The Big C

TV review by
Kari Croop, Common Sense Media
The Big C TV Poster Image
Cancer dramedy is well made but full of mature content.

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Kids say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

On one hand, the series promotes living honestly in the face of a serious illness and having the courage to make changes in your life. On the other hand, dishonesty and recklessness play a major role in the plot and the characters' actions.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Most of the show's characters are complex, which makes them overwhelmingly human. For example, the main character keeps her cancer a secret from her family and shirks her responsibilities as a teacher, surfing the Internet during class to shop for couches and swearing at her students. But also fiercely loves her son and takes a genuine interest in a troubled girl in her class.


Some arguing and verbal sparring between characters, plus a few instances of "fake" violence (i.e., a boy pretends to cut off his finger, a woman pretends to have slit her wrists by sitting in a tub filled with red water, etc.).


Kissing and sexual banter. Occasional nudity, including bare buttocks and a distant shot of a completely naked woman.


Both adult and teen chracters use strong, unbleeped language, including "motherf---er," "f--k," "s--t," and "c--t." You'll also hear words like "damn," "crap," "a--hole," and "bitch," along with sexually charged terms like "rack," "boobs," and "tap."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some social drinking. A few characters also smoke (including the main character and one of her teenage students).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this edgy, adult-oriented dramedy centers on a middle-aged woman dealing with a terminal cancer diagnosis. The main character has a teenage son and spends a lot of time helping a troubled high school girl, which may attract older teens. If they do watch, they'll see some sexual content (including nudity) and hear some strong, unbleeped language (including "motherf---er" and "c--t"). There are also a few semi-violent incidents involving fake blood, as well as some characters (including teens) who smoke.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written byIsabel13 August 26, 2012

Too much language

My parents watch this show. It's not good for kids
Kid, 12 years old August 30, 2010

Maturity - It's The Key To LIFE :) Cwazy Porcupine.

A fantastic show full of postive messages, namely "Live life to the fullest". I'm 12 and watch it with my parents who don't really mind any... Continue reading

What's the story?

When suburban teacher Cathy Jamison (Laura Linney) finds out from her doctor (Reid Scott) that she's got Stage IV melanoma, she makes a conscious decision to keep THE BIG C a secret from her errant husband (Oliver Platt), her teenage son (Gabriel Basso), and her free-spirited brother (John Benjamin Hickey), convinced that they can't handle the news. But her strange behavior leaves them all scratching their heads. In the meantime, she takes an overweight student (Gabourey Sidibe) under her wing and forges a tentative friendship with a reclusive neighbor (Phyllis Somerville).

Is it any good?

If there were an upside to cancer, this exceptionally acted dramedy would be it. Above all, it offers leading lady and executive producer Linney -- a multiple Emmy winner, three-time Oscar nominee, and acclaimed stage actress -- smart material that she can really sink her teeth into. But it also surrounds her with a talented ensemble cast, including Oscar nominee Sidibe (who proves she has range beyond Precious) and guest stars like Brian Cox, Cynthia Nixon, and Liam Neeson.

Cathy's unconventional approach to her cancer diagnosis might not be for everyone, and some parents could decide that The Big C is better left to adults. After all, impending death or not, it's downright jarring to hear Cathy call her elderly neighbor "a f---ing c--t" or tell Sidibe, "You can't be fat and mean. ... You can either be fat and jolly or a skinny bitch. It's up to you." But for those who don't mind the shock value, The Big C is A-level entertainment.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the show's tone. Is this meant to be a drama or a comedy? How can you tell? Does it work to have a show about cancer be funny?

  • How realistic are the teen and adult characters you see on screen? Is the strong language they use reflective of reality, or has it been amped up for the sake of entertainment? What would the consequences of their behavior be in real life?

  • Do you agree with Cathy's decision to keep her disease a secret from her immediate family? What are the pitfalls of having secrets of that magnitude? What are the benefits of being honest and open with those you love?

TV details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love drama and comedy

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