There’s a reason Bryan Cranston has now denied “Mad Men”’s Jon Hamm a Best Actor Emmy for three years straight now: He’s just damned excellent as Walt White, the cancer-ridden chemistry teacher turned secret meth dealer to secure a nest egg for the family he’ll leave behind.
In season three, that egg grows into the millions, as Walt agrees to join forces with Gus (Giancarlo Esposito, appropriately scary as the villain); ironically, he may not have much of a family anymore, as his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn, who doesn’t get enough credit as she should), wants a divorce.
Threads left dangled by season two come back to haunt Walt and former partner/student Jesse (Aaron Paul, also excellent), primarily with their actions in Mexico. It all leads to another stunning turn of reinvention that bodes well for the fourth year, airing this summer.
Laura Linney’s already won the Golden Globe for “The Big C,” but before she did and even if she hadn’t, I think she’ll be taking home the Emmy at summer’s end. As Cathy Jamison, the teacher with an in-shambles marriage, a surly teenage son and seemingly no purpose in life other than getting a swimming pool installed, she’s resplendent, simultaneously conveying joy, heartbreak, courage and fear as she learns she has cancer … and decides not to tell a soul.
Realizing her time on this earth is limited, she changes virtually every aspect of her life. That encompasses kicking her immature husband (Oliver Platt) out of the house; attempting to connect with her son (Gabriel Basso, “Super 8”); trying to strengthen her bond with Sean, her homeless-by-choice brother (John Benjamin Hickey, stealing scenes and providing the show with the largest dose of acidic humor); and making friends with the mean old lady (Phyllis Somerville, “Little Children”) across the street.
In subplots, she dangles cash incentives in front of a foul-mouthed student (Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious”) to get her to lose some much-needed weight; and allows to heart to flutter among a number of men, from her oncologist to a mural painter at the school (Idris Elba, TV’s “Luther”). Watch for Liam Neeson in one episode — the guy is everywhere! — offering a most unique, experimental form of cancer treatment. It involves bees.
Linney is what make the show work. Without her, I’m uncertain that it would. It’s not that the writing isn’t strong — it’s just that she fully embodies the character in a way that most actresses would be unable. While I enjoyed every episode quite a bit, I wonder if this summer’s sophomore season won’t hit a major slump; the finale ends on a note that would have been a perfect series closer.
Extras on “The Big C”’s three-disc set are largely promotional in nature; “Breaking Bad”’s triple-discer has its share of those, too, but inserts some added footage into a trio of episodes, and includes the hilarious Bob Odenkirk as ambulance-chasing attorney Saul Goodman (now in an expanded role) in a number of faux TV spots. —Rod Lott