Cathy Jamison (Laura Linney) is a middle-aged woman like many others; she teaches English in a local high school, is a neat freak and has a peculiar family; a childish husband, an asshole of a son and an environmentalist to the pain brother.
But one day, her doctor gives her shattering news; she has terminal melanoma, and a year to live. He tells her that she could do chemo, but she refuses.
That ends up being the catalyst for Cathy to break out of her shell and finally live her life to the fullest, including disciplining her son and befriending obese student Andrea.
But she doesn't tell anybody of her cancer
This show has examples of:
- And Starring: (Season 3) Gabourey Sidibe
- Aborted Arc: The Sean-Andrea romance. It looked like at the end of Season 3, Episode 3 that they realized they had feelings for each other. Since then, it hasn't been brought up.
- The Bear: Paul, as explained to him by Lee, who is fond of that sort of man.
- Birth/Death Juxtaposition: Rebecca finds out she's pregnant with Sean's baby at the end of season 1, and since every season of this show is an actual season (roughly three months) she will most probably give birth in season 4 or 5, which are most likely going to be the final seasons.
- Ultimately subverted when Rebecca suffers a late-term miscarriage.
- Catchphrase: Adam can frequently be heard saying "JESUS!"
- Closer to Earth: Cathy used to be, but she doesn't want to be anymore. Literally, Sean.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Andrea walks in on Paul having one of these. Cathy also has one in the bathtub—as she's listening to Lee's voice guiding her through breathing exercises.
- Dead Guy Junior: Rebecca finds out she's having a girl, and decides to call her Cathy. Since the father's Cathy's brother Sean, she will have the exact name and surname as our leading character. Cathy and Paul find it's a bit Too Soon for that.
- Driven to Suicide: Marlene
- Embarrassing Tattoo: In college, Cathy and Rebecca agreed to get matching tattoos that said "a pair of freaks"...except Cathy backed out at the last second.
- It's All About Me: When Cathy tells her she has cancer, Rebecca answers that Cathy 'will be the first of her friends with cancer' and that she (Rebecca) will be forever changed. She didn't think once about how Cathy must feel.
- I Was Just Joking: Cathy tells Sean about her cancer...and then takes it back. Uh-oh.
- This is a Running Gag in the character relationship. Sean had already done this to Cathy a couple of times (including leading her to believe he was molested).
- Jerkass: Adam, and how. Even for a teenager.
- Killed Off for Real: Marlene, Baby Cathy, and Lee. And Cathy herself in the series finale.
- New-Age Retro Hippie: Played with with Sean—he's certainly an environmentalist and against the establishment, but he's also foul-mouthed and lecherous and not exactly 'laid-back.' Could be said about Liam Neeson's character. Lee is also a version of this, being a Buddhist, but he also eats meat, drinks, has anonymous sex and still has some anger/denial issues about his diagnosis.
- Platonic Life-Partners: Lee and Cathy seem to be becoming this, declaring themselves to be "mole-mates."
- Screams Like a Little Girl: Adam, when he thought his mom died. And again when he thought she was a ghost or a zombie.
- Secretly Dying
- Secret Keeper: Marlene.
- Shock Party: In 'Happy Birthday, Cancer' Cathy's party goes fine... then she makes the mistake of saying that she hadn't been that happy in twenty years. Unfortunately, that's the amount of time she's known Paul. He's not happy with that. To his credit, though, he waits until the guests have left.
- Shout-Out: To Dexter. Playing a cruel prank on her son, Cathy lies in a bathtub full of what looks like blood, similarly to Rita. Except, with Rita it wasn't a joke.
- Practically a whole series shout-out to the 1950 movie No Sad Songs For Me.
- Stop Being Stereotypical: Played with—Andrea tells Cathy all about her terrible life in the ghetto with a crack-addicted mother and a murdered father, except it all turns out to be crap and she's from a wealthy, wholesome nuclear family in the 'burbs.
- Technical Virgin: In Season 3, Adam's new Christian girlfriend is saving herself (read: her vagina) for her future husband, but positively gleefully allows him the backdoor entrance
- Teens Are Monsters: Played with with Adam, although he has occasional depth.
- The Man: Sean's entire life is a crusade against this.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Cathy gives this to Andrea in the pilot.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife : Paul to Cathy.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Paul in 'Happy Birthday, Cancer'. Marlene joins in the fun in episode 10.
- Marlene: Cancer doesn't give you the right to be a destructive bitch!
- Your Days Are Numbered: The whole premise.