Big Bang Theory: Season 2
In most high schools students are classified and assigned a clique that will pretty much determine not only their pathway through high school but may very well continue to exert an influence throughout their lives. Now this assignment may be informal even unspoken but it is typically as binding as if it was enforced by a formal caste system. I got to escape a lot of this because I attended an all male technical school so just about every student would fall into the nerd category in any other school. The one thing about any system that stratifies a social group is people desire to move up to a higher level of social acceptance. Frequently that means dating out of your league. For a geek to attempt to enter into a romantic relationship with a beautiful girl will quickly become the topic of discussion on both sides of the equation. Since this is such a universally understood circumstance it is natural that it would eventually become the premise of a television series. In fact several shows have employed it but few as directly as the CBS sit-com ‘The Big Bang Theory’. The concept is brilliant in its simplicity. A beautiful young woman moves in next door to a pair of geniuses. Although they have absolutely nothing in common aside from being carbon based life forms a friendship forms eventually leading to a completely mismatched romance. If it sounds like a silly premise it is but no sillier than many shows that have found success on television. The fact is the series has become a favorite of mine for no other reason that it is a whole lot of fun to watch. With the world in such a dire state of affairs it is great to watch something just as a guilty pleasure without having to put a whole lot into the experience.
The creative minds behind this series are Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady. Both men worked on a previous sit-com concerning a romantic mismatch; ’Dharma and Greg’. They have also worked individually on shows known for the writing with Lorre working on ‘CSI’ and Prady on the extremely fast paced dialogue of ‘The Gilmore Girls’. ‘Big Bang’ follows a couple of certifiably geniuses with several doctorates between them; Dr. Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) and Dr, Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons). Both of them work in the rarefied field theoretical physics. There well planned daily lives are thrown off track when a beautiful waitress, Penny (Kaley Cuoco) moves in across the hall in their four flight walkup apartment building. It is a bit of a comment on our society that a genius professor has to share expenses just to afford a cheap apartment, the same as a waitress that just completed high school. In the initial season there was a bizarre nerd mating ritual as the more socialized of the two, Leonard, befriends Penny moving towards romantic involvement. By the end of the season they are ready to date but circumstances pull them apart. That is a classic motif in romantic comedy to slowly bring the couple together only to separate them just as things begin to work out. The second season is the awkward experience of a man who realizes that his nerdish pursuits are not what get the girl but still he tries his best to overcome the odds to win the affections of the fair Penny. This does result in a lot of resentment from his best friend and roommate. For Sheldon obsessive compulsive disorder would be a step up and a refreshing change. For him order and his own self assurance as the smartest man around is what define his universe. It’s not so much that he is jealous of Penny he just considers her beneath him and resents Leonard’s interest in her.
The guys have two geeky best friends also with advanced degrees; Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) and Raj Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar). They are at least aware that there is a world outside of science that they are unprepared to enter. Penny is just about the only woman ever to speak to them for more than a few words. Most episodes revolve around the clumsiness and socially awkward behavior the guys’ exhibit especially around women. If you get many of the references the guys make you too might be a nerd. For example Sheldon frequently wears a shirt with the Green Lantern insignia on it and Star Trek or Star Wars references are common place. They really don’t help their efforts in socialization considering the spend a lot of time at the local comic book shop waiting for the latest issues and engaging in seemingly endless debates about topics such as whether or not Aqua-Man deserves to be part of the Justice League. The interactions do go both ways with Penny frequently making an honest effort to try out things the guys enjoy. In one episode this goes a little too far when Penny becomes obsessed with on line fantasy role playing games to the exclusion of all rationality. In another episode she goes paintballing with the guys with surprising efficiency.
What is very surprising for a sit-com like this is the attention that is paid to presenting the characters. While many of their traits are greatly exaggerated for comic effect there is an underlying sense of reality to them. All of the principles are afforded an opportunity to grow. Even Sheldon tends to become more accepting of Penny even though intellectually she is far beneath him. Much of what works here is how talented the cast is. Galecki has appeared on several films but is best known for his role in ‘Roseanne’. He has a look and feel that is immediately empathetic with the audience. Parsons is absolutely perfect as the brilliant but excessively neurotic Sheldon. He steals almost every scene. Cuoco is having quite a career so far. She gained recognition in the sit-com ‘8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter’ moving on from that to the closing season of ‘Charmed’. She is a natural comedienne who is not afraid to downplay looks and depend on her impeccable comic timing. This is a gem of its genre and something that will not disappoint.