Reviews: The Big Bang Theory
Hideously close to docudrama
It works because for anyone who's attended a major university - especially if you went on to research or postgraduate study - the settings and the characters are universal. Especially the characters. They're universal archetypes. EVERY university has them. My Sheldon Cooper was a postdoctoral maths person at UEA Norwich. To the last tic. "Howard Wolowitz" was a computer scientist. "Penny" managed a bar in the city. She had a thing for guys with brains. "Bernadette" grew certain exotic South American plants in Biology's greenhouses. The interactions, the struggles of getting funding, making a living, justifying your presence to the relative handful of professors with tenure and security.... and having to work as TA's with undergrad students. In my case, dealing with linguistics undergrads who'd never been taught any formal English grammar, couldn't parse a sentence, and needed remedial teaching to put right things they should have learnt in primary school... no, TBBT becomes fly-on-the-wall documentary after a while. Hideously funny. And I was a sort of Leonard Hofstadter, since you ask. Just don't ask about me and Penny.
Milked to death
TBBT started off as a decent, fairly humorous show, the type that you watch at the end of a long day to relax and unwind. However, the later seasons have been hit hard with a major case of Seasonal Rot. One of my biggest complaints about this series is the increasingly stale humour as the show continued - they were abusing the laugh track over barely funny jokes. Since this is a sitcom, one of the aspects that I feel must never be compromised is humour. I personally feel that for character development, Sheldon and Howard received the most. This was surprisingly well done. However, I don't really buy the Leonard-Penny relationship. They are simply not compatible - they don't have similar interests, they never seem to have real passion in their relationship anymore, and overall I find this one of the least entertaining aspects of the series. Emily was a character with lots of potential but they overhyped her "dark" side. Anyway, the reason I feel that this series is milked dry is because one of the fundamental aspects about it - its humour - has been neglected over later seasons. It used to be a good show, now it's a boring but OK show. I just wish they would wrap things up already.
How am I supposed to like these characters when they don't like themselves?
The "geek" premise is a thin veneer over a show about a bunch of people who hate themselves and their lives. In fact, it seems that the more a character is actually comfortable in his or her own skin, the less we're supposed to relate to them and simply laugh at them. As a nerd who is happy with who I am, how am I supposed to enjoy a show based on the premise that I'm supposed to either be unhappy with my life or be insufferable, unaware asshole. I wanted to like this show, because it actually is very funny on occasion, but I just can't.
Maybe if The Leads Weren't so Insufferable...
I've watched through several seasons of the Big Bang Theory, another of Chuck Lorre's bloated sitcoms, and with every season I sat through I felt a distinct sensation of bile boiling in the pit of my stomach that culminated in the most recent horrible seasons. Where to start? Well the title should be a give away- I really don't like the 'protagonists' of this show. It seems that all they do is bitch and snark at each other most of the time, acting like petty assholes and generally reflecting every negative aspect of the classic 'geek' stereotype taken to absurd lengths. Raj is probably the worst of the lot, as at least with Sheldon there is some reason as to why he acts like he does (thought he universe bends over backwards to let him off scott free for his jerkiness a little too often...). A two-faced jerk who serves as both the ethnic stereotype and the Camp Straight character rolled into one and generally the biggest whiner of the bunch in the later seasons. He doesn't have a girlfriend, can't imagine why... Oh but that's not to say the other characters are any better. Penny has been shown several times to be a pretty crappy individual, most notably stealing from charity and bullying her 'friends' into doing her college work for her. Amy is a spoiled brat most of the time and somehow comes off as more insufferable than Sheldon at times. Bernadette is the most tolerable of the bunch and even she has her lapses into the asshole zone. Another thing that irks me is that this show is under the grand pretension that it's a 'geek show.' Oh no no no... First of all there's the previous point of the four main characters being dicks and a rather shoddy representation of a group. Steve Urkel is a better representation... Any reference to geek culture in the show is usually left as vague as possible to draw in a wider audience like 'lel Aquaman is lame' and the like. Most punchlines are just 'lol these guys like Dungeons and Dragons' and there's the infuriating common trend of 'lel girls don't like comic books or geek stuff.' The early seasons were perhaps the high point of the show, and it was only in the most recent ones that the most dreadful aspects crept into existence. I really wish it would slink away...
I've only seen a handful of episodes, but I think I've got a handle on it. This is still Hollywood's idea of what a geek is. Is this more positive than the usual depiction? Yes, but the four guys are still neurotic, obsessive losers. The mainstream media isn't ready to conceive that one person can be incurably geeky and also a socially adept, well-adjusted guy/girl. Oh sure, I'm nowhere near, but that isn't the point... And they consist of three white guys and one Indian (because all geeks are Caucasian or Asian), two physicists, an astrophysicist, and an engineer (because all geeks are in hard science or at least math-based applied science), and they all do EVERYTHING from gaming to comic books (because all geeks engage in Standard Geek Activity and if you don't you lose your membership). Stop Being Stereotypical! As for the writing, it's not that great. It's the same sitcom style we saw in the nineties, it just now revolves around Star Trek. The dialogue doesn't have much of a Joss Whedon spark; perhaps they should bring him in to spice things up (WITHOUT killing a love interest, Mr. Whedon). All in all, it's not a BAD show - there are much worse shows out there even in this greatly depleted genre - but it didn't click for me, and I don't think I'll be watching more.
Needs new blood
I used to really like this series, most notably the second season. But, around the end of third or fourth season I noticed this show sinking abit. The nerdiness seemed to be toned down in favor of sex and relationship jokes and the characters have become too cartoony to feel like the real people in the first couple of episodes. In addition to the cartooniness there is also people like Leonard and Sheldon who have become douches to people and in general the show feels snarkier and more shooting for cheap jokes, forgoing "Laughing with you" to "Laughing at you". Maybe its because of the ratings, but the show seems too cushy and somewhat stagnant. Not really much changed for improvement like Raj's speech impediment, Howard's mother dependency (Which is now almost opedial and poured into his relationship with Bernadette), Sheldon's increasingly childish behavior, ect. The positive changes would be the Penny/Bernadette/Amy friendship, Howard's relationship in general with Bernadette and Amy in general. Overall, there needs to be new ways to tell stories, bold changes, make us really care about the show.
The conflict between nerds and jocks is an old story standby, it's a natural "lamb versus wolf" scenario and we tend to root for the underdog. In that regard there is little revolutionary about the pilot or base premise of The Big Bang Theory, with Give Geeks A Chance in full effect. The only twist is that the two main geeks, Leonard and Sheldon, aren't just computer geeks but have doctorates in physics. The story of the pilot is Leonard and Sheldon returning home to see a new neighbor and after an awkward introduction Leonard mustered up the courage to invite her over for lunch. They get to know each other and Leonard being increasingly helpful to her up to even travelling across town to recover a TV from her muscle-bound jerk ex-boyfriend, with predictable results. What makes the pilot rise up above the similar stories is a certain honesty about the characters and who they are. Leonard and Sheldon have a brief conversation where Leonard insists he is trying to be a good neighbor and isn't hoping for a relationship to spring up between him and Penny. After the disastrous "retrieve the TV" event Leonard admitted "sex with the pretty girl" was in the back of his mind. Sheldon wasn't all that interested in having a social life outside their apartment, but was clearly appreciative of the interest Penny had in his white board scribbles. Two additional friends who show up mid-way through the story, Howard and Raj, are unflinching in what makes them unique in the ensemble. The only blank slate is Penny herself, where much of the humor is how the characters react to a girl in their presence. She is not all that funny on her own. What really works is that the performances of all the actors really sold their characters. Many lines aren't really jokes on paper but the personalities and nuances of the character make it interesting. Things like Penny's praise of Sheldon's whiteboard turns into a nice, friendly but uncomfortable bit. "You're like A Beautiful Mind super-smart kind of guys, huh?" "...Yeah..." Even Penny gets a fun moment dismissing Howard's invite to be friends on a MMORPG game, which is given a good mixture of friendliness and sarcasm. Again, there is nothing revolutionary with the scenario presented or the portrayal of the geeks. But there is still a charm and friendliness to the whole package that is hard to find elsewhere.