“The Precious Fragmentation”
March 8th, 2010
The opening to “The Precious Fragmentation” was like a big improv skit. A box of random nerd objects that the gang picked up at a garage sale is revealed to feature a variety of cheap gags, whether it’s Raj wiping a drawn-on penis off of an Aquaman action figure, or Leonard finding a Spock doll with a Mr. T head and suggesting that he “pities the fool who is illogical,” or Wolowitz finding an Alf doll and flashing back to his father’s abandonment. I felt like the show just put out a random box of items that these characters could potentially make jokes out of and let them go.
On the one hand, I think this speaks to the potential humour from this group of people with the right, nerd-friendly material. On the other hand, it’s kind of extraordinarily lazy, the simplest of stories that fails to offer any sort of depth or really any sort of character commentary. It is literally the story of “What happens when the gang finds a single collectible related to nerddom and all of them desire it,” pure sitcom in every form.
And to be entirely honest, I think that’s why the episode was mostly pretty darn pleasant.
“The Bozeman Reaction”
January 18th, 2010
When thieves break into Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment, the pair immediately observe upon their return that their television and their laptops are gone. Sheldon, immediately, gasps and rushes to the bedrooms while Leonard gets on the phone with 911. The audience is completely silent during this entire scene, and then Sheldon returns: he announces that everything is okay, because his comic book collection has not been stolen, and the audience breaks into uproarious laughter.
And thus begins an unfortunate storyline where the audience treats entirely rational and even vulnerable behaviour from Sheldon as if it is a joke. By the end of the episode, Sheldon’s neuroses surrounding the break in do become an actual punchline, and he does overreact to the situation at hand. However, the episode presents a legitimately traumatic situation and yet never once stops to consider the actual consequences for Sheldon as a character, and as a result the episode belittles as opposed to celebrating his character. Jim Parsons delivers some fine moments of comedy in this single-narrative half-hour, but it so actively evaded a far more interesting episode that I just can’t possibly consider it a success.
“The Vengeance Formulation”
November 23rd, 2009
Last week, the show chose to split its story between something that works (Sheldon and Penny) and something that doesn’t (Leonard, Wolowitz and Raj on their own), resulting in an episode that was a mixed bag (although perhaps a bit better than I gave it credit for, as my distaste for the latter perhaps overshadowed the strength of the former).
This week, however, the show returns to more of an ensemble structure, and while nothing reaches the heights of adhesive ducks it’s a solid episode as a whole because it manages a reasonably emotional Wolowitz storyline with a cheap but not ineffective Sheldon storyline. There was every chance for these two elements to go off the rails (based on both the show’s tradition of misusing Wolowitz and the presence of Kripke), so the fact that they stayed moderately in orbit makes this a victory, if not exactly an overwhelming success.
“The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary”
October 19th, 2009
In the cold open to this week’s episode, we get an interesting display of the show’s comic sensibilities. When the scene starts, Wolowitz and Raj are playing a game of Mystic Warlords of Ka’ah, a Magic the Gathering-like card game. The transition of jokes is like a crescendo. We start at the bottom with the audience laughing at a funny card name that wasn’t actually funny, but is funny because “they’re nerds, doing nerdy things!” Then, we find Penny playing the game and not knowing what to do, something that’s a bit more legitimate but still a bit straightforward. And then, we have Sheldon’s eidetic memory ruining the game for everyone by (simply through listening to the game) analyzing what’s left in the deck like a card counter. It’s only then that the humour feels particularly interesting, and that I’m finally really paying attention.
As the cold open, and the remainder of the episode, move on, it’s basically an instance of Sheldon driving the comedy, his eidetic memory rescuing uninteresting storylines revolving around Leonard, Penny and Wolowitz and serving as the foundation for a storyline of his own with Raj and Wil Wheaton. I actually thought the episode did a better job with one setup than I had expected, and not as much as it could have with the other, which made for an interesting if uneven episode that didn’t rile me up but didn’t really impress me either.
“The Pirate Solution”
October 12th, 2009
Usually, my reviews of The Big Bang Theory end up devolving into my frustration with the show’s treatment of Sheldon (a subject that many disagree with) and the ill-advised nature of Leonard and Penny’s relationship (which pretty much everyone agrees with, outside of a vocal minority), but “The Pirate Solution” is a rare occasion where I get to focus my analysis elsewhere.
I often feel that the show is held back by is adherence to the sitcom tradition of a fundamental lack of character development, focusing instead on character interaction. There are episodes where I totally buy into the value of this, accepting that although it holds the show back it nonetheless can result in some really fun comedy. However, there are episodes like “The Pirate Solution” which focus their attention on a character and in the process remind us that while some have turned into full-featured individuals others have, well, not.
Raj Koothrappali is a character who, like Penny, is a good foil for nearly every other character, but when you isolate him on his own things become starkly simple. Kunal Nayyar is an engaging actor, but the problem with Raj is that his lack of development is proving detrimental. When the show designates a Raj episode, it means the show recycles cliched India jokes and once again has Raj’s inability to speak to women prove detrimental. I won’t argue that this isn’t entertaining, as I think the Raj parts of this episode were charming; however, I think that there’s a point here where I wonder why Raj needs to be reduced to these stereotypes, and at what point his evolution would only improve the show’s dynamics.
“The Electric Can Opener Fluctuation”
September 21st, 2009
There are things about The Big Bang Theory that I would consider outstanding. Jim Parsons, without question, is one of them. And on occasion the nerd driven humour, when not operating in spite of the central nerds but rather celebrating them, is legitimately charming. But when the show ended last season, it was not even close to outstanding, settling for a solid “average” on a whole thanks to a mean streak that I honestly don’t understand. While the Television Critics’ Association quite illogically named it “Outstanding Comedy Series,” the show frustrated me even in its second season by turning on its star, Sheldon, in a split second. The finale, as everyone packed up to go to the Arctic, was filled with the other characters (who are supposed to be Sheldon’s friends) desiring to kill themselves as opposed to spending three months confined with Dr. Cooper.
And as it returns from the break, the show remains off course for my personal tastes, taking a step towards an ill-fated relationship between Leonard and Penny and (more dangerously) continuing to subject Sheldon to the kind of treatment usually reserved for lepers. The episode has Leonard, in particular, treat Sheldon in a reprehensible fashion and as a nuisance keeping him from hooking up with Penny, and while this results in some fun material for Jim Parsons and some always charming Penny/Sheldon scenes, it also brings out the worst in the show’s other characters and is resolved without once holding Leonard responsible for his terrible behaviour.
It’s just another example of why, for all my love for Jim Parsons and particular scenes featuring Jim Parsons, this is ultimately a show that in its focus for the future is out to anger me as much as humanly possible.
Why I Hated the Pilot
June 30th, 2009
[While I've blogged about some episodes of the show, and even covered the PaleyFest panel about the show in April, I haven't actually watched The Big Bang Theory with any consistency. I'm watching the show as my thesis breaks over the next few weeks, and while I have no intentions of any indepth thoughts (not that kind of show), I do have a few things to say about the show, and will stop by with them on occasion.]
For a good year, the only thing on this blog on the subject of The Big Bang Theory was an article lumping it in with Cavemen, a problematic judgment that I knew needed to be addressed but didn’t really see any rush in fixing. The show just really turned me off with its pilot, and after watching it there was absolutely nothing that could convince me to keep watching…or so I told myself.
In my head, I had sworn off the show after the pilot, never to watch again after it had offended me so – watching the first season, however, I appear to have watched at least a few of the episodes that followed, whether randomly or purposefully but without much intention. Clearly, my experience with them didn’t override my disdain for the pilot, so going back to that first episode I was still very curious to see if I could pinpoint just what it was that resulted in such vitriol.
I think I’ve found the answer: the thing that made me hate this pilot is, rather than the existence of a laugh track, the execution of said sitcom device.
“The Monopolar Expedition”
May 11th, 2009
Okay, so, admittedly I don’t actually watch The Big Bang Theory recently, but this is the second episode I’ve stopped in on after really enjoying their PaleyFest panel, and it’s the second episode where I feel like there’s something missing. That something, believe it or not, is an ounce of ingenuity in the series’ broader storylines: these characters stand out on their own, and when doing things that only they would do, but this episode was such a bland sitcom episode at its very core that I don’t really think that it ever elevated itself beyond cute.
This, of course, isn’t a cardinal sin: there’s plenty of room on television for a cute sitcom that, when it’s at its best, can actually be quite funny. But what bothers me about Big Bang Theory is that it often feels like one show is trapped within the other, that characters are being held hostage by a show that doesn’t allow them to branch out of their accepted roles to be actually liked, appreciated, or understood outside of “very special episodes” that only happen ever so often.
The result is a finale that lacked that special something that made it distinct from, well, any other episode of the series, but that went through the motions of a sitcom finale so blandly that I couldn’t help but feel bored by, if not the jokes themselves, then the plot unfolding.
“The Classified Materials Turbulence”
May 4th, 2009
I’ve been writing about sitcoms as part of my thesis work, and in doing so I’ve had to define the traditional sitcom in its more basic terms for an academic audience that won’t have quite my obsession with television. So I figured now would be another time to stop by with my new friends at The Big Bang Theory, a series that fits into the mold of actually being able to just “stop by” so to speak. I haven’t yet started catching up on the series, so I’ve still got thirty odd episode episodes to dig into.
This one, admittedly, didn’t do much for me outside of the elements that I find most engaging in the series; it’s clear to me that I’m going to have to spend a number of episodes wishing that the show is spending more time with Sheldon than Leonard, and that I’m going to expect more out of some of the storylines than the show is willing to offer.