S4E8: In the past, I’ve mentioned I’m alone in my love for The Big Bang Theory around the Hollywood.com office. My fellow TV enthusiasts believe it to be a half-hour full of clichés, lame plot lines, and predictable jokes. I beg them to give it a chance, arguing that it’s so much more than just a simple, dumb ol’ sitcom. “It’s smart,” I say. “It’s making fun of itself,” I say. “It’s actually good, trust me,” I say. But nope, no one ever agrees. I ask them to just give it a shot before being so judgmental and finally, after weeks of begging, they do. The finally do. THEY ACTUALLY WATCH BIG BANG!
But then, Big Bang does this. They produce one of the series’ worst episodes ever. Thanks, Chuck Lore. Thanks a lot.
Now before I go into why this episode sucked so much, I must give Big Bang some credit. So far in this lackluster season, my main complaint has been that, simply, the writers haven’t tried anything new. They’ve stuck to two things when writing the show: easy story lines and jokes for Sheldon.
With traditional sitcoms, I don’t expect any groundbreaking ideas when it comes to plot. There’s pretty much no story that hasn’t been multi-cameraed or laugh-tracked previously, and so the focus naturally lands on the characters. And that’s why, in my opinion, Big Bang has been such a successful and funny show. Its characters — specifically Sheldon — are hilarious. And as with any show, the more we get to know each one of them, their different ticks, quips, and their actions become funnier. Sitcoms are about as close as television comes to theater. Just think of some classic moments in TV history, like when Ross dresses as the “Holiday Armadillo” or when Kramer tells his story about fighting off a mugger. These moments work because the audience knows the character, and the more they press on the absurdities of their character’s traits, the more theatrical and over-the-top it becomes, and everything is funnier.
What makes Big Bang work is that it successfully combines these two approaches — character traits and sitcom theater. Sheldon is one of the funniest sitcom characters probably since Kramer, and in the same way that the tall haired crazy man got riled up, Sheldon does the same. Remember that moment when Penny gave Sheldon the Leonard Nimoy-autographed napkin? Jim Parsons was able to take all the factors in that moment — the audience laughter, the situation, and his character traits — and push his character to his outermost crazy.
But this season has abandoned what it has created in the past. Rather than focus on character development and let the plot lines develop the humor in each situation, the writers have gotten lazy and found themselves in a world that’s similar to Two and a Half Men rather than Seinfeld. They have their ratings, so there’s no reason to push the show in new directions to get funnier.
But, this week, they actually tried! And even though it didn’t work — and I mean it really didn’t work — I have to credit them somewhat for taking a risk. Instead of spending the half-hour trying to force awkward jokes out of Sheldon’s mouth, they explored a new direction: they split the ensemble up. Here’s what happened.
We opened with the guys and Penny watching Raiders of the Lost Ark. And of course, Penny isn’t digging it (However, I must say I questioned this as a plot device. If there’s any nerd movie out there that guys can get girls into, it’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. It stays away from the nerdy realm of outer-space, and features a hunky Harrison Ford. I know a lot of women who enjoy this movie quite a bit, but whatever. Maybe I’m overthinking it a bit, but usually, Big Bang is spot on with its nerd jokes.). The reason they’re watching is because there’s a new release of the film happening with 21-seconds extra footage, and the guys are super pumped up to see it. So, they plan to go to the show, so since the girls don’t want to join, they have a girls night.
Yeah, we’ve seen this plot before (it was essentially every single episode of Friends), but it was something that Big Bang had never done before. The writers explored what it would be like to have Penny, Bernadette, and Amy all hang out for an extended period of time. But unfortunately, this just didn’t work. Maybe it was some growing pains, but the dialogue between the three felt very forced. Plus, I really don’t like Amy. I don’t think she exactly the same as Sheldon (she’s a little rougher socially), but she’s way too close for her to be funny. Maybe it’s because she’s a female and I’m a male, so I don’t identify with her nerdy and odd tendencies as much as I do with Sheldon, but any time Amy says something, I cringe. And her inquisitions to the ladies weren’t funny, they were creepy. Parsons dances the line between creepy and nerdy about as smoothly as can be done, so when someone else comes in and tries to replicate it, it not only illustrates that Parsons is a terrific actor, but it makes the person trying to replicate Sheldon look much worse than they actually are. Each time Amy opened her mouth, deep down, I wished it was Sheldon asking the question (in a much less creepy way).
But it wasn’t just the girls’ plot that was unsuccessful. In this episode, I did like the idea of seeing the guys wait in line for a movie because it was something we hadn’t seen before. Plus, Wil Wheaton returned this week, and any episode he is in tends to be really hilarious. But, something just felt off about the gags and jokes between the boys this week. (I will say that Wil’s impression of Jar Jar Binks was pretty funny, though). They relied on the jokes that make Big Bang not funny, the ones that are all like — “Hey, look at these nerds and how they struggle to interact with society! Isn’t it funny? Trust us, it’s funny!” With a show about nerds, it’s hard to not expect those types of jokes every so often, but this episode was full of them (Howard peeing along his leg, putting Sheldon down for a nap.). And on them of that, there was an especially high reliance on the laugh track this week. Usually, it doesn’t bother me (because typically, it’s a studio audience response), but I felt like each laugh from the audience this week was especially jarring. Honestly, I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was because the jokes were so lame so I noticed the laugh track more, or maybe it was because they didn’t sound like an actual audience, but regardless, this was the first time I felt Big Bang’s laugh track hurt it.
So unfortunately, I still am alone in my love for Big Bang. But what is more unfortunate is the show is losing it. Yeah, I’m crediting them for trying new things, but you can only credit someone so much for trying something, and failing. With the already sub par season adding this episode to its collection, I’m worried that the show is heading down an terrible path that it won’t be able to recover from. But I want to end this recap positive because Big Bang has a special place in my heart, so I’m going to post this clip of Sheldon stealing the movie and singing the Indiana Jones theme song, because that was hilarious.