Big Bang Theory: Season 5
It is always great when a sit-com comes off as smart. That is rare enough but the one under review here is literally genius. That is to say the majority of the characters are defined as certifiable geniuses with IQs far in excess of 150 points. They each have at least one advanced degree in the hard sciences representing the brightest minds of their generation. Then there is the girl next door who squeaked through high school but is out going and beautiful. Unless you have spent the last five years in an alternate quantum universe you realize I’m referring to the flag ship of comedies on CBS, ‘The Big Bang Theory’. When I first read the premise of this sit-com years ago I immediately felt it had potential; "a pair of socially awkward geniuses live next door to a beautiful blonde young woman." I turned in mostly because I had been a fan of a couple of the main characters for quite some time and I do tend to favor scientific aspects of a plot. Defying the odds this series quickly rose above the one joke basis the premise suggested. Although it made drastic changes in the central cast, a typical sig of jumping the shark, it not only continued to be exceptionally funny it actually increased in its likability. The network responded to this steadfast quality by bestowing upon the series the much lauded three year renewal. There are only a few shows my entire family will sit and enjoy together but it is the rare convergence of elements that brings about that situation. If you examine the list of guest starts many real life scientists, include Nobel Laureates, have shown up. Even lists of equations in the background and prop books lying about are based in the real sciences depicted. You know a series is special when it contains inside jokes for physicists. The show is not just for those rarefied few, there are plenty of references to pop culture comic books, films and television series. This aspect of the series makes it possible to addend the guest star list with actors well known for roles in these venues. At any comic book or science fiction con that features the cast of this series the panel are booked solid and the line for the autography table extends out the door.
The continuing antics of theoretical physicist Dr. Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) and his roommate, Dr. Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki), an experimental physicist, continue as they face numerous changes that affect their little circle of friends. After a season broken up Leonard and their neighbor Penny (Kaley Cuoco) are covertly attempting the 2.0 beta of their relationship. The ripple effect of relationship changes pervades their entire social network with Sheldon in a reasonably stable relationship with a neurobiologist, Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik).Well, as stable as possible considering the unusual affect and personal eccentricities they manifest. Another member of the group, aerospace engineer, Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) with microbiologist Dr. Bernadette Rostenkowski (Melissa Rauch) is engaged to be married. Bernadette worked her way through graduate school working with Penny at the Cheesecake factory becoming friends. This season Penny has a full on posse when Amy adopts Penny as her best friend. This season the responsibility to carry the whole episode was expertly split between the boys and girls. This was one of the previously cited changes that frequently are harbingers of doom but in this case propelled the series to new heights. Topping off the internally tangled relationships Leonard had been dating the sister of the final member of the group, Dr. Rajesh Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar), an astrophysicist. Raj is painfully shy, unable to speak to a woman unless he is drunk.
At the end of last season it seemed that Penny and Raj got drunk and had sex. It turns out that Raj ejaculated prematurely when Penny tried to help him put on a condom. She passed out and nothing happened. Penny is certain that this will destroy the friendship equilibrium between the guys and decides to abandon her dreams of acting and return to Nebraska. This is thankfully derailed when Penny finally gets a paying acting job that restores her confidence. These little plot devices might seem trivial or even contrived but they are a couple of many demonstrations of just how good the writers here are. They got the characters out of the fourth season cliffhanger with Penny in bed with Raj and addressed the ego deflating truth that in the four years Penny has been trying to become an actress she has failed. This opened the fifth season up to explore different aspects on the continually growing characters. The ‘Penny Posse’ gives a much needed female perspective and permits Penny to be more than the pretty blond next door. Her two best friends have PhDs showing Penny can relate to the scientifically inclined without the sexual attraction that most of the male characters initially felt. This provides a natural means to contrast the male social dynamic with a similar feminine one.
This reconfiguration did not occur suddenly. It has been slowly building in a very natural fashion. This greatly assisted how well the revisions were infused into an already well crafted series. The alterations provided a scaffold to build upon enhancing the base line personalities in play from the start. The most important thing a series can achieve is the ability to grow without sacrificing the factors that originally brought it to success. Now with the expanded repertoire to keep thing interesting the writers could explore a myriad of new situations. While each episode is reasonably self contained there are season long threads that are carefully moved forward. The proposal and subsequent engagement of /Raj and Bernadette allowed the series to look at something understandable by the audience without having to push the main romance between Penny and Howard. Meanwhile the budding relationship between Sheldon and Amy is a goldmine of quirky, comic potential keeping the show squarely on its starting track. The Penny Posse is another fantastic source of humor. The bachelorette party the girls have for Bernadette was hysterical as was the time they decided to take Sheldon out on a girl’s night out. The impending nuptials continue to bolster the shoes already significant potential adding some offbeat conflicts, Howard’s mother wanted him to marry a Jewish woman holding Bernadette’ Catholic beliefs against her., but eventual warms up to her. At that point Howard is presented with an opportunity that could make his career, a slot as mission specialist on the space station.
The heart of the story remains the romance between Penny and Leonard is written in such a heartwarming way that it sets the series beyond the typical emotionally empty sit-coms. This is a different take on the proverbial star crossed lovers where different families or gangs are replaced by a difference in intellects. Penny is not the stereotypical dumb blonde, is is smart in living life, caring and empathic. In fact she has grown to understand Sheldon as a friend. This series is a true gem and one that has earned it place on your weekly routine.
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