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Television Collision: The Big Bang Theory for Comedy Gold

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

TV Editor Phoebe Raven has been so occupied with watching reruns of past episodes of The Big Bang Theory, it consumed all her time, and since she was unable to come up with a theorem that expands the time in a day from 24 to 48 hours, she decided to reiterate her points about why The Big Bang Theory hits all the right notes.

Amidst all the commotion surrounding the Grey’s Anatomy musical episode that aired last Thursday (more thoughts on that further below in the all-new podcast), it was easy to miss another show’s return from spring hiatus, namely The Big Bang Theory. And it returned with, well, a bang.

I believe this show always does particularly well when it sends its characters on road trips, if only for the hilarious antics that ensue when you stuff all these characters into the space of a car without any way to escape one another, which is when Sheldon does his best work. This episode didn’t disappoint on that front, sending the gang on a mission to retrieve Sheldon’s stolen World of Warcraft gear, heroic questing soundtrack included. And Sheldon almost had me convinced that SeaWorld can be “tons of fun”, though when I was there a decade ago all I could feel was moral outrage, but that’s a different story.

At any rate, Dr. Sheldon Cooper has to be one of the best comedic characters ever conceived and is perfected by the way Jim Parsons plays him. Usually within the confines of a TV comedy, I am of the school of thought that there should be some dramatic moments included and the characters should undergo an evolution, change and grow over time (in contrast, other people believe comedy should focus on just making us laugh, no hugging and kissing and growing). With Sheldon, however, I don’t think I want him to ever really change. Of course, if you compare Season Four Sheldon with Season One Sheldon, you can already see a bit of growth in him, for which I give Penny almost all of the credit. But Sheldon’s core values aren’t likely to change and I like it this way, because he makes me laugh and yet I genuinely care about this character and believe he is a good person. He is arrogant beyond irritating levels, but he sort of has a right to be. No matter how hard I try, I can’t be mad at Sheldon.

Interestingly enough, Sheldon reminds me of someone I actually know in real life (right down to body type, I am telling you, it’s scary), so maybe that’s why I relate to Sheldon so much. Given the way the entire show is built around Sheldon as the core and center though, it’s important to keep this center stable, while the orbiting characters travel around him, and The Big Bang Theory does this exceedingly well, with two characters in particular: Leonard and Penny. Leonard and Penny are the new Ross and Rachel, only I think they are even better than Ross and Rachel.

Let me tell you why: Leonard and Penny are both growing into people more likable and more adult and more mature over time, whereas at least Ross took a serious turn towards the “laughable” and “pathetic” in Friends. Ross started out as the nerdy brainiac with a heart of gold and by Season Eight had turned into the whiniest, triply-divorced, cradle-robbing (remember Elizabeth? Bruce Willis played her dad?), over-the-top man-child. It was painful to watch Ross at times in the last two to three seasons of Friends and by the end of its run I felt Rachel had far outgrown him.

The story for Leonard and Penny is different. And it’s better. Similar to Rachel, Penny started out being a little shallow, a little slutty, a little gullible, but Penny always had the strength to rely on herself, make her own money and believe that one day she was going to make it as an actress. As of now, Penny’s life is still somewhat of a mess, she is no closer to becoming a successful actress, but as a person she has grown immensely. Not only has she experienced a long-term, honest relationship with Leonard (which will no doubt resume at some point), but she has also found a friendship that runs deeper than brains and intelligence, she has found her place in the world within the most unlikely of groups, she is the person the Fab Four rely on in their time of crisis.

Don’t believe me? Well, who did they call this past episode to pick them up after failing to retrieve Sheldon’s stolen World of Warcraft goods? Penny, of course. Not Howard’s girlfriend Bernadette, not Leonard’s girlfriend and Raj’s sister Priya (whom I firmly believe to be an unfunny, temporary obstacle, much like that British minx Emily on Friends). When confronted with “the real world”, the person these four science geniuses trust to know what to do and to fix things is Penny (she did get Sheldon his WoW gear back after all!). She has knowledge (and wisdom) just as valuable as all the equations, theorems, derivations, formulas etc. stored in Sheldon’s brain, if not more valuable.

As for Leonard: he, too, is growing into a more well-adjusted person (not that he was so screwed up in the first place, he was just very insecure) and his greatest attribute is not knowing what an impressive man he is. Sure, half the time he blindly stumbles from one emotional surprise into the next, always astonished when good things happen to him, but at least he has the good sense not to marry ever woman in sight. Most of the time, without even knowing it, he makes the most mature decisions of any of the characters. If Penny can win back his trust and mend his broken heart, in ten years time or so – when the show could possibly air its grand finale (the ratings are strong, this show can go on forever!) –  I believe I will cry my eyes out when Leonard and Penny finally get married. It will be awesome!

On small exception to the show’s all around awesomeness is this: while I do feel for Chuck Lorre these days, the creator of TBBT and the much beleaguered Two and a Half Men (the whole Charlie Sheen drama-rama was/is nasty), the vanity cards at the end of his shows I can really do without. They hamper the fun, especially when they are as self-indulgent as the one after this last episode of TBBT. I think these vanity cards sully the great quality of TBBT and I believe Lorre should take solace in the huge success TBBT is and use that to cure his pain (which stems from a DIFFERENT show), instead of therapeutically sharing it with all of us and putting a damper on the fun twenty minutes of comedy that came before.

In any case, since you can only read the vanity cards when you DVR the show and hit the pause button (or look them up on the internet a day later), this may be a moot point for most viewers. All the better, enjoy TBBT without reservation.

The Big Bang Theory strikes exactly the right balance between letting its characters grow by including dramatic and emotional scenes and providing hilarious hijinks week after week. If you didn’t laugh at the simply-leather-clothed battle ostrich named Glenn that was stolen from Sheldon last week, then I don’t know what’s wrong with you (and I say this never even having played WoW). And if the scene in the clip below doesn’t have you in hysterics, then you are just beyond my help.

When a show manages to realistically portray true nerds/geeks like Sheldon & Co. (where some other shows are pseudo-nerdy, merely name-checking the latest hypes in geekdom) as well as “normal people” like Penny, then the humor can really soar, because it doesn’t feel contrived, it just results from putting these characters in one place. And that’s comedy magic.

Need more TV coverage? Check out the ALL-NEW “Television Collision: Podcast Extra, Episode 1” below.


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