Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Even Predictability And Mediocre Bonus Features Can't Bring The Big Bang Theory Season 2 Down!

The Good: Funny, Decent acting, Good character development
The Bad: Slightly more predictable than I would like, Light on DVD bonus features.
The Basics: A clever, fun comedy, The Big Bang Theory season two on DVD is worth watching and picking up.

Historically, I was not overly fond of the works of Chuck Lorre that I knew about. I was never a big fan of Rosanne or Grace Under Fire, though I did enjoy Cybil more than most people (and critics). I was especially unimpressed by Dharma And Greg which had a pretty limited concept that soon fizzled out. So, I was especially pleased to discover The Big Bang Theory Season 1 on DVD (click here for that review!) and when the opportunity came for me to pick up the second season on DVD, I leapt on it. I went into the experience with a little trepidation, though. The first season finale left off in a place where I felt the show either had to change radically or it was in danger of falling backward into a sense of repetition. Sadly, my fear was realized when my wife and I sat down to watch the second season of the show. While I enjoyed it quite a bit, it was a bit more predictable than I would have liked and I found myself calling not only the plot points, but the character aspects as well.

This might seem like a little bit of sour grapes on my part, but it truly is an honest evaluation of what I watched on DVD. The "sour grapes" aspect comes from a revelation that came in the middle of the second season where Sheldon Cooper, the super genius reveals that his father is dead. This, alas, made the script I sat down over a weekend and wrote completely moot. Yes, sometimes when I encounter great or good television, I want to be a part of it and I had the idea that there was absolutely no one in the world who would have been better to play Sheldon Cooper's father than David Hyde Pierce, so I wrote an episode for the show which would played Jim Parsons and David Hyde Pierce off one another perfectly. (Note to anyone from Chuck Lorre Productions reading this: I could make the episode work still, if you can get David Hyde Pierce to do the show!)

The second season of The Big Bang Theory, which is essentially an ensemble situational comedy that puts four geniuses in the company of a fairly dim blonde woman, begins where the first season ended. The first season finale found Leonard Hofstadter finally asking his neighbor, Penny, out on a date. The second season begins with Leonard returning with Penny and the guys evaluating how the date must have gone. Sadly for Leonard, Penny and him do not work out on the one date and both resolve to continue being good friends.

The second season progresses with stories like Leonard delivering a paper he wrote with Sheldon at a conference, despite Sheldon's refusal to participate and Penny going on a date with the comic book store owner the guys know. Leonard dates a doctor, which allows Sheldon's desire to get body scans get satisfied and Penny begins to bond with Sheldon when she tries one of the multiplayer computer games. The hijinx continue with Sheldon having to spend a night with Penny when he gets locked out of the apartment and Sheldon bonding with Leonard's psychiatrist mother when she comes to visit.

The show, however, is more of an ensemble comedy and Raj and Howard are along for most of the adventures. Howard makes his move on Penny and, unfortunately, flips the Mars rover into a ditch on Mars. Howard also dates Leonard's ex, Leslie Winkle, and Raj continues to try to learn to speak to women without being completely intimidated. He largely fails, though he manages to get some this season as well. In fact, he manages to hit on Summer Glau while on a train ride by drinking a nonalcoholic beer until Howard ruins his streak by pointing out the lack of alcohol in it. The season ramps up to a season finale that offers the quartet of men a chance for a real scientific opportunity exploring the Arctic!

Unfortunately for fans of The Big Bang Theory, the second season on DVD illustrates a weakness in the series, which is that at this point it is moving toward being a more typical sitcom than a real character study. The humor is more often than not more generic than truly original and fans who loved the first season are likely to discover that there is a great sense of repetition in the plots and character actions this season. For sure, there are some fun episodes, like when the gang builds a robot to go up against a rival scientist's robot, but lacking Howard's engineering expertise at the time, they find themselves severely outmaneuvered. But more frequently, the episodes have simple plots like "Leonard's mother comes to visit and discovers she has more in common than Sheldon" or "Sheldon's sister comes to visit and turns out to be a super hottie that the guys fawn all over." The episodes have a more formulaic feel to them and as a result, the second season feels less fresh than the first.

On the character front, the second season of The Big Bang Theory does remarkably little to progress the principle characters. Penny is virtually assured to say "what?" to Sheldon once an episode while opening her mouth comically wide and Sheldon is pretty much guaranteed to use logic to resolve a hypothetical argument he and the other guys are having over comic books or other science fiction references. Howard has his chance to make a move on Penny and is predictably rejected and Penny and Sheldon finally come to intellectual blows when he expels her from visiting the apartment.

Still, the show is remarkably funny and it is written with a level of diction that is higher than most programs. When Leonard reveals to Sheldon that the Thai food he is eating is not from his favorite Thai place, but rather repackaged by Leonard each time he buys it from a place that is still in business, the joke is fresh, funny and unpredictable. But more often than that, the jokes are predictable, like the various guys visiting Sheldon's sister only to be rejected until the supposed "least likely" one arrives to learn that he is who she was hoping for.

Like most worthwhile television programs, The Big Bang Theory works (when it does, which is frequently) because of the characters. The primary quintet remains the same as the first season and those characters include:

Sheldon Cooper - The super-genius physicist who is quirky and beyond brilliant, but socially awkward. He reveals this season his complete love of trains and he attempts to make a new friend in order to get a prime location using a rare piece of equipment. He is, alas, afraid of heights. He enforces an intricate roommate agreement with Leonard and he spars verbally with Penny frequently,

Penny - The resident blonde who is the object of Leonard, Raj and Howard's romantic affections. She works at the Cheesecake Factory and uses Sheldon's need for consistency against him while working there. She is affectionate toward Leonard, though she continues to date men who treat her less well,

Howard Wolowitz - An engineer friend of Sheldon and Leonard's, he is constantly horny. He discovers satisfaction with Leslie Winkle until she dumps him. This sets off Penny, who reveals to him her exact thoughts on him and he reveals his more sensitive side. Still, he's pretty much a pig with a high i.q.,

Raj Koothrappali - Despite being cut by Sheldon when Sheldon needs to make room for a new friend, he is the heart of the group. He is sarcastic and quietly delivers wicked remarks,

and Leonard - Smart, but far more human than Sheldon, he is a physicist who still wants to connect with others. Leonard pines for Penny, but when she moves on, he begins dating a doctor who he truly likes but is not quite willing to have move in with. He dreads his mother's visit and tries to keep the group of friends together and friendly.

The acting on The Big Bang Theory is much more consistent than extraordinary as the characters settle into their stylistic ruts. So, for example, Kunal Nayyar (Raj) does great work with his sarcastic deliveries, just as Kaley Cuoco does well with alternating between brassy and clueless. But just like Simon Helberg acting smarmy, this is nothing new that fans have not seen from the first season. Still, Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki play off one another and Parsons especially has an amazing sense of physical comedy.

On DVD, The Big Bang Theory Season 2 only comes with a featurette which includes clips from the episodes and this is hardly exceptional for a DVD release. There is very little fans will get on DVD that they will not get by catching the episodes in syndication.

Ultimately, though, this is still a comedy above the curve and well worth watching and picking up for anyone who likes smart humor.

For other comedies, please check out my reviews of:
Sports Night
30 Rock Season 3
Glee Volume 1: The Road To Sectionals


For other television series reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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