The Big Bang Theory: four seasons so far

May 22, 2011

After a painstaking analysis of four seasons of the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, my head is full of the episodes and not much else.

You can’t really watch a sitcom at its regularly scheduled time. Commercials and the week’s distractions get in the way. No, to really watch TV nowadays, one must download the episodes, cue them up on a DVD or memory stick, and then set the player to run them in succession.

It helps the “jacked in” effect if the viewer puts on a good set of sound-excluding headphones to intensify the experience. Then one can enter the alternate universe of the sitcom.

It is no surprise that The Big Bang Theory is the most popular T.V. download on the Internet.  It’s a clever, well-written show, even when mainlined in a single sitting.

An episode usually begins with the four friends eating. The sameness of their meals, either in the lunchroom at the university lab in Pasadena where all are employed, or in the living room of roommates Leonard and Sheldon, serves as a springboard for the conversations which largely make up the interest of this program.

Sheldon, the scary-smart physicist, is a thirty-year-old child whose quirks produce much of the action in the series. The other three nerds are saved from typecasting by well-developed back stories, a series of neuroses which gain some viewer sympathy, and uniform anxiety in the presence of women.

Raj, the cosmologist, is so bothered by the presence of a nubile female that he becomes mute unless he has alcohol in his system. Too much alcohol, though, and he has a hard time keeping his clothes on. Raj is not a man of moderation.

Harold, a frail momma’s boy who works as an engineer on NASA projects, is so intimidated by women that he adopts an aggressive, roguish persona which puts everyone off. Harold’s lack of a PHD sets him up as the underdog in the group, but his connections give him access to all sorts of neat toys, from a space toilet he must fix in one episode, to a black ops satellite diverted to photograph models sunbathing, and the Mars Rover, access to the controls of which he uses to get girls until he gets it stuck in a ditch.

The most sympathetic of the four is Leonard, another physicist whose forays into the world of love are hampered by his short stature and a crippling psychologist-mother who seems incapable of affection.

The world of these four friends gains interest with the arrival of the new neighbour, an attractive would-be actress from Nebraska who works as a waitress. Penny quickly discovers she enjoys the free food and companionship of the guys across the hall, and this earthy girl provides a foil to the others, as well as keeping male viewers returning for her loveable ways.

For even though her life is a train wreck of bad relationships and unpaid bills, Penny’s fun to watch and basically generous. Her “Sweetie, …” sentences are often intended to mock the other characters, but we watch each of them grow in confidence under the nurture of this sexually confident, kind woman.

Penny even has moments of heroism. As the only non-nerd in the group, the guys with some embarrassment look to her to deal with bullies. Her responses are often as blunt as a hard kick to the groin, and she quickly gains the respect of the group and the viewers.

Familiar scenes are a big part of sitcoms. The most innovative in Big Bang involves the characters in conversation while climbing nine flights of stairs around the non-functioning elevator shaft to the apartments. Each ascent, of course, is viewed in the context of all of the others, and the directors carefully add little touches of originality. The running gag in the laundry room is Sheldon’s folding fetish.  He stretches each item of clothing over this plastic frame to crease it while he carries on a conversation.

The main romantic interest on the show for the first two seasons involves Leonard’s hopeless longing for Penny. Season three dawns with the boys’ return from the Arctic, and Penny practically ravishes Leonard in the hallway. It seems she missed him. Their affair continues throughout the third season, but then Penny opts for friendship only.   Raj’s high-flying lawyer-sister leaps into the breach at the beginning of season 4. Raj and Priya’s controlling parents appear by computer video-chat, and Priya turns inside out to avoid revealing to them that she’s seeing Leonard, a white American.

The surprise in seasons three and four is the evolution of the relationship between Sheldon and Penny. Penny’s at her best when mothering Sheldon, and the scenes where he regresses to a childlike state show the warmth that sets this program apart from lesser efforts. Leonard moves into the mix as the nervous surrogate father of this brilliant, wayward child.

So what is the effect of immersing oneself in almost a hundred, 21-minute episodes with this company of fools? Leonard, Sheldon, Penny and Raj have become my friends. Real relationships pale somewhat in contrast. This can’t be good.

Viewed in moderation, however, The Big Bang Theory is an intelligent and very amusing show.

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