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Reviewed by Josh Mahler
hen the networks rolled out their new shows at the start of the 2007 season, many TV experts thought that if any freshman series could save the classic situation comedy, it would be FOX’s highly touted “Back to You,” starring sitcom vets Kelsey Grammer (“Frasier”) and Patricia Heaton (“Everybody Loves Raymond”). Little did anyone realize that “Back to You” would vastly underperform (the series was canceled after its first season) and that a new CBS show about a group of geeks would move to the forefront as the next potentially great comedy series.
From the first episode, “The Big Bang Theory” hits the ground running with snappy dialogue and likeable characters. With a concept ripped straight from the Ashton Kutcher-produced reality series, “Beauty and the Geek,” the show focuses on Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki, “Roseanne”), two brainy physicists who work and live together. The pair has their world turned upside down when the alluring Penny (Kaley Cuoco, “8 Simple Rules”), who’s more beauty than brains, moves in next door. Leonard develops an instant if unrequited crush on Penny and drags Sheldon and fellow geeks Howard (Simon Helberg) and Rajesh (Kunal Nayyar) into many “social experiments” to better understand this strange, unexplored universe of Penny’s.
Parson’s Sheldon regularly steals the show and is widely regarded as the “find” of the 2007 season, and Howard and Rajesh are the perfect supporting characters, but it is Cuoco’s balanced portrayal of Penny that keeps the series grounded and moving forward. If she was just another dumb blonde, the guys would inevitably lose their curiosity in her and her ways; if she showed too much interest in their nerdy world, it would seem unrealistic and would move the overall plot forward too fast. By playing it restrained in both regards, Penny and Leonard develop a sweet – if occasionally awkward – sexual tension that leads to an unassuming cliffhanger at the end of the 17-episode first season.
Galecki also serves the series well as the quintessential straight man; the best episodes of the season revolve around Leonard with the rest of the cast playing to their strengths in supporting roles. Galecki was also reunited with former “Roseanne” co-stars on more than one occasion, with Laurie Metcalf dropping by as Sheldon’s mom and Sara Gilbert providing Leonard with some real-world dating experience. (Gilbert has been cast as a series regular for the second season, which premieres on September 22.)
It’s a pleasant surprise to find “The Big Bang Theory” succeeding as well in the ratings as it did in its creative execution. Some were skeptical that a series which was so unabashedly geeky and intellectual in its humor could make sufficient ratings headway. Thank goodness, then, that the producers made room for a whole lot of heart, too.
Special Features: Anyone hoping for at least a few episode commentaries will be disappointed. Ultimately, there is only one extra, but at least it’s a good one: “Quantum Mechanics of The Big Bang Theory,” an in-depth look at the development and casting of the show which features interesting interviews with the series’ stars and creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady.