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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 9 - The Cooper-Hofstadter Polarization

29 March 2012

Synopsis: Sheldon and Leonard are invited to present their paper on Super Solids to a physics conference but Sheldon doesn’t want to. Leonard does and they fall out over it. When Leonard goes without him Sheldon shows up and starts a fight.

The Good: The show has found clever ways for its characters to try out new geeky activities each episode. The one for this episode is ideal comedy fodder. The guys set up their appliances to be remotely operated by people around the world through the internet. Penny asks why would they bother and they give the ideal answer “because we can.” It sums up the difference in mind set between those with a passion for something and those without in a funny and believable way.

During their argument at the physics conference Leonard says the following words: “My name is Dr Leonard Hofstader and I could never please my parents, so I need to get all my self esteem from strangers like you.”

The Bad: That line should be the entire focus of this episode. The story should be about what makes Leonard and Sheldon tick. Penny’s involvement should be about teasing out of them what they really care about. And it’s not about their theories or their conclusions, it is about why they do or don’t want the plaudits from a group of strangers. It is that revelation that will make us like them more as characters. It is that revelation that will make them seem more human and drive plots in the future about their need for acknowledgement. It should also explain how and why their friendship works and Penny’s reaction to Leonard should hint at whether they would work as a couple in the future.

Unfortunately almost none of that is addressed. Instead we get a long scene with Penny critiquing Leonard’s wardrobe. Followed by scenes focussing on Sheldon being angry at Leonard and trying to make his head “explode.” Then the final joke of the episode is them having a very geeky fight and rolling around the conference floor. The writers have completely missed the point of what makes arguments really funny and that is character motivations. Instead they barge past this side of the show and go straight to the supposedly funny fight scene.

Comic Highlight: Sheldon’s fake laugh at Penny’s joke by the mail boxes. You have to see it to appreciate it.

In Conclusion: This episode sums up The Big Bang Theory as a show. The similarity with Frasier is very clear here. We saw countless episodes with Frasier and Niles battling for the respect of their peers and the focus was never on how woosy they looked. The show is so close to breaking out from the pack and becoming an excellent character comedy but the writers are missing the point. In the last few episodes in particular they have set up well written plots which fall away rather than making a point. The producers of the show worked for long stretches on Two and a Half Men, a show more concerned with punch lines than characters. I hope that the producers chose to develop the show in a different direction because it can be so much more than it is.

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