Judge Erich Asperschlager reviews movies on a sub-molecular level.
Our reviews of The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Second Season (published September 2nd, 2009), The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray) (published October 16th, 2011), and The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Fourth Season (published September 25th, 2011) are also available.
Leonard (to Penny): I have a board. If you like boards, this is my
As the newest comedy to fill the hole in CBS's Monday night line-up, The Big Bang Theory garnered a loyal enough fan base to swing a second season. With the first new episode less than a month away, let's take a look back on the geek-chic sitcom's freshman season, now available on DVD.
Facts of the Case
Roommates Leonard (Johnny Galecki, My Boys) and Sheldon (Jim Parsons, Judging Amy) spend their days contemplating string theory and their nights playing three-dimensional chess and arguing about comic books with their geek colleague pals Howard (Simon Helberg, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) and Raj (Kunal Nayyar, S.C.I.E.N.C.E). But everything changes for the socially awkward tetrad when midwestern beauty Penny (Kaley Cuoco, Charmed) moves in across the hall.
You've got to hand it to CBS. Over the past several years, they've made a solid attempt at unseating NBC's sitcom dominance, thanks to a strong Monday night comedy line-up. Anchored by the bafflingly successful Two and a Half Men and the legitimately hilarious How I Met Your Mother, the only thing missing for the Big Eye has been a reliable replacement for retired network mainstay King of Queens, which ended its run in 2007. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss vehicle The New Adventures of Old Christine broke the Seinfeld curse back in 2006, even as promising series The Class found itself unable to graduate to a second season. With an open slot in the 8 p.m. hour, CBS rolled its twelve-sided dice on comic-com The Big Bang Theory in the fall of 2007—and it looks like they've got a winner.
Created by Chuck Lorre, the mind behind some of CBS's biggest sitcom properties (including Two and a Half Men and Dharma & Greg), Big Bang pairs industry mainstay Johnny Galecki with relative newcomer Jim Parsons. They might play physicists, but what's most noticeable about them is their chemistry.
Fans of Roseanne (a show co-produced by Lorre) know Galecki as David, young suitor to Sara Gilbert's moody Darlene. Fans of the TBS sitcom My Boys know him as the awesomely annoying "Trouty." Big Bang Theory (which reunites him with Gilbert, who plays Leonard's sometime love interest Leslie) gives Galecki his first chance to shine in a starring role. As by far the most fleshed-out and sympathetic character on the show, Leonard gives the wariest audience members an entree into the geekiest of worlds, and no one is geekier than Jim Parsons' Sheldon.
Sheldon is both fascinating and infuriating. A mix between Niles Crane and Star Trek: The Next Generation's Data, he approaches the world with the kind of arrogant literalism that makes not being a genius seem like secretly winning the lottery. Many episodes center on his inability to understand why he's so darn lucky anyone wants to hang out with him at all. Why, for instance, his three friends might want to kick him off their Physics Bowl team for refusing to let any of them answer the questions, or why hiding out at an all-day Planet of the Apes marathon is preferable to taking care of him while he's sick.
Though Sheldon's dangerously high IQ puts the show in danger of an atomic geekplosion, Kaley Cuoco's Penny brings things back down to earth. As the object of Leonard's not-so-secret affection, and someone who helps bring the guys out of their shells, Penny is basically the reason this show exists. And yet, Big Bang Theory's biggest problem is that she's severely underused. The hilarity of her getting to know the gang in the early episodes takes a dive about a third of the way through the season, until she's little more than a wacky neighbor who drops in on them occasionally, or whom they occasionally drop in on at the restaurant where she works. It's as if the writers knew she'd be a great foil for the geeks, but couldn't figure out how to develop her any further. Although her character gets some much-needed screen and story time at the end of the season—and, if the finale is to be believed, will have even more to do in season two—leaving such a talented actress with so little to do remains the biggest flaw in Big Bang's comic experiment.
Rounding out the cast are Simon Helberg as horny Jew Howard Wolowitz, and Kunal Nayyar's Rajnesh Koothrappali—a man so terrified by women, he's unable to utter a syllable in their presence. Both manage to transcend the caricatures they often threaten to turn into.
The best and worst that can be said for The Big Bang Theory is that it's a solid show. Unlike many traditional sitcoms, the jokes are actually funny. Unfortunately, like many traditional sitcoms, the plots are…well…traditional. Most of the action takes place either in Leonard and Sheldon's apartment, or Penny's apartment, or where Leonard and Sheldon work, or where Penny works. One of the things the best modern sitcoms (My Name is Earl, 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother, etc.) have proven is that variety is the spice of comedy. Those shows rely on outrageous plots and unlikely scenarios. Big Bang Theory, meanwhile, focuses way too heavily on staid sitcom storylines—the Halloween party episode, the episode where the guys vie for a pretty girl's attention, the episode where someone's mother visits. The show's saving grace is that the characters and writers are able to make standard plot devices feel fresh and funny.
The Big Bang Theory: The Complete First Season features all 17 episodes of the strike-shortened season in industry-standard anamorphic widescreen. The colors are bright and crisp—an important plus in a show where its characters wear a revolving wardrobe of comic book themed t-shirts and are surrounded by all manner of geek memorabilia including, in one episode, a replica of the Time Machine used in the 1960 film. The sound is limited to surround stereo, but it gets the job done and serves The Barenaked Ladies' catchy theme song well through the many, many times you'll end up hearing it.
The set's lone extra is a 17-minute behind the scenes featurette called "Quantum Mechanics." It's mostly clips from the show interspersed by Chuck Lorre and executive producer Bill Prady talking about how wonderful everyone is.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One of the reasons I avoided The Big Bang Theory when it first aired was that networks don't have the best track record when it comes to representing nerd characters. Even ignoring the most outrageous offenders—Urkel and Screech, I'm looking at you—it seems whenever a script calls for a geek, an executive panic sets in that says, "Our audience can't relate to these characters, so we'd better limit what they say to Star Trek references." Though Big Bang deserves props for giving its audience enough credit to understand references to Green Lantern and Tron. Unfortunately, the show often relies on the old stand-bys. Star Wars jokes abound, as do references to Lord of the Rings and juice boxes.
But perhaps the biggest problem is that, despite painting its main characters as socially awkward geeks, there's a lot of effort put into trying to get them laid. By mid-season, three out of the four guys have had sex, and Wolowitz spends pretty much the rest of the season trying to do it again. Given the characters, it just doesn't seem right. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but would it be so wrong for Leonard to pine for Penny in a way that doesn't point out that his ultimate goal is to get her between the sheets?
The Big Bang Theory deserves its second season, and if you missed the series last year, this is a good time to catch up—though you may just want to give it a rental. There's room for improvement, but like any object at rest, this show is full of potential. All it needs is a push to make it great.
Since I can't understand what any of those formulas mean, I'll have to take your word for it. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "Quantum Mechanics Of The Big Bang Theory:" A Behind-The-Scenes Look Into Geek Chic
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