Picks and Pans Main: TV

updated 08/30/2010 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/30/2010 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The Big C

Showtime, Mondays, 10:30 p.m. ET/PT |

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COMEDY

Showtime, which has developed a specialty line of boutique vehicles for some of the best actresses around, brings you three-time Oscar nominee Laura Linney. The role is suitably heavy-a woman with terminal cancer-but Big C is a comedy, and not even a bleak one. A teacher, wife and mother known for coloring within the lines of her life, Cathy decides it's time to scribble. She starts by chucking out her frustratingly juvenile husband (Oliver Platt). Linney is a coolly intelligent actress with a leveling gaze and a beautifully controlled voice that can coddle or crush. So, no, this isn't a liberated madcap-just a woman finally giving in to intuition and, maybe, joy. The show is cluttered with cutesy sidekicks, including Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) as a student and John Benjamin Hickey as Cathy's homeless brother. But Linney's a big deal.

Melissa & Joey

ABC Family, Tuesdays, 8 p.m. |

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COMEDY

Melissa Joan Hart plays a politician raising a niece and nephew whose folks-in the sort of dysfunctional detail allowed in a family sitcom these days-seem to be white-collar criminals. (Mom's in jail, Dad's on the lam.) Joey Lawrence is their manny. Despite the backstory, the humor is conventionally jolly. Hart has the comic edge over Lawrence: She's girlish and goofy, like a plush-doll Jane Krakowski.

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