The Good: Very funny, Likable characters, Good acting
The Bad: Light on DVD bonus features, Inexplicable character element.
The Basics: Hilarious and filled with more geek references than any other show, The Big Bang Theory is a surprisingly original situational comedy worth picking up.
These days, it takes a lot to get me into a television show, mostly because I'm working on my own and I am hesitant to glean things from other sources. However, when enough people tell me that something is truly magnificent and I absolutely have to see it, I tend to sit up and notice. For the past year, people have been telling me to check out The Big Bang Theory. A few weeks ago, my wife and I managed to snag the DVD set from our library, so I was able to. Now, I am happily adding my voice to those making the plea for people to watch the show. Why? It’s funny and there is nothing else quite like it on television. And there hasn't been.
One of the two creators of The Big Bang Theory is Chuck Lorre. Lorre might be best known for creating Dharma & Greg and Two And A Half Men (which still astounds me for its longevity), so The Big Bang Theory had two strikes against it when I sat down to watch it. After rocketing through the seventeen episodes of Season One on DVD, there are only two other strikes against the series: there wasn't enough of it on DVD yet and a specific character quirk. That's pretty astounding from where I sit.
The Big Bang Theory is a buddy comedy featuring two physicists: Leonard (who still has people skills) and Sheldon (who is so smart he seldom sounds human). Leonard and Sheldon live together doing things like playing Halo and posing philosophical questions to one another. After sneaking out of donating sperm for money, they arrive back at their apartment to discover their neighbor across the hall has moved out and been replaced by a stereotypically beautiful blonde chick named Penny. Leonard is quickly smitten with Penny and Penny likes him as a friend . . . enough to ask him and Sheldon to try to recover her television from her ex-boyfriend across town.
Penny soon gets to know Leonard and, to a lesser extent, Sheldon and their mutual friends Howard (who hits on her constantly) and Raj (who is unable to speak to women, including Penny). Throughout the season, Penny continues to date men who treat her poorly and Leonard acts as a shoulder to cry on. Penny invites the guys to a halloween party where all four come as the Flash before having to scramble to come up with other costumes. Howard has to take one for the team when Penny decides to throw Leonard his first ever surprise party and Raj has a chance with Sheldon's super-hot sister when he happens to be on an experimental drug for shyness during her visit.
Other situations shake the little group of five when the university hires a North Korean super genius whose accomplishments outshine Sheldon's, causing him to retreat even further from life. And when Leonard wins a prop from The Time Machine, the men have to figure out how to divvy up the time with it. All of this leads toward Leonard and Penny getting closer and opening up to the possibility that they might be right for one another.
The Big Bang Theory is an ambitious situational comedy with vibrant, if not instantly likable, characters. Sheldon is the best straightman since the original Star Trek's Mr. Spock and Leonard is enough to make geeks a sex symbol. In fact, The Big Bang Theory paints geeks as sexy and everyone but Sheldon manages to have sex at least once in this season. That's good odds for the people who like the idea that smart is sexy, especially when stacked up against other television geeks.
More than anything, The Big Bang Theory is fun and funny. The dialogue is written to be over-the-top intellectual, but everyone who watches it ought to understand what is going on based on context, if not from the literal jokes. Penny, in that regard, has little to do but frequently stare at the men and look like the dumb blonde she is characterized as. But outside Sheldon, everyone quickly realizes that the way to keep Penny around and interested is in learning her language some.
And herein lies the biggest problem with the first season of The Big Bang Theory. Here are four geniuses who work and play together and their lives are turned upside down by . . . the obvious stereotypical blonde who is not at all on their intellectual level. The other female character in the first season (a recurring colleague of Leonard's played by Sarah Gilbert) is played more like Sheldon, but with sexual needs. The smart men are not looking for smart women, they are looking for the same thing every meatneck jock in the show is looking for: the hot blonde who is pretty ditzy. This does not read as at all true to me. After all, those smart enough to operate on the mental levels these guys are ought to be smart enough to realize that mentally-inferior blonde is what men are conditioned to go for and overcome that. It doesn't take a genius to see that, so how it eludes four geniuses is a mystery to me. My point here is that smart people tend to fall for smart people who are also incredible looking (yes, physically beautiful with brains happens). Yet, from the moment the typical twentysomething blonde is dangled before Leonard, he turns into a horndog. At least with Howard, he hits on every female that comes along in the first season.
Still, this is not enough to drag down The Big Bang Theory in its first season. Why? Because even with so few episodes in the first season, the characters are so vivid and distinct that they make an impression. In the first season, the principle characters are:
Leonard Hofstadter - A theoretical physicist who is instantly smitten by his new neighbor, Penny. Despite this infatuation, he is practical enough to go for other women when Penny does not seem to reciprocate his interest. When Sheldon flakes out on him, he tends to turn to Penny for companionship and looks to include her in things, like Halo night. When Penny makes a crack about his toy collection, he sees the chance to do what society seems to demand of him by giving his toys up,
Penny - The new neighbor from Nebraska, she is ditzy but friendly and is the stereotypical blonde. Virtually everything Sheldon says goes over her head, but she becomes friends with Leonard easily enough. She is charmed by Raj and repulsed by Howard and continues to date jerks while working at the Cheesecake Factory. She likes to party and knows pop culture references like the men know geek things,
Howard Wolowitz - A rocket scientist working for NASA who has his mother living with him. He is Jewish and frequently looks to cash in his bar mitzvah bonds for collectibles or schemes. He hits on every woman he meets and is arguably the most physical of the group (at least with Dance Dance Revolution),
Raj Koothrappali - A painfully shy Indian who cannot talk to women, he discovers he can only speak with Penny or other women when he is drinking or on experimental drugs. Unfortunately, drinking ruins his arranged marriage and the drugs run out before he can score with Sheldon's sister, who is interested in him. He is the heart of the group,
and Sheldon Cooper - A supergenius with no discernible social skills. He lives with Leonard and relies on his roommate for transportation. Penny begins to open him up to more social situations while Leonard frequently challenges him intellectually. He is competitive, but selfish which makes him anything but a team player.
The Big Bang Theory is very well-acted as all of the principle characters are well cast. Kunal Nayyar (Raj) and Simon Helberg (Howard) support the big three of the show and their quirks allow for some of the best one-liners. Nayyar is a master of the dry delivery and Helberg has a great physical presence. Kaley Cuoco is great as Penny, but has very little to do other than show up, look good or look confused and she pulls it off.
Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons (Leonard and Sheldon, respectively) are brilliant and play off one another perfectly. Parsons is the natural successor to David Hyde Pierce for physical comedy performances (Anyone from Chuck Lorre Productions reading this, there is no better choice to play Sheldon's father than Pierce!!!!!) and Galecki is great at both the technobabble and at bringing out the humanity in his character. The two play off one another with some of the best on-screen chemistry since The Odd Couple.
On DVD, The Big Bang Theory is remarkably sparse on extras. In fact, there is only a featurette on the first season and it is little more than a clip show with a few interview snippets talking about casting and the concept of the show. Fans deserve more for their money than that.
Even so, the first season of The Big Bang Theory is a rightful hit and if you're not watching it, there's even more incentive to pick it up on DVD: so you can watch it over and over again!
For other great comedies or wonderful shows for geeks, please check out my reviews of:
30 Rock Season 1
Family Guy Volume 8
For more television set reviews, please check out my index page!
© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.