Cable TV has been a great refuge not just for women over 40 (Damages, In Plain Sight, Weeds, Nurse Jackie), but a refuge for great women---both characters and the actors who play them. Following the lead of Glenn Close, Mary McCormack, Mary-Louise Parker and Edie Falco is Laura Linney, who’s created a unique, awards-laden career hopping between films (You Can Count On Me), television (John Adams) and New York theatre (she’s got two Tonys). In The Big C she’s Cathy, who’s been diagnosed with stage four cancer and not told anyone, including her estranged man-child of a husband (Oliver Platt), activist brother (John Benjamin Hickey, who gets all the swears) and prankster son (Gabriel Basso). Cathy’s spent her adult life as a pleasant doormat, but this diagnosis changes her outlook and she starts to live again, on her own terms, without explaining her sudden character shifts, at least in the early episodes. The Big C is actually comedy, and the pilot is very, very funny---the rare premiere to nail the show’s tone without awkwardness or confusion---but never cartoonishly so, and it helps to have Linney, such a fine, grounded, open actor, at its centre, armed with one-liners and a Streepian crying reflex that you can expect to break your heart repeatedly as things inevitably get worse. Cathy is also notable for not being a reprehensible asshole, a first in this golden age of cable protagonists.