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The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory is a comedy about two physicists Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper who live and work together in Pasadena, California. They live a comfortable geeky existence until attractive wannabe actress Penny moves in across the hall. CBS 2007-???

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Episode 1 - Pilot

29 March 2012

Synopsis: Brilliant physicist roommates Leonard and Sheldon meet their new neighbour Penny. Leonard is attracted to her and asks her over for lunch to welcome her to the building. He is so kind to her that he and Sheldon end up trying to retrieve her TV from her ex-boyfriend. While they are out she is entertained by their friends, sleazy Howard and silent Rajesh.

The Good: There is a lot to like about the first episode of The Big Bang Theory. The show is headed up by a team under Chuck Lorre who has been heavily involved in Two and a Half Men. You can see the similarities in a few ways and they are positive at this stage. Two and a Half Men is built around clearly defined male characters whose strong bond exists in a confrontation way. The show also tries to get a laugh with most lines in each episode hence the need for constant conversational conflict.

Here we can see a similarly strong dynamic in place. Sheldon has an almost autistic attitude to life (e.g. his insistence on having his seat) where he clearly enjoys the isolation which his genius creates. Where as Sheldon, being less of a genius, would like to mix more with lesser mortals. The conflict between them revolves around Leonard trying to play normal in front of Penny while Sheldon fails to see the point of it, as she doesn’t interest him. The jokes flow nicely from this with Sheldon bringing up “masturbating for money” and Leonard’s lactose intolerance leading him to say of cheesecake “I don’t eat it I just think it’s a good idea.”

Several elements give the show a genuine feel. The long walk up the apartment stairs is a nice touch as it takes away the odd moment in most sitcoms where characters begin a conversation at strangely convenient moments. Penny plays her role well enough at this stage. She is nicely defined as pretty normal and far from flawless with things she says “I’m a vegetarian, well except for fish and the occasional steak, I love steaks!”

Two and a Half Men is not the only show which The Big Bang Theory may remind you of. There is also a resemblance to Frasier. The resemblance is not just in the bond between two geeky men but in their access to a largely unknown cultural universe. Most sit com men are representative of the population, naturally as you would want viewers to relate to your characters. But there is a limit on how many sports and movie references you can write to make characters lives seem interesting and conjure jokes from. Frasier and Niles were high culture aficionados meaning the writers had an ocean of theatrical, literary, musical and artistic references they could make to give their lives colour and humour. Similarly here, Sheldon, Leonard and friends have a huge amount of geeky pastimes to draw humour and stories from. The writers show in the pilot that this won’t be passing references to Battlestar Galactica and Myspace but very real sounding discussions about physics, maths and computers. If written correctly this could give the show a vast resource of plausible and funny material with which to create their world.

The theme tune of the show may not be to everyone’s tastes but it is memorable and swift and may just get stuck in your head. For a sitcom that is an ideal combination.

The Bad: There are times when Sheldon and Leonard are too socially awkward or they attempt to force too many jokes into a conversation. It’s forgivable in the pilot episode but could become grating if it continues in future episodes. Leonard thinking aloud by saying “I’m a male, she’s a female” seems like an attempt to show their dialogue as very scientific. But his behaviour with Penny is normal enough that he could have just said “guy” and “girl.” Similarly he asks Penny whether she has “Some sort of a job” which is an odd way to say it.

Sheldon is of course relentlessly awkward and geeky but he is portrayed as happy that way and so most of what he says is just about plausible. But occasionally he crosses a line (e.g. saying he wouldn’t love his child if he didn’t know how to solve an equation) which makes him look inhuman. These are hopefully just teething problems for the show. Though the story of the geeks getting pantsed by the jock is very stereotypical.

Comic Highlight: Rajesh and Howard burst in excitedly brandishing a DVD. Howard explains “It’s a Stephen Hawking lecture from MIT in 1974.” Sheldon warns that “This isn’t a good time.” Howard replies with a great impression of Hawking “It’s before he became a freaky computer voice.” A nice joke and one that shows the writers can make geeky references which a mass audience will understand.

In Conclusion: Penny is a brave new world for Sheldon and Leonard and it’s a fun start to The Big Bang Theory. The show will have to work hard to maintain the delicate balance between geek jokes and real characters. I wish them luck.

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