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A mix of comedy, drama, illness

"The first season was really about her being in denial. This season is about her getting angry."

So says Laura Linney in resuming her Golden Globe Award-winning portrayal of wife, mother, teacher and cancer patient Cathy Jamison as the Showtime comedy-drama series "The Big C" launches its second season Monday. Indeed, Cathy is now fighting mad as she tackles her illness by undergoing the treatment she previously resisted -- resulting in a sort of "hyper-Cathy," with an even stronger will than before.

That also means challenges for those closest to her, including husband, Paul (Oliver Platt), son Adam (Gabriel Basso), brother Sean (John Benjamin Hickey, a recent Tony Award winner for "The Normal Heart") and student Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe, "Precious"). Sean has even more to consider: Cathy's friend Rebecca ("Sex and the City" alumna Cynthia Nixon) is expecting his child, and he has vowed to stick by her, likely meaning altering his long-noncommittal lifestyle.

"It's tricky, because everybody changes with the knowledge of her cancer," Linney confirms, since many others became aware of Cathy's situation only in last season's finale. "Her being open about it and really dealing with it changes her attitude toward things, and it changes all of her relationships. As happens when someone has a disease of this nature, everyone who knows the person is affected."

As a result, Linney deems the second round of "The Big C" to be "fantastically ripe with opportunities for the writers and the actors. There's nothing like having time with people, working together on a project. It's nice to take a break, then reassemble; everybody knows everybody a little bit more and feels more comfortable, and you can go forth and be a little more ambitious. That's the gift television gives you that other mediums don't."

And Linney should know. Also an executive producer of "The Big C," she also has maintained careers in film and onstage, but her home-screen work has rewarded her with three Emmys thus far for "Wild Iris," "John Adams" and a guest role on "Frasier" as the woman for whom the title character left Seattle (and, essentially, the series).

A television sensibility also helped Linney and her "Big C" colleagues, including fellow executive producers Darlene Hunt (also the show's creator) and Jenny Bicks (another "Sex and the City" veteran) determine the degree of Cathy's condition for purposes of the series.

"Cathy is very sick, but she's still feeling OK," Linney notes. "It's sort of the silent cancer that she has. That's why we chose melanoma, because we knew it would give us the time we needed to have. The character could be active and function."

Such an approach let Cathy have the stamina last season to get furious at Rebecca over the latter's affair with Sean -- and with a baby on the way for the couple, the sailing isn't likely to get smoother.

Soon to start filming the movie "Hyde Park on the Hudson" opposite Bill Murray as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Linney -- who also continues as host of PBS' "Masterpiece Classic" -- has maintained from the start that "The Big C" is not a comedy about cancer but about one person who has it.

"It's not so much about the illness itself," she says, "but what knowing that a life is going to end does. All of our lives are going to end, but when you're really aware that your time is less than you thought it was going to be, what does that do?"