Warner Bros. // 2010 // 501 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // September 25th, 2011
"Despite their tendency to build Death Stars, I've always been more of an Empire man."
The fourth season of TV's biggest comedy changes things up a little. Is it getting better with age, or has The Big Bang Theory jumped the shark already?
Here are the 24 episodes that make up The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Fourth Season, spread across three discs:
* "The Robotic Manipulation" -- Sheldon (two-time Emmy Award winner Jim Parsons, Garden State) goes on his first date with Amy Farrah Fowler (Blossom's Mayim Bialik), and Penny (Kaley Cuoco, Hop) is forced to chaperone; Howard (Simon Helberg, The TV Set) suffers an injury at the hand of a robotic arm.
* "The Cruciferous Vegetable Application" -- Sheldon decides to get healthy so that he can live forever.
* "The Zazzy Substitution" -- Sheldon and Amy Farrah Fowler "break up," leading Sheldon into a downward spiral that includes adopting 25 cats. Laurie Metcalf (Dear God) guest stars.
* "The Hot Troll Deviation" -- Howard tries to win back Bernadette (Melissa Rauch, True Blood); Sheldon and Raj (Kunal Nayyar, Ice Age: Continental Drift) fight over office space. George Takei and Katee Sackhoff guest star.
* "The Desperation Emanation" -- Leonard (Johnny Galecki, Suicide Kings) asks Howard to set him up with one of Bernadette's friends; Sheldon tries to avoid Amy Farrah Fowler after she asks him to meet her mother.
* "The Irish Pub Formulation" -- Raj's sister Priya (Aarti Mann, Heroes) returns to town and spends the night with Leonard.
* "The Apology Insufficiency" -- Sheldon reveals a damaging secret to an FBI agent (guest star Eliza Dushku of Dollhouse) conducting interviews about Howard.
* "The 21-Second Excitation" -- The gang camps out to see a screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark; Penny, Bernadette and Amy Farrah Fowler have a girls night.
* "The Boyfriend Complexity" -- Penny's dad (Keith Carradine, Deadwood) comes to town, so Penny asks Leonard to pretend they're still dating; Howard, Raj and Bernadette spend the night together.
* "The Alien Parasite Hypothesis" -- Amy is turned on by one of Penny's ex-boyfriends (Brian Smith, Concrete Blondes); Howard and Raj compete to see who is the superhero and who is the sidekick.
* "The Justice League Recombination" -- The gang all dress up as The Justice League to win a costume contest.
* "The Bus Pants Utilization" -- The boys have to fire Sheldon from their most recent project: developing a new smartphone app.
* "The Love Car Displacement" -- Everyone argues while carpooling on the way to a science conference.
* "The Thespian Catalyst" -- When Sheldon gets bad reviews after teaching a class, he turns to Penny for acting lessons; Raj develops a crush on Bernadette.
* "The Benefactor Factor" -- Leonard may have to sleep with a potential donor (Jessica Walter, Arrested Development to secure funding for the department.
* "The Cohabitation Formulation" -- Howard is forced to choose between Bernadette and his mother.
* "The Toast Derivation" -- The boys hang out at Raj's house to spend an evening away from Sheldon, causing Sheldon to form a new group of friends for himself.
* "The Prestidigitation Approximation" -- Priya asks that Leonard no longer see Penny; Sheldon tries desperately to figure out Howard's new magic trick.
* "The Zarnecki Incursion" -- When Sheldon's World of Warcraft account is hacked and robbed, the gang all comes to his aid.
* "The Herb Garden Germination" -- Howard and Bernadette take a huge step forward; Sheldon and Amy Farrah Fowler experiment to see how quickly a rumor will spread.
* "The Agreement Dissection" -- Priya challenges the Roommate Agreement; Sheldon goes out for girls' night.
* "The Wildebeest Implementation" -- Bernadette acts as a spy for Penny during a double date with Howard, Leonard and Priya; Raj tries a new social anxiety drug.
* "The Engagement Reaction" -- Howard breaks some big news to his mom and she winds up in the hospital; Leonard gets nervous when Priya and Penny start spending time together.
* "The Roommate Transmogrification" -- Disturbed by the relationship between Leonard and Priya, Raj moves in with Sheldon.
I came late to The Big Bang Theory. I knew it was a popular show and checked it out a few times, but it usually left me cold. People were always telling me to watch it because it's a show about nerds (and, being a nerd, I should like it), but it seemed to me like a show about nerds that was written by people who aren't nerds. It was an approximation of nerd culture, so the characters talked about comic books and Star Trek and video games and stuff, but not really in the way the people who love those things actually do. Plus, the performances seemed a little on the nose, as though the actors were playing "geeks" in quotes -- the clothes, the haircuts, the vocal affects all had more in common with the stereotypical nerds seen on something like Saved by the Bell than with anyone who exists in the real world.
Watching more and more of the show either melted my defenses or I came to appreciate all the things the series does right over time. The geek references improved and became more genuine. I warmed to the broad portrayal of the characters and even came to really like several of them. More than anything, though, I came to appreciate The Big Bang Theory not as a show about geek culture, but as a really strong ensemble comedy. Unlike co-creator Chuck Lorre's other massively popular series, Two and a Half Men, the show isn't simply gag-driven. It's more of a character-based comedy than I ever gave it credit for, and the ensemble has only improved their timing and chemistry as the series has gone on. Where I once resented Jim Parsons' Sheldon Cooper as little more than a writers' construct, I've actually come to really like him as a sitcom character. Though it's never explicitly stated, Sheldon appears to be living with some sort of Autism Spectrum disorder (most likely Asperger's), and I can't think of anywhere else on TV where such a thing is portrayed -- and on a comedy, no less.
Season Four finds The Big Bang Theory in something of a state of flux. The best change is the addition of Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch, as Amy Farrah Fowler and Bernadette, respectively, to the regular ensemble. Not only do they give a much-needed kick of estrogen into a boy-heavy series, but also do what every good supporting character should do: they help enrich the main cast while still being funny on their own. Giving Penny a couple of girlfriends to bounce off of -- especially when they're basically just female versions of her guy friends -- has been a lot of fun and helps deepen Penny as a character. She is no longer the pretty girl slumming with the nerds because they happen to live across the hall and she's lonely; she's now one of them, and her acceptance (and even embrace) of that role has made the series better. It's no longer about being on the outside and looking in -- a series of "Boy, aren't these geeks geeky!" jokes. Their world has become more insulated, and The Big Bang Theory is, in many ways, better for it.
On the other hand, the character of Penny is largely marginalized this season. While I'm happy that there isn't a ton of "will they or won't they?" between her and Leonard hanging over the season, it seems like now that the possibility of romance has cooled, the writers aren't sure what to do with her. I like the scenes of her, Amy Farrah Fowler and Bernadette hanging out together, but they often exist in spite of the stories and not as a part of them -- their actions are independent of the rest of the show. And while she and Leonard are no longer an item, he still pretty much defines her character this season. She spends a lot of time moping about their breakup and being jealous of his new relationship with Priya. She's not enough of her own person any more, but is instead just a side effect of Leonard. The Big Bang Theory needs to figure out how to integrate her back into the main group without reverting back to its old "regular girl living amongst the nerds" dynamic. I'm happy that those walls have been broken down, but the show needs to figure out what's going to take their place.
The DVD release of The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Fourth Season should come as no surprise to anyone who has been keeping up with the series thus far. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers look fine -- they're as good or better than the show looks in its original broadcast format (unless you're watching it in HD; in that case, a Blu-ray is also available). The 5.1 surround audio track is adequate, too, delivering the dialogue and constant laugh track (though, to be fair, the laughs are recorded live) clearly and cleanly. The opening theme is considerably louder than the show proper, likely because it's actually utilizing all five channels, so you may need to keep a steady hand on the remote and be prepared to adjust the volume once and episode. It's certainly not a deal breaker, though.
The special features are very sparse. There are no commentaries (a couple of cast chats would have been fun, as it would provide an opportunity to hear the actors out of character) or deleted scenes, only a featurette in which cast members interview one another (called "The Big Bang Theory's Theory of Relativity"), a short piece on the theme song by Barenaked Ladies (as well as a video for the song) and a moderately amusing gag reel. That's it. Nothing special.
Season Four of The Big Bang Theory has a lot of problems, but they're balanced out somewhat by what the season does right -- namely, bringing Bialik and Rauch on as pretty much full-time cast members. I hope things are worked out in the next season (which is already underway), but there's still plenty to like here. I don't know if it's going to create any new fans, but those folks already invested in the series should be happy with the way the characters are growing and their universe is expanding.
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 501 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Gag Reel
* Music Video
* Official Site