The Big C (Monday, 9:30 p.m., Showtime) joins the ranks of brilliant cable series that are beating the pants off most theatrical movies.
Start with one of the greatest American actresses, Laura Linney, and give her a meaty character in extreme circumstances. She plays Cathy, a Minneapolis schoolteacher who reassesses her life after a terminal cancer diagnosis.
That sounds like 30 minutes' worth of grim material, but The Big C finds humor and hope in Cathy's situation. She seizes on the opportunity to retool her relationship with her immature husband (Oliver Platt), bratty son (Gabriel Basso), homeless brother (John Benjamin Hickey), grouchy neighbor (Phyliss Somerville) and surly student (Gabourey Sidibe), taking the kinds of chances she never had before. By the end of the premiere episode, you're laughing, crying and grateful just to take another breath.
The ball's in your court, theatrical movies.
Roast of David Hasselhoff
Sunday, 9 pm (Comedy Central)
It's fish-in-a-barrel time as comedians gather to roast David Hasselhoff. The punchline possibilities are limitless, ranging from Knight Rider to Baywatch Nights; from Hasselhoff's too-perfect hair to his cheesy beefcake physique; from his drunken YouTube shenanigans to his sleazy marital troubles.
Is there such a thing as having too much material for a roast?
Monday, 9 pm (Showtime)
It's season six for the goofy series about a drug dealer (Mary-Louise Parker), her two sons and various hangers-on. To me, "goofy" is a problem here. I think Weeds is supposed to be at least partly about real people and their real problems, but the comedy is so broad you can't take any of it seriously. In the season premiere, son Shane (Alexander Gould) kills someone with a croquet mallet and feels no remorse; he just makes unlikely wisecracks for the whole half-hour. A pro-life fanatic holds obstetrician Audra (Alanis Morissette) hostage with a crossbow while also trying to romance her. Etc.
You'd have to be high to find much value in these exaggerated plot elements. But maybe that's the idea?
Melissa & Joey
Tuesday, 7 pm (ABC Family)
Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina the Teenage Witch) and Joey Lawrence (Blossom) were teen sitcom stars who faded from the big-time and hit the Dancing with the Stars circuit. In Melissa & Joey they pair up for a sitcom about a wacky career woman who hires a male nanny to take care of the niece and nephew living in her home.
I use the word "wacky" in the classical sense. Hart takes pratfalls, spouts cute one-liners and gets herself into messes as the laugh track roars. Lawrence surveys her household and proclaims, "That's a whole bucket o' crazy!"
On paper, Melissa & Joey sounds like a must-to-avoid. But onscreen, it delivers. Hart and Lawrence grew up with this kind of material, and they put it over with consummate professionalism. They get something going between them, and the punchlines score more often than they miss. Nowadays, that's a decent percentage.
This is a whole bucket o' crazy I can recommend in good conscience.
18 to Life
Tuesday, 8 pm (CW)
It's so rare that a half-hour TV comedy clicks that, when one does, we all need to get down on our knees and shout "Hallelujah!" 18 to Life is about teenage next-door neighbors Jess (Stacey Farber) and Tom (Michael Seater) who suddenly decide to get married after a lifelong friendship. The cast oozes chemistry, from the young lovers to their dueling sets of parents to their skeptical friends. The pace is snappy, the script is droll, and the soundtrack is an integral part of the comedy.
Tuesday, 9 pm (Comedy Central)
Melissa & Joey and 18 to Life (see above) make the sitcom genre look easy. Big Lake reminds you how easily it can go wrong. Chris Gethard stars as a dweeby investment banker who invented a financial instrument that blew a hole in the economy. He's forced to move back into his parents' house, as well as pay back the retirement money his dad lost because of him.
The premise has possibilities, but Big Lake doesn't realize any of them. Gethard delivers every line in a halfhearted monotone, and the characters are just creepy, from the drug-addled mom to the drug-dealing little brother. If you can make this kind of thing funny, great; if not, you're just bumming us out for no reason. And if I want to get bummed out, I can watch documentaries about the real-life economic collapse.