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STUDIO Warner Bros.
RUNNING TIME 498 Min.
- The Big Bang Theory @ 100
- The Big Bang Theory’s Laws of Reflection
- Professors of Production
- Gag Reel
“Two and a Half Men, written by Stephen Hawking.”
Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Katey Cuoco, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Melissa Rauch, and Blossom
Leonard and Sheldon are two scientists that are savants in their fields, but just plain idiots when it comes to women. With the help of their sexy neighbor Penny, the two roommates, along with their equally genius friends Howard and Raj, they navigate the world and attempt to unlock the greatest mystery of all: how to score.
Before I delve into the criticism proper, I have to clear the air. I loathe Big Bang Theory. Just like Wil Wheaton is Sheldon’s nemesis, so, too, is Big Bang Theory. I’d watched several episodes before, but was always left with a bad taste in my mouth. They were always making fun of nerds, which are my people. I’m of the sensitive type that Battlestar Galactica jumpsuits are something to be embraced and not to be lampooned. My people are not meant to be lambasted as virgins that can never score and play Star Wars all the time. Nerds are cool because I’m cool. And, trust me, if you’d meet me in real life, you’d think I’m as cool as Dirk Benedict. And Dirk Benedict is cool.
More importantly, I never understood its appeal. The show is one of, if not the, highest rated television show. It’s a slight obsession, as I find the show completely insipid and devoid of all entertainment value. The jokes are stupid, the characters flat, and the live studio audience pandering. I’ve even spoken to friends and work colleagues about it at great appeal, much to their annoyance. “Why do you like this show?” “What’s its appeal?” “What do you mean, ‘Stop talking about that stupid show and acknowledge your girlfriend?’” And they typically come back to the fact that the characters are “stupid” or that it’s just “pretty funny.” That never flies well with someone like me who overanalyzes television.
When the opportunity came about to review the show, I jumped at the chance. I had to get into the heart of the enemy. I had to try and understand why people love Sheldon Cooper and the rest of the nerds. Why do they love to laugh at these nerds? Clearly they’re trying to revert these nerds back to the classic stereotype as opposed to the light years of progress that had been made by the time the Revenge of the Nerds franchise had wrapped up. They can’t see the injustices, so, if I watched season five of Big Bang Theory, I could clearly dissect it to no end and prove why every single audience member that watches this show is absolutely, 100% wrong. I could prove why all of its Emmys are undeserved and its AV Club A ratings are absolute bologna. I would save humanity with this DVD review and be carried off into the annals of geniusdom, clearly proving why I’m right and everyone else is wrong.
To put it simply, I have an agenda.
While my hatred of the show is exaggerated for comedic effect, my absolute loathing is not enough for me to not shell out a fair review. I believe in giving everything a chance except for terrorism. I didn’t like Arrested Development all that much at first, but gave it a fair shake and now am fully obsessed with it. Conversion to fandom is possible. Above all, I’m for giving someone a fair shake, even if I dislike something. If I see the intention of what it’s trying to do and see that it pulls it off, I give it a fair review, even if I hate it. So, while I have an agenda, I’m willing to forego it for the sake of journalism.
With all of this preface, I think my friend Mary summed up why I think people like Big Bang Theory best. She said, “It’s best when you’re doing something else.” For me, that’s the most offensive thing about this show. But we’ll get to that in a little bit.
If you’ve watched the previous seasons of Big Bang Theory, I’m sure that me saying that Season 5 was completely blah isn’t going to persuade you to not purchase this. By now, it’s a factory of a show, shown in the workmanship writing. When we meet the characters this season, we find out that Raj has slept with Penny and Leonard’s girlfriend is moving back to India. However, these threads from the previous season are neatly wrapped up and never referenced with any gravity for the rest of the season. Leonard and his girlfriend eventually break up, but it’s in a sentence and has no unpleasantness whatsoever. I had to double check to make sure that they actually broke up because of the lack of gravity. I understand that this is a television show that is designed to be modular. You can pick it up from wherever and instantly understand the relationships, the premise, and everything important within the first couple zingers. That’s not the problem I have here.
The actual premises, and I don’t know if this is a running problem of the show, but this was the case in season 5, are so oddly lacking in substance that it literally made me stare at my screen at the end of an episode. It’s a bafflingly structured season of television. In one episode, Sheldon has an encounter with a blue jay while Leonard and Penny try to reconnect as friends. Okay, we have a proper A relationship plot with Leonard and Penny while we have a zany plotline with Sheldon. That’s an episode with potential. What became infuriating was the fact that this whole plotline was wrapped up with the tag of Leonard saying, “I had a weird night,” then Sheldon revealing that he had a nest. Then credits. This was the conclusion of the episode. Granted, not every show has to have some lesson or moral, but there wasn’t even a character journey here. There wasn’t even an illusion of a character journey that some of the classic sitcoms have.
There are a multitude of episodes like this when I was watching them outright. Big Bang Theory: Season Five is so absent of even modular episode arcs that I don’t understand any goodwill towards it. The episodes are constructed around ideas, which I guess all sitcoms are technically constructed around (Bewitched, anybody? What an idea, amirite?). But, when you build an entire episode around something like, “Leonard and Penny hang out and see if they’re friends,” there has to be something more behind it. That idea alone isn’t enough to carry the A plot of an episode, which is why they throw jokes in where they make fun of the power dynamic in the relationship. But there’s not a greater thought behind it and no moments where they find out something about themselves. Basic writing: You have to show an audience why they’re watching this moment in time, why this particular piece is worth your 22 minutes. Since I don’t watch traditional live studio audience sitcoms (read: pretentious) very much, perhaps this is something that’s gone by the wayside, but even BBT‘s network companion How I Met Your Mother gives us the illusion of character journey. You can strip away the jokes and you still have a story with a beginning, middle, and end. The ideas here are so rudimentarily executed that it seems too simple and, for me, completely unrewarding.
The same thoughts go for the characters. Along with our central crew mentioned above, there are also Bernadette, who is Howard’s fiancée, and Amy Farrah Fowler, who fawns over Sheldon as a man and Penny as a fellow woman. The two contribute to the woman side of things with Penny quite well on their woman plots while the boys do boy-ish things of playing video games and being nerdy. But that’s it. The characters are flat and non-dynamic*. From the last episodes leading to the finale, I garnered that Howard used to be a womanizer, but, outside of Sheldon getting a new haircut and holding hands with Amy Farrah Fowler, there was no character development. None. I understand not every season of television has to take your heroes to a completely different place, but I don’t recall a sitcom where the characters are virtually identical at the beginning and end of a season. I guess Leonard and Penny got together, but the characters didn’t seem wiser for it or are coming away with some greater understanding of their world. Raj couldn’t talk to straight women the entire season (he talked to a lesbian, but he didn’t start off knowing she was a lesbian, so how did he talk to her without the aid of alcohol?). Howard went into space and got married, but his character seemed to change in the previous seasons. Oh! Bernadette moved in with Howard and his mom. That was a change. But most of these changes are identified in the artifices and not in the characters themselves. All of these people have to remain exactly the same for some strange reason, as if the creators of the show have some Sheldon-ian fear that changing the characters in anyway would scare off viewers.
This is wholly surprising for me. Watching the show, I could tell that there is a real intellect in the show’s DNA. To get real astronauts and real Stephen Hawkings on the show, you have to be intelligent. Yet the humor is so incredibly dumb, it’s shocking. There are so many easy sex jokes here, it’s unbelievable. For a show about incredibly successful scientists, you would think there would be a pantheon of other jokes here, but no. It’s not a show for scientists, it’s a show for broad audiences that just involves scientists. I’ve said this a billion times already, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. However, five years in and they’re still relying on jokes about these guys being bad at sex? That’s not a particularly hard joke to make, especially five years in. There’s also, naturally, a healthy dose of relying on pop culture humor. It’s mainly the staples (Star Trek, Star Wars, D&D) that get the Big Bang treatment, but the writers just aren’t putting any effort into it. They aren’t saying that the scientists need to be normal and Penny needs to be nerdier. They’re just saying that these people are stupid and that’s the joke. Every single time.
Okay, so I get that not every episode can have the great character development and witty jokes like other less rated shows have (Parks and Rec, Community, HIMYM). Not every sitcom is trying to embed itself in the history of television. And I acknowledge that I’m being INCREDIBLY hard on this show. More than likely, my bias threads through this entire review. But there are shows with broad appeal and high ratings that aren’t as incredibly dull as this show. It’s just a boring show through and through, but put in the trappings of nerd-chic with an idiosyncratic sidekick with a dash of Brent Spiner. (Also, how dare they put Brent Spiner in there and make me have conflicted feelings about Data.) The show isn’t designed to be complex, though. It’s designed to be pleasant and it’s designed to be a distraction. At the end of the day, I suppose there are worse ways to be distracted. It’s a broad comedy that lacks any complexity, which means its engaging the most amount of people at all times due to its simple joke telling and equal opportunity people bashing. In doing what it is attempting to set out to do, which is to not try at anything and deliver simple humor with simple characters, it succeeds. Mission accomplished.
Which brings me back to, “It’s best when you’re doing something else.” Allow me to ruminate on the nature of television here in this simple DVD review. Storytelling is designed to engage and to connect emotionally. From simple cave drawings to Downton Abbey, when storytelling is best, you are moved. You are connected and obsessed. The stories you hear aren’t fiction, but real, tangible events that you feel and are affected by in the most basic sense. You can connect and see yourself in it and want to see yourself and learn from it. At the very least, you connect to the characters and relate yourself into these stories. The stories aren’t passive things; they’re you.
Television is an absolute miracle. For ten months of the year, you have people numbering upwards of 100, maybe 200, working at least 12 hour days at least five days a week on at least 22 sheets of paper that, when read together, make a story. You have millions of dollars being shelled into playing pretend, creating a moving image that can be recorded, stored somewhere, and projected into homes all across the globe. If you have a television or a computer, you can watch the efforts of 200 people flash by in 22 minutes and be transfixed not by how incredibly hard they worked, but how much you are connected with this fiction. If they’ve done they’re job right, the real world is invisible and you are literally participating in magic as you fall in love with the people moving on the screen. In reality, when someone turns on a television, we should all be like cavemen and be transfixed by the fact that there are things moving on a stationary platform. Every time a television turns on, it’s impossible and amazing and hundred billion feelings both positive and negative. It’s one of the great triumphs of human history that something like this is as widespread as it is and should absolutely be one of our legacies when humans blink out of existence.
So, when someone says something like, “It’s best when you’re doing something else,” for me, that’s super offensive. Is it pretentious for me to think this? Absolutely. I literally could not agree with you normal person anymore. But I believe it wholeheartedly. I only watch television I can be obsessed with and so should you. If the efforts of television can only be best experienced whenever you’re devoting more of your attention to something else, then what is the point of it existing? Why aren’t you devoting your entire attention span to that thing you’re doing? You could make the argument of listening to radio while driving as something you absent-mindedly do, but, when I’m in my car, I’m a lot more engaged to what I’m listening to than how I’m driving. I can take Big Bang Theory bashing nerds, shaming women that like to have sex, and using Star Wars as a joke for the billionth time. I don’t particularly want to, but these elements run rampant. But I cannot tolerate it being ingested by a mass audience that mostly plays it in the background.
Television shouldn’t be designed as being pleasant. Of course, it is, but I’m being idealistic here. When you think, “It’s best when you’re doing something else,” you aren’t watching television. You’re buying into a product. The fact that these writers and directors churn out episodes in a Ratner-ian fashion (read: easy) support this. TV has to make money, yes, but that’s what commercials are for. In order to create magic, you have to foot the bill. But there are a trillion television shows out there, so why, of all things, is this show that is best watched doing something else so highly rated?
In an ideal world, the television would keep you rapt with attention, but we’ve grown accustomed to it and take advantage of it. People work a billion hours a week and want to not think when they come home. They want something that’s simple that you can turn on without thinking. Since this show is completely devoid of thought, Big Bang Theory is perfect. You can turn on any episode and know instantly what is going on. I understand that people that watch this show don’t watch it with the critical eye that I do. They shouldn’t, either. It’s a sad place to be because I can’t take delight in this show’s simplicity. At the same time, I don’t want to. I want a show that I can find myself in. I want a show that engages me and wants to engage me. This show just doesn’t do that for me. It’s a really dumb show and I hate it because it’s so popular.
And that’s why Big Bang Theory Season 5 sucks.
The actual special features are quite underwhelming considering this is one of the highest rated shows on television. We have two features on reflecting, with The Big Bang Theory @ 100 and The Big Bang Theory’s Laws of Reflection, which features the fairly standard, “This is the greatest crew, the greatest show, with the greatest people and the greatest scripts ever” routine delivered on most DVD’s. There’s little to learn here outside of finding out that they film in front of a real live studio audience.
Professors of Production delves into the look and design of the show. This is the part of the DVD that shows us the nuance of brightly lighting the sets (though I couldn’t do it in real life). All of this is wrapped up with a gag reel that’s fairly unfunny.
No commentaries, no deleted scenes, and not even moving menus. Just still pictures with Barenaked Ladies. It’s not as exciting as it sounds.
Rating: Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
*Also, Leonard is an awful protagonist. For being our straight man, he’s incredibly whiny. How am I supposed to root for someone so whiny? Leonard is the kind of nerd that I would want to stuff in a locker. And I would. Gladly. Also, I have rage issues.