Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Moving The Characters Forward, The Big Bang Theory Season Five Is Better Than It Is Audaciously Funny.

The Good: Character development, Many of the jokes
The Bad: Plots are very formulaic, The humor is very predictable by this point.
The Basics: In its fifth season, The Big Bang Theory is funny, but makes more of a mark by advancing the characters in the show well.

The longer a television show goes on, the harder it is to keep it fresh. This is especially true of sitcoms when they have very few characters and they are built on a simple “gimmick.” For all of my love of The Big Bang Theory, the show is built on a very simple premise: a smart guy falls in love with a neighbor while enduring his socially-awkward genius roommate. So, by the fifth season of the show, it would be perfectly reasonable for me to be pretty sick of the show, especially as its humor has become more telegraphed and familiar. Even when I cannot call the next joke, it is pretty easy in the fifth season to call the type of joke because by this point, the casual throwing around of physics jargon and the snide remarks of Sheldon are pretty obviously paced.

But what keeps the fifth season of The Big Bang Theory interesting, worth watching and worth picking up on DVD is how the show grows beyond its original framework. In the fifth season, The Big Bang Theory dares not to be funny and when that happens, the show becomes sweet and smart and character-driven in a way that it has not always been. This is greatly assisted by the more permanent presence of Mayim Bialik’s Amy Farrah Fowler and Melissa Rauch’s Bernadette. Sometimes, adding new (and the right) characters works and Amy and Bernadette enhance The Big Bang Theory in a way that helps make season five of the show feel truly fresh again.

In the fifth season of The Big Bang Theory, serialized elements include Leonard dating Raj’s sister Priya – mostly as a long-distance relationship, Amy and Sheldon getting closer as Amy becomes increasingly attached to Sheldon, and Howard and Bernadette moving toward their wedding and negotiating with one another. One of the biggest negotiations comes in the form of Howard getting offered the opportunity to go to outer space and Bernadette being concerned about what that means for them (she is terrified he will die in space and wants to veto the mission). Recurring elements like Shedon’s conflicts with management at the college, Wil Wheaton, and Barry Kripke pop back up through the season as well.

In this season, there are usual episodic elements as well. One episode, for example, has Leonard confronting his childhood bully while another puts Sheldon at Amy’s lab as part of his forced vacation from work. Sheldon has to learn to do the right thing when he opens and breaks the vintage Star Trek toy Penny got him . . . which he then swaps with Leonard’s identical one. Sheldon humiliates himself to meet Stephen Hawking and learns to overcome his fear of birds. Another episode focuses on everyone in the gang pranking Sheldon on Halloween.

As it has in the past seasons, season five of The Big Bang Theory is a mix of technical jargon and a generally higher level of diction than what one usually finds on television and exceptionally predictable plot and character arcs that pretty much define the sitcom. In the fifth season, this unfortunate dichotomy is enhanced by an increased focus on character elements, usually relating to Amy and Sheldon and Bernadette and Howard. While Leonard goes through the predictable and inevitable breakup with Priya to return his focus to Penny, Howard and Bernadette actually wrestle with adult decisions that come from moving toward marriage. Howard and Bernadette wrestle with making big life decisions (like going into outer space and prenuptial agreements) together and that pushes the envelope out from where the show has been.

In the fifth season, the principle characters of The Big Bang Theory remain:

Sheldon Cooper – In this season, the esteemed physicist makes a relationship contract with Amy and deals with Leonard dissolving their roommate agreement, essentially leaving him helpless. He is still arrogant, but he works with people to get what he wants, like willingly degrading himself to Howard when Wolowitz has an in with Stephen Hawking. He neglects Amy more often than she would like and slowly learns to prioritize her (and feel for her),

Amy Farrah Fowler – Still working to be Penny’s “bestie,” she is thrilled to be a Maid of Honor for Bernadette and Howard’s wedding. Socially awkward, she dates Stuart once and uses Sheldon’s jealousy to push their relationship forward,

Howard Wolowitz – Thrilled to be marrying Bernadette, he discovers he has to compromise. Irked about having to sign a prenup and meet Bernadette’s father, he starts to experience real anxiety. Despite all his friends (and fiancĂ©) having Doctorates, he is offered the singular honor of going into space, which stresses his relationships with Bernadette and Raj,

Bernadette – More pragmatic than Howard, she is pressured into asking him for a prenup. She tries to be nice, especially to Amy when she realizes that her and Penny shopping for bridal supplies has offended her. She reveals to Howard that she is not a fan of children,

Raj Koothrappali – Working to get past his love for Bernadette, he has to deal with having slept with Penny. He discovers he can talk to his digital assistant,

Penny – Sparring with Sheldon and quietly pining for Leonard, she is actually quietly thrilled when Leonard and Priya break up. She helps Bernadette with wedding plans and does a good deed by keeping Amy company when Sheldon is a jerk,

and Leonard Hofstadter – He tries to be a good guy, which means being up front with Priya when a comic book artist makes an advance on him and he is intrigued. In the wake of his relationship with Priya, he slowly turns back to Penny.

The acting in the fifth season of The Big Bang Theory is virtually flawless. By this point, all of the actors know exactly what they are doing. Guest stars like Wil Wheaton, Brent Spiner, and Stephen Hawking all interact easily with the main cast.

Ultimately, season five of The Big Bang Theory picks up the momentum and direction of the prior season well and sets up a potentially wonderful sixth season.

For other seasons of The Big Bang Theory, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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