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The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory is a comedy about two physicists Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper who live and work together in Pasadena, California. They live a comfortable geeky existence until attractive wannabe actress Penny moves in across the hall. CBS 2007-???

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Episode 8 - The Adhesive Duck Deficiency

18 November 2009

Synopsis: Leonard, Howard and Raj head to the desert to see a meteor shower. Sheldon and Penny stay behind to work. She dislocates her shoulder and needs Sheldon to take her to the emergency room. Back in the desert the guys unsuspectingly eat some special cookies.

The Good: The comic pairings work well here as they always have. Raj, Howard and Leonard find ways to put a new spin on being high. With Leonard complaining about his name “It has nerd in it!” and Raj imagining a world where he could be king of all rabbits. The introduction of the special cookies was subtle and plausible too.

Meanwhile Sheldon once more comes to the fore in his own special way. He threatens a Chinese restaurant with the warning “My sharply worded comments on Yelp.com recently took down a local muffin store!” He then nobly assists Penny (see Comic Highlight) to get to the hospital and unleashes an incredibly creepy facial expression as he tries to look comforting. Once home she acknowledges his kindness and warms everyone’s hearts by making him sing his own cheer up song “Soft Kitty” as a round.

The Bad: Sheldon and Penny have had the same conversation about her warning light (214) before. Not to mention her intimate experience with his attempts to learn how to drive (205). They really had plenty of time to call a cab.

But minor details aside this episode is The Big Bang Theory. It showcased the thinking behind the show which makes it come across as more of a commercial property than a story about people. What do I mean by that? I mean that this episode feels like a can of Coke or a McDonalds meal. It was enjoyable but it came across as mass produced and not personally made. Sheldon and Penny are a pairing designed to relive the same type of joke over and over again. He is anal and annoying and she gets annoyed. Similarly the guys getting high is such an old sit com idea. A bunch of characters take some substance and then the writers can just have them say silly things to “generate” laughs. There’s not a lot specific to their characters going on, just general nonsense.

When I watch TV I want a sense that the characters are real people. And what do real people do? They strive for things. Be it a new job, new girlfriend, a fitter body, more money, more fun, less irritation, whatever it might be. They are striving for something. That striving creates a journey and that journey bonds me to those characters because I will have experienced something similar. Now a sit com can present its characters striving for something in many different ways. Be it for romantic love in Friends, fame and social climbing in Frasier, political success in Spin City, social success in Seinfeld, more romance in How I Met Your Mother, a peaceful workplace in The Office, better parks in Parks and Recreation, peace and quiet in Curb Your Enthusiasm, being a good doctor in Scrubs and so on. I stand by the fact that the striving is what creates a relationship with the viewers. It also dictates the kind of stories told and where the characters head. Like real people they sometimes succeed and sometimes fail.

The Big Bang Theory like its older brother Two and a Half Men almost tries to take away the striving. What is Sheldon striving for? Their answer I suspect would be “it doesn’t matter, he is just funny the way he is.” Yes that’s true but it feels artificial to me. That sense of artificiality distances me from the show sometimes and I suspect that one day it will have eroded the show deeply. Penny is supposedly striving to be an actress but that ambition receives scant attention. Raj might be striving to be an American citizen but again it doesn’t get mentioned nearly enough. We know Howard wants sex and deeper than that love but is he destined to remain the whipping boy forever? Are his revelations going to continue on this embarrassing journey until there’s no semblance of him being a real person?

Comic Highlight: Sheldon helps Penny put her clothes on over her dislocated shoulder. She asks him to keep his eyes shut which he does. As he blindly reaches for her arm to put it into the sleeve, she asks “Is that my arm?” The audience roar with laughter at this embarrassing situation, a reminder of the value of a studio audience. “It doesn’t feel like an arm” he confesses. “Then maybe you should let it go?” she suggests as he clutches his hands to his chest, almost afraid of this foreign world.

In Conclusion: I like Coke and I like McDonalds. I appreciate their reliability. But never do I suspect that either was lovingly prepared to give me the best, most authentic meal possible.

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