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Social Worker Review: “The Big C” Gets D Grade

The Big C
Category: Comedy/Drama Series on Showtime

Review by Kathryn Gurland, LCSW

RATING (Out of 5 Megaphones):




Plot: “The Big C” is about 40-something Cathy Jamison (actress Laura Linney) who has been recently diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma cancer. 

Why social workers and the public should not watch this show: Although there are many ways that humor, irony and light, funny experiences could be tastefully portrayed when developing a storyline about a person diagnosed with a late stage cancer, the producers and writers of this show did not accomplish that at all.

The acting performances are of a very high caliber and the characters and dialogue are very entertaining.  However, it is clearly apparent  they did not consult with any real cancer patients, and certainly did not consult with an oncology social worker.  The mere fact that they show Cathy (the diagnosed character) going out to lunch with her doctor at a lovely restaurant by the water and then going house hunting with him is so extremely unrealistic that the plot loses its credibility even to those viewers who have never worked in healthcare. 

Photo courtesy of Showtime.

Five episodes into the series, there is still no appearance of a nurse nor social worker, only Cathy’s doctor.  Hard to believe that no one on the script writing team noticed that oversight…

And I can’t imagine that anyone who has endured a late stage diagnosis of cancer for themselves or a loved one, would find any enjoyment in seeing Cathy impulsively cash out her 401K , buy an extravagant car, hire a contractor to dig a pool in her yard, and walk around throwing out her hundred dollar bills wherever she feels like it. Really? Did this production team speak to anyone who is facing their mortality in the possible near future? 

 I’ve heard many angry comments from patients with cancer about how frivolous and “easy to pull off” these impulsive behaviors seem on the show.   And their response is “who can really do things like that when they get diagnosed?”   They feel the show makes light of and mocks how extremely difficult it is to actually find a balance between impulsively wanting to live out your days to the extreme fullest, while maintaining some reality and hope, and focusing on beating the odds and living longer.

Kathryn Gurland is a private cancer navigation consultant in New York City and runs Peg’s Group. She is also a member of the National Association of Social Workers Communications Network Advisory Committee.

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  1. My mother died from cancer so I find nothing funny about having a terminal disease and think this show is in pretty poor taste. But that’s just me.

  2. Having worked with cancer patients I find the critique credible.

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