series would be. So I really felt that we were involved in the conversation and that it was a group decision to do it in a really special way because this is its own thing. This season is its sort of own thing," Hunt said at Showtime's TCA tour in Los Angeles.
"I was like, 'David, I don't do your job. I don't program. I don't know what that is, but I'd just like to give you the chance to tell you creatively the kind of stories that I feel are left untold.' And there are millions of stories left untold in the subject area, in terms of Cathy, and things that we told and didn't tell, and so forth. But I said...to the idea of sort of saying goodbye to an audience and saying goodbye to this character's story, you know, there are some things that I would love the opportunity to tell creatively. And it was such a cool conversation....I felt like I had said my piece. And I'm sure that didn't affect him actually picking it up, but I felt honored when he did, and I knew that we were in sync creatively."
Series star Linney echoed her executive producer's sentiment, noting that you "simply can't dangle" or be disrespectful or irresponsible about a show set in such a serious context as cancer. Her greatest fear was that the show would simply get canceled without getting to properly "wrap up."
The final four episodes, series executive producer Jenny Bicks said, will fit into the same tone as all of the ones that preceded them, but they will be double the length. Though The Big C was never truly a straight comedy, it was classified as such because of its half-hour format. These final episodes are an hour each, which Bicks feels lets both the comedy and the drama "breath a little."
"I think it lives very easily in the one‑hour form," Bicks said. "So it was a nice chance for us to put the show to bed...The four episodes go from September all the way through May, so we almost take it through a whole other year. Each episode is separated by about three months."
The season sees Paul (Oliver Platt) on the road a lot due to his new success as a motivational speaker, which puts the rest of Cathy's family-- as ill-equipped as some of them may be-- in the caretaker position. But Paul being gone for a portion of the time may actually be good for Cathy as Bicks also pointed out "their relationship isn't great." The last thing a woman fighting cancer needs is more stress!
But there will be the usual beauty and warmth, even if it comes with some heartbreak:
"I will say that the final scene of the series will be very nostalgic for viewers of the show, because we reintroduce ideas that we've been playing with through the course-- visual elements that we've played with throughout the course of the series. So I think it's a visually stunning moment, and a very happy moment, too," Bicks said.
No one wanted to come right out and admit whether or not Cathy's life would end along with the series, but Gabourey Sidibe did not hide how emotional she got filming the finale, noting that the director wanted her to save her tears for the end of one particular scene, but she simply couldn't wait.
"How we dealt with the end of this story, of the entire series, was done so smartly, and really, really beautiful, and it was sort of like a graduation," Sidibe said.
"And not just for us as actors, but for what happens to the characters. I have to say that I was not great in keeping my emotions in check, or using them for anything. Sorry. I was bat-shit crazy the entire time. I was just all over the place because I would be so proud, and happy, or sad, and all these things for the character."
The Big C is not one series where you would expect anything less, though. It has always been extremely raw and refusing to shy away from the realities of Cathy's diagnosis, treatment, and its emotional toll on both the patient and those supporting the patient. Linney shared that things are certainly going to take a dark turn for Cathy, even if they get better (and that may be a big if).
"I lost some weight along the way. We cut my hair; there [were] all sorts of things that we did to, honestly, sort of approach the physical transformation of what happens when someone is seriously ill. I was incredibly humbled every night when I got to wash it off," she said.
"Darlene's script [had come] to me during a period of time where I was really in an existential swirl about time and how we use our time and the choices that we make about our time, what is worth our time, and about the privilege of aging. I was very much thinking about that on a daily basis, and then this script showed up, and I was like, 'Oh, here's a way for me to continue that conversation with myself within the context of cancer,' which is also something that I've had a relationship with since I was a very small child because my mother was a nurse at Sloan‑Kettering when I was growing up...And so it sort of was an intersection of life and work that was just kismet as far as time is concerned, so I just wanted to continue that conversation with myself...I'm still in an existential angst about it all. I'm still thinking about it every day."
The Big C: hereafter premieres on Showtime on April 29th 2013 at 10 p.m.
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