The Big Bang Theory Beginnings
February 15, 2012 4 Comments
After years of hearing about it, I finally decided to check out the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, which is about some socially awkward scientists living across the hall from a waitress-slash-actress. The Big Bang Theory was created by Chuck Lorre, the dude who also came up with Grace Under Fire, Dharma & Greg, and made his fortune with Two and a Half Man. (Yes, he’s the guy who got Charlie Sheen fired.) Rather than do my usual episode-by-episode trek through the funny, I decided to skim through the seasons, and watch each of the season premieres, starting with the pilot from 2007.
Season 1, Episode 1 – “Pilot”
It’s directed by James Burrows, who has a directing pedigree that is too long to list. Just to pick a couple, he helmed the opening episodes of Cheers and Friends.
To me, the pilot required a little imagination of what the series could become, as opposed to what it is from the start. It does have a cool theme song by the Barenaked Ladies. The jokes are formulaic…
PENNY: Oh, anyways, I’m also writing a screenplay. It’s about this sensitive girl who comes to L.A. from Lincoln, Nebraska, to be an actress and winds up a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory.
LEONARD: So it’s based on your life.
PENNY: No, I’m from Omaha.
…but when Chuck Lorre productions work, it’s because they do formula well.
My interest is sparked by one of the sidekicks, Howard, who has a retro 1960s haircut that reminds me of a young Phil Spector. Howard also has some of the best comic chops from the start, making his entrance with a Stephen Hawking impersonation.
Season 2, Episode 1 – “The Bad Fish Paradigm”
Similar to Season 1, the episode opens talking about food, although this time it’s Penny’s yoghurt rather than the Indian food the boys bought for lunch.
Leonard and Penny are on a date, but it’s awkward in a way that suggests that they just started dating.
Yep, I apparently missed an entire season arc. Their character differences seem to make for interesting drama, including the paradigm behind the episode’s title.
LEONARD: What are you talking about? The date went fine.
RAJ: Dude, she says she wants to slow things down.
LEONARD: Okay, so she said she wants to slow things down. It’s like saying “I’m really enjoying this meal, I’m going to slow down and savor it.”
HOWARD: No, it’s like “This fish tastes bad, so I’m going to slow down and spit it out.”
RAJ: You being the fish.
LEONARD: I’m not the fish!
There’s plenty of typical sitcom boys-and-girls-are-different stereotypes…
HOWARD: The littlest things set women off like “Hey, the waitress is hot, I bet we could get her to come home with us” or “How much does your Mom weigh? I want to know what I’m getting into?”
…and also some digs against us literary types…
PENNY: Has he ever been involved with someone who wasn’t a brainiac?
SHELDON: Well, a few years ago, he did go out with a woman who had a Ph.D. in French literature.
PENNY: How is that not a brainiac?
SHELDON: Well, for one thing, she was French. For another thing, it was literature.
I found the writing tighter than the pilot, perhaps because the characters have already been established. The frame of the story is about the relationship between Howard and Penny, but the bulk of the content of the story is about the relationship between Howard and Sheldon.
Season 3, Episode 1 – “The Electric Can Opener Fluctuation”
Boy, this skipping seasons things means you miss a lot. Start up season three, and there’s already a “Previously, on The Big Bang Theory” announcement that Sheldon is going off to the Arctic and Leonard wonders what Penny means about missing him while he’s gone. I guess they’re not together.
This was the least favorite of the premieres. I am invested in the Penny-Leonard relationship…it’s so easy for a sitcom to grab an audience that way…but mostly bored by this episode. There’s just not much mystery along the way and everything is easy to predict. Sheldon is lied to. Sheldon gets angry. Sheldon gets over getting angry. The End.
Wait — there is one surprise, when Sheldon goes home to Texas, and look! It’s Roseanne’s Laurie Metcalf as Sheldon’s mom!
Season 4, Episode 1 – “The Robotic Manipulation”
They’re back to opening the season with food, this time Chinese food manipulated by a robotic hand. Sheldon’s comment to Leonard about Penny…
I thought you broke up with her. Why is she here?
…clues me in as to their relationship status. More surprisingly, Sheldon is dating a girl named Amy. Apparently Sheldon doesn’t date much.
PENNY: Is this your first date?
SHELDON: That depends. Does square-dancing with my sister at a Teens for Jesus Fourth of July hoedown count as a date?
SHELDON: Then this is my first date.
It’s fun to watch Penny chaperone the two of them on their date.
And then there’s the penis-stuck-in-the-robot-hand subplot. Things have sure changed since I grew up watching Cheers. Cliff never got himself in that situation, although he probably wanted to.
Season 5, Episode 1 – “The Skank Reflex Analysis”
Okay, so I missed a lot, again. Some girl is moving back to India, and I don’t even know who she is. But the bigger shock is…Penny and Raj?? The Big Bang Theory, I thought I knew you!
We now seem to be in full-blown the Friends zone, where the shifting relationships becomes central to the sitcom. (I never did feel fully comfortable with Monica and Chandler becoming a couple.)
Amy is still with us, giving friendly advice to Penny.
You can’t blame yourself. When your prefrontal cortex fails to make you happy, promiscuity rewards you with the needed flood of dopamine. We neurobiologists refer to this as the skank reflex.
Yeah, there’s a lot of slut talk going on.
PENNY: I feel like two totally different people…Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Whore.
But Raj has the best lines of the episode, including
I was wondering if you’re free Friday. They’re having a totally ’80s night at the Greek. Hall and Oates, Katrina and the Waves, and three-fifths of Kajagoogoo.
You can’t ruin a friendship with sex. That’s like trying to ruin ice cream with chocolate sprinkles.
…and one line I never expected…
Screw you, that was a beautifully written penis metaphor.
And with that, I’m all caught up.
My apologies to the fans of the show, but I don’t think that I’m going to catch up on the rest of it. It’s well-constructed sitcom fare, but not geared toward my interests enough for me to keep going…unless Penny and Leonard get back together. Someone please let me know if that happens!