Tag Archives: Sheldon

Being “Wrong” in Lost, The Big Bang Theory and So You Think You Can Dance

Being “Wrong”

December 17th, 2009

In an interview with GQ this week (where they were joined by J.J. Abrams and the rest of the Bad Robot crew), Lost co-executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse spoke candidly about their anxieties going into Lost’s sixth and final season (if not so candidly about what that season will involve, as per their spoiler policy leading into the much-anticipated swan song for the series). And in the span of that conversation, Lindelof shared their concern regarding what message viewers will take from the upcoming season:

“But in a lot of ways, the storytelling this year is just us telling people that they were wrong. They’ve built up theories for five years. When a show like this gets to a certain point and then it’s “Oh, man, we were cancelled,” people get to bring their theories with them to the grave. With us, it’s basically like, “No—you’re wrong.” And some people may have been right. Who knows?”

Questions, after all, beg answers, and only those of us with extraordinary will power have managed to avoid hatching an elaborate theory (or two, or twelve) about the island or guessing at where certain characters will end up by series’ end. But what happens when the show has built up five seasons worth of fan-generated answers, only to systematically disprove 99.9% of them over the course of the sixth season? Their job has, as a result, expanded to not only providing answers that satisfy plot or character, but also answers which are so satisfying that they also convince the audience that being “wrong” is not something to be ashamed of.

Because people don’t like being wrong, as a general rule, and they can often respond negatively (likely with “No, you’re wrong!”) when a show seems to be dead set on devaluing their theory, or ignoring a relationship they “ship,” or eliminating a contestant they cheer for. And reading that GQ interview, and witnessing the a Big Bang Theory fan community over the past months, and finding myself responding to tonight’s So You Think You Can Dance finale as if it were “wrong,” I’ve realized that we shouldn’t vilify being wrong; in fact, it’s probably one of the most powerful emotional connections we have to television.

[Spoilers for the So You Think You Can Dance Season 6 finale, and extended ruminations on the question of “wrong,” after the break]

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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 Vengeance Formulation”

“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.

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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 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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Theories on The Big Bang Theory: Why I Hated the Pilot

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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.

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Season Finale: The Big Bang Theory – “The Monopolar Expedition”

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“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.

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The Big Bang Theory – “The Classified Materials Turbulence”

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“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.

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