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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
t’s theoretically improbable that “The Big Bang Theory” should be a good TV show at all. The premise of two nerdy physicists living across the hall from a cute blonde sounds as if it could barely sustain a comical “Saturday Night Live” sketch, let alone an entire series. The fact that it’s not only good, but actually great says more about TV writers than it does about the classic multi-camera, laugh track-laden sitcom, which is often thought of as a near-dead format. The laugh track itself is these days generally regarded as a sign of laziness. After all, if a series needs to tell its audience where to laugh, surely it can’t be terribly amusing?
As long as something is well written, it can take place almost entirely in a living room, for 22 episodes a season. As long as something is funny, a laugh track can blare all over the place, and it doesn’t seem remotely out of place, since you’re laughing right along with it. The show is both well written and funny, which is no doubt due in no small part to the combined talents of Bill Prady and Chuck Lorre, who probably each bring a different perspective to the table. “The Big Bang Theory” is smart without being smug or cynical, and sweet without being sappy. In an age where most comedies feel the need to be edgy, this one never really is and it’s all the better for it. How these guys have pulled this off is anyone’s guess, but the entire thing just simply works. I could happily watch it for another five seasons if they just keep doing what they’re doing.
At the close of the first season, it appeared that Leonard (Johnny Galecki) was finally making some headway in the romance department with Penny (Kaley Cuoco). Season Two picks up where the first left off, showcasing the budding romance between the pair being quickly diffused. After all, the chase is half the fun, and to make Leonard and Penny a couple this early in the series would take away a lot of what makes it so special – although it seems that a huge amount of our interest in the series rests in the knowledge that someday these two will find a way to make it work. It’s just a matter of time, space, and quantum theory as to when, where and how that will happen. We’re not in a hurry to get there because the show is having so much fun diverting our attention along the way. Probably the great triumph of this season is in the way Penny gradually becomes “one of the guys.” As it moves forward, she feels less and less like a spectator at the zoo, and more like one of the inmates at the asylum. Every single episode in this set is a keeper, and it’s an effortless duty to blast through all 23 installments. Before you know it, it’s over, and you’ll be eager to tune in for Season Three.
Of course some episodes do stand out as being especially good. “The Barbarian Sublimation” sees Penny becoming addicted to the online role-playing game, “Age of Conan,” due to the fact that her acting career hasn’t gone too far since moving to L.A. “The Panty Piñata Polarization” sees Penny and Sheldon (Jim Parsons) going head to head after Penny breaks one too many of his insufferable house rules. “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis” (which guest stars Michael Trucco of “Battlestar Galactica”) is a Christmas episode with a gut-bustingly hilarious ending that manages to be surprisingly touching at the same time. “The Maternal Capacitance” features Leonard’s ice cold mother (Christine Baranski) coming for a visit, and she’s just pitch-perfect for the role. I’ve seen Baranski in loads of stuff over the years, but nothing prepared me for her twisted performance in this episode. “The Terminator Decoupling” sees the boys taking a train trip to San Francisco, only to discover Summer Glau riding in the same car, and Raj (Kunal Nayyar), of all people, actually manages to make some decent time the girl. “The Vegas Renormalization” involves Wolowitz (Simon Helberg), a trip to Sin City, and a hooker with the ability to do a very convincing Jewish girl routine.
The cast is, at this point, firing on all cylinders, with each member owning their role. Galecki has the toughest job, because he’s required to be the straight man most of the time. It probably takes a guy who’s been in the business as long as he has to be able to stand back and allow the antics of his co-stars to dominate. Cuoco has, without anyone really noticing, turned into one of the most gifted comic actresses on TV. Expect to see her on your tube for years to come, because once “The Big Bang Theory” goes off the air, she should have no problem finding another outlet for her talents. It certainly doesn’t hurt that she’s incredibly easy on the eyes in that ideal “girl next door” (literally) kind of way. Both Helberg and Nayyar have gelled and become integral to the show’s set-up. It’s difficult to imagine this series without Wolowitz’s cluelessly sexist remarks and Koothrappali’s awkward silences, while he observes most of the goings-on, due to his continued inability to speak in front of women (including Penny) unless he’s intoxicated. (Though it’s a funny gag, one wonders how much longer it can be mined.)
Finally, there’s Jim Parsons, who deserves a paragraph of his own. It may sound like hyperbole, but surely Sheldon Cooper is one of, if not the most side-splittingly riotous character that network TV has seen in many a year. Not that the Emmys are typically a sign of what’s right and good on the tube, but when they get it right, they really get it right, and this year Parsons is nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. He’s up against guys like Alec Baldwin, Tony Shalhoub, Steve Carell and Charlie Sheen, and, despite that, there’s every reason to believe he’s going to win. (The Television Critics Association already crowned him this summer for Individual Achievement in Comedy, where he was up against Baldwin, Carell, Tina Fey and Neil Patrick Harris.) Parsons and Sheldon are the perfect melding of actor and character. The guy never misses a beat, and his performance is ideally executed. He never goes for a cheap laugh and everything he says and does is derived solely from the person that Sheldon is. Parsons is so good in the role, in fact, that I worry he’ll be typecast as Sheldon for life. Recently I saw a Facebook quiz that asked, “Which TV characters would you like to be friends with in real life?” One of my “friends” answered Sheldon Cooper, and my first thought was how I wouldn’t want to spend any time with this guy whatsoever in real life. He would drive me nuts in less than a day. Spending time with him in half hour spurts through the television, though, is another proposition entirely. I love to laugh at Sheldon, but I’d never be able to laugh with him, mostly because he doesn’t laugh – which in turn makes me laugh.
Special Features: “Physicist to the Stars” is a look at real life physicist David Saltzberg, who’s a consultant to the show. Ever wonder how the writers come up with Sheldon’s technobabble? They probably don’t – Saltzberg does. “Testing the Infinite Hilarity Hypothesis in Relation to ‘The Big Bang Theory’” is an overview of Season Two and features interviews with the cast and crew. Finally, there’s also a gag reel, and all in all the extras total about 30 minutes. I was initially going to dock this set a half a point for not giving us more in the extras department, but by the time I got to the end of the review, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’d probably be happy with a season of this show that had no extras. But come on guys, give us something a little more next year, OK? This is a show about geeks, and the DVD sets really ought to be considerably geekier.