Tag Archives: Jim Parsons

The Big Bang Theory – “The Maternal Congruence”

“The Maternal Congruence”

December 14th, 2009

When running through the Big Bang Theory’s first and second seasons, there is no question that Christine Baranski’s appearance as Leonard’s mother was a highlight for me. I like Baranski in general, and I thought that the idea that Leonard grew up with this level of psycho-analysis was a nice bit of back story for his character, and seeing her interact with Leonard, Penny and perhaps more importantly Sheldon (who she clearly connects with more than her own son) was a lot of fun.

However, these kinds of characters don’t always work when you bring them back again. With the novelty factor gone, the jokes can become stale even if the actress is as good as Baranski (or as good as Elaine Stritch, whose Colleen Donaghy has seen diminishing returns on 30 Rock with every appearance). And parts of “The Maternal Congruence” act as if Beverly Hofstadter’s return is funny because it unearths the same jokes, like Penny’s father issues or Raj and Howard’s latent homosexual feelings, which is the sort of repetition that does the show no favours.

The episode seems smart, however, in how it plays up the ramifications of Sheldon and Beverly’s relationship, allowing it to evolve beyond a single observation (that Sheldon is more like Leonard’s Mother than Leonard) to its psychological impact, allowing Leonard to actually get angry rather than just annoyed with the way his mother treats him. But as opposed to stretching its characters to allow the ramifications of their relationship to really come to the surface, the episode goes down an entirely different path, getting everyone drunk and making fools of themselves to provide a raucous conclusion.

Like many good guest stars, Baranski elevates the material, but forgive me if I can’t help but have a case of Big Bang Theory Weltschmerz: I look at the ideal episode in my head, and then at what we’re actually given, and I can’t help but be a bit saddened (especially considering how the show ended its Christmas episode last year).

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The Big Bang Theory – “The Gorilla Experiment” or “The Athens Recurrence”

“The Gorilla Experiment” or “The Athens Recurrence”

December 7th, 2009

I wasn’t blogging about The Big Bang Theory when the show began, so I’ve never really commented on its titling structure. Each episode becomes a theory, which is totally logical and has resulted in some titles that make episodes seem momentous and potentially life-changing (even if they rarely are). Something like “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis,” though, really captures what makes that episode work, and especially captures Sheldon’s character and the value the show places on him.

That’s interesting with “The Athens Recurrence” (Edit: which apparently was a title that got changed to “The Gorilla Experiment,” which makes this paragraph either irrelevant OR potentially indicative of why it was changed) is that it simultaneously points out how recurrence is both an overwhelmingly positive thing in this universe (which is almost always improved when supporting characters recur and provide a sense of seriality) and a persistent problem (in that the same storylines keep recurring without any real sense that the show is changing). And while I’ve accepted that the former isn’t going to happen, and that the latter is inherent to the show’s setup, there are some times when the show pushes my button by teasing the former but ultimately accepting the latter.

If I had to place this episode within that paradigm, it’s ultimately a wash. I like that we’re seeing a recurring character like Bernadette sticking around, but at the same time the storyline ends up being distinctly unpleasant. And while I thought Sheldon and Penny’s storyline was as charming as their interactions always are, there was an inherent long-term question (basically, why Penny still feels insecure about her intelligence in her relationship with Leonard, and how it feels to have him so quickly latch onto Bernadette) that gets entirely glossed over. It made for an episode that’s great as a logline, but was actually more of a mixed bag than I would have expected.

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The Big Bang Theory – “The Adhesive Duck Deficiency”

“The Adhesive Duck Deficiency”

November 16th, 2009

I’ve not been remiss in noticing that the Sheldon/Penny shipping community has taken an interest in these reviews, and I want to make sure they know that I always appreciate the comments. And, because I’ve been following along with the group, alarm bells went off when this week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory separated Sheldon and Penny from the rest of the group. In some ways, the episode’s opening scenes actually played out like fan fiction, and we were reminded that, as usual, this sort of pairing is when the show is at its best (even if I feel as if the show will never, ever, take this relationship to anything beyond a tenuous mutual tolerance).

However, unfortunately for this episode, something about the storyline never quite lived up to its full potential, and more problematically the other half of the episode was the epitome of half-baked (yeah, I went there). While the Sheldon and Penny storyline was enjoyable in the way that Sheldon stories always are, and Jim Parsons is as hilarious as ever, it lacked (until the end) the heart of their more enjoyable plots. And since the show’s two most interesting characters in terms of creating different dynamics were on their own, this left the rest of the guys to fend for themselves.

And while Sheldon and Penny might be a good combination for the show’s comic potential, nothing can give me back the time spent on the other half of this episode.

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The Big Bang Theory – “The Guitarist Amplification”

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“The Guitarist Amplication”

November 9th, 2009

I want to play devil’s advocate and imagine, for a moment, what actually works about Leonard and Penny’s relationship. See, I don’t think that there is a fundamental incompatibility between these two characters so much as there is a fundamental inconsistency within both characters which often collides in ways that are less than entertaining. When Penny is intelligent and charming, and when Leonard is nervous but earnest, the couple is entirely inoffensive, within the realm of belief if not really setting the televisual world on fire.

However, when their worst character traits are amplified, their relationship is the worst sort of chemical reaction. “The Guitarist Amplification” decides to depict the couple’s first fight, and thus runs into two key problems. The first is that in order to create the fight the show exaggerates Leonard’s worst qualities, making him equal parts clueless and massively insecure. The second is that the show, by never quite dialing in on the relationship enough to make the audience care about it, wants us to root for something that we’re likely not rooting for. The result is a fight that is more annoying than it is funny, and an episode where the writers are almost entirely aware that the only value the show is getting out of this fight is how Sheldon responds to it.

Which isn’t a terrible strategy for the show, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not going to convince me this relationship is going to work.

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The Big Bang Theory – “The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary”

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“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.

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The Big Bang Theory – “The Pirate Solution”

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“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.

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The Big Bang Theory – “The Jiminy Conjecture”

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“The Jiminy Conjecture”

September 28th, 2009

I know it’s unrealistic, but part of me wanted this episode to start with a moment of recognition from Leonard as to how he treated Sheldon last week, and for that matter a moment for Sheldon to reflect on his own behaviour. I know that this is a traditional sitcom, one where the storyline from the week before could well have never happened (to some degree) before this one, which meant that the show will pick up the next day in some ways but not in others, but part of me wanted them to admit that what happened in the season premiere was not just another incident, and that Sheldon quitting his job was not something that can just be rewritten and forgotten.

However, that didn’t happen: there are no apologies, Sheldon magically has his job back, and the only thing that continues on is Penny and Leonard’s relationship. As such, this is my final complaint: I think it was a mistake, and that it tainted what could have been a strong premiere.

Now, moving onto “The Jiminy Conjecture,” this was an example of the show going back to basics by dividing off their characters and letting the Sheldon, Raj and Howard have some fun while Leonard and Penny attempt to figure out their relationship. While my past views on the show can tell you which side of the episode I preferred, it was a fun half hour of comedy at the end of the day, which is more than I can say for the convoluted premiere.

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Season Premiere: The Big Bang Theory – “The Electric Can Opener Fluctuation”

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“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.

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Predicting the 2009 Emmys: Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

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Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Predicting the 2009 Emmys

And the nominees are…

  • Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords)
  • Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
  • Steve Carell (The Office)
  • Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men)
  • Tony Shalhoub (Monk)
  • Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)

This is a battle that I have spent a lot of time thinking about, and even spent an entire post handicapping the category very carefully. There are three major contenders in this race (Baldwin, Carell and Parsons), and all have really compelling cases for their victory. While Shalhoub has won before (too many times), and Sheen is on a very popular show, and Clement is hilarious in his submitted episode (Carol Brown FTW), they are all out of this race that boils down to the safe, the overdue, and the next big thing.

As you’ll see in my handicap post, I think all actors have something going for them. Baldwin has a gimmicky performance that is integrated into all of the stories in his episode (which would be screened in its entirety for voters), Carell displays a pivotal moment for his character while nicely straddling that line between idiot and genius, and Parsons provides the single-most satisfying scene in the show’s two seasons. When you balance those things out against each other, it’s tough to pick a winner based on their tapes alone, especially as they all have their downsides (like Baldwin lacking subtlety, Carell lacking in broadness, and the rest of Parsons’ submission proving less effective).

So, then, it becomes about stories. Baldwin is a safe choice since he won last year and there are no signs of the 30 Rock train slowing down any time soon. And Parsons is (rightly) considered the next huge comic talent that could really breakthrough with a win here. At the same time, Baldwin is too safe a choice in some respects and his submission isn’t as good as last year’s, while Parsons is still young and one feels he is going to have plenty more opportunities to win this award.

As a result, my mind goes to two years ago. It was Alec Baldwin’s first year competing for 30 Rock, before the show really picked up, and the award seemed like a battle between his celebrity and the celebrity of Steve Carell, who was competing for the second time for his work on The Office. However, to the surprise of just about everyone, Ricky Gervais took home the award for his time on Extras, a decision which genuinely shocked people (even Gervais, who didn’t attend the ceremony).

And, as such, I think Steve Carell is going to pull a Ricky Gervais, just as I thought after watching their three submitted episodes. It’s a likeable performance for a character who some may view as unlikeable, and it’s an emotional performance from a show that some people might think cruel and cold. It’s the kind of performance that proves how vital Michael Scott is to the show and how crucial Carell’s characterization is to ensuring its success. And, while Baldwin might be the safe bet and while Parsons might be the epitome of a dark horse, I’ve got my money on the main in the Woman’s suit.

Predicted Winner: Steve Carell (The Office)

The Michael Scott Paper Company arc was the best thing about a strong season for The Office, and its conclusion was one of those moments where the show’s subtle qualities (especially in Carell’s performance) were on full display.

Dark Horse: Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)

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Handicapping the 2009 Emmys: Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

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Handicapping the 2009 Emmys

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Earlier today, as part of my catchup with The Big Bang Theory’s second season (which I’ll talk about in greater detail once I’m done), I came to the episode that Jim Parsons, nominated for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series at this year’s Emmys, has submitted for consideration. Then, sorting through some shows kicking around, I stumbled upon Alec Baldwin’s submission from 30 Rock in the same category, “Generalissimo.” Considering this crazy random happenstance, I figured it was only fitting that I sit down and rewatch “Broke,” Steve Carell’s submission for his work on The Office, in order to complete the trifecta.

Yes, there are six nominees in this category, but realistically the only three that have a chance are the ones listed above. The only two acting races where I would say there are three or less potential candidates are both comedy lead categories, as a combination of tape quality and prevailing opinion will shut out the other three nominees (Charlie Sheen, Tony Shahloub, Jemaine Clement). Once you get to these three, however, things become quite complicated: each has a fairly compelling narrative for victory, and perhaps more importantly they have three very different submission tapes that cover some diverse territory.

At the end of the day, all three actors deliver funny performances, but I think it’s going to come down to which tape best combines the award show narrative and a performance worthy of the Academy’s attention.

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