by Meredith O’Brien
Back in March, the Wall Street Journal ran a feature story saying that Showtime had been busy fashioning itself into a showcase for mothers who’ve become unhinged  in one way or another. And since that article was published, the moms of Showtime have more than proven the Journal right by pushing the envelope, picking up where the first season of the suburban satire Desperate Housewives (when it was good) left off.
Weeds , which is now in its sixth season, is credited with starting the mini-trend of “flawed” female lead characters on cable, showcasing the Golden Globe-winning Mary-Louise Parker as a suburban mom who was suddenly widowed and left with two kids to raise and who turned to pot dealing in order to maintain her affluent lifestyle.
Since premiering, Parker’s Nancy Botwin accidentally got her suburban neighborhood burned down (some gangsters who were protecting Nancy from other gangsters set it on fire). As her house burned, she grabbed her kids and fled, started dealing pot again and commenced working with Mexican drug dealers. She bedded a crooked, drug dealing politician, got pregnant with his baby and married him. The new season, which began last month, featured Nancy once again on the run with her sons and former brother-in-law, this time changing their names and heading to Seattle, trying to keep away from the FBI and from her husband after her middle son used a croquet mallet to kill a woman who’d threatened the Botwin family’s safety.
In addition to Nancy Botwin’s never-ending campaign for mother of the year, there’s Nurse Jackie ’s Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco), a nurse and mom of two elementary schoolers who’s not only addicted to pain killers but has been cheating on her adorable, bar-owning husband. In the show’s season finale in June, Jackie’s husband and best friend confronted her about the drugs, an allegation that she flatly, smugly denied to their faces. (Falco won an Emmy for her role.)
On The United States of Tara , the lead character, Tara Gregson (Toni Collette, who won the Emmy last year for her role) copes with multiple personalities which pop up at the most inopportune moments, making the lives of her husband (who had to deal with Tara’s affair with another woman) and two kids messy and unpredictable. The recent season ended with Tara learning that when she was a child, she and her sister had been temporarily put in a foster home after Tara was sexually molested by her half-brother, hence the alternate personality who took the form of a shrink.
Now in a new comedy, The Big C , Laura Linney has added her acting chops to Showtime’s mix of dysfunctional moms. Linney is Cathy Jamison, a high school history teacher who, after getting diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma, went a little crazy. Or a lot crazy.
She decided not to tell anyone about the fact that she has cancer and (at least for now) has opted not to pursue treatment. Cathy then booted her husband Paul from the house without really giving him a reason after she decided she didn’t want to be his wife anymore or clean up after him. When her 15-year-old son Adam wanted to know why his dad was living at his aunt’s house, Cathy, usually very responsible and uptight, didn’t give him any answers. Instead, she canceled his six-week summer soccer camp trip, used money from her 401K account to buy an expensive sports car, poured wine all over her sofa and flirted inappropriately with the young dermatologist, the only one (other than her neighbor) who knows she’s sick.
Drug dealer. Unfaithful drug addict. Multiple, unstable personalities. Stage four cancer: Showtime’s leading ladies are not only getting good critical buzz and are also having one dramatic go of it.