Not a school day goes by that I do not catch a student
reading a graphic novel, or geeking out over some science
fiction series. (And that's excluding The Twilight Saga.)
I shake my head to myself, not out of disapproval, but marveling
about how geekdom became the mainstream.
No greater proof could there be, and no greater satisfaction
to me on a weekly basis, than the success of The Big
Bang Theory. Creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady managed
to twist the old sitcom trope of dorks with a hot girl next
door and finally make it something both worthy of respect
and flat-out hilarious.
How'd they do it? By actually creating characters with
some depth, and making sure that the shots taken at the
culture came from within, not from without. Of course, you
can find the sight of a group of physicists playing Rock
Band, Halo or Age of Conan funny, but
now that has to be with a tinge of knowingness. The jokes
aren't derisive; they're just painfully accurate. Most of
us don't look particularly cool playing Rock Band,
but everybody plays it. Sitcoms have met the enemy, and
he is us.
With the second season now on DVD, the series has really hit
a stride, thus partially proving what we will now call the
Bretschneider Septimal Foot-Finding Principle - that shows
take some time to bloom into truly memorable series, especially
when trying to root in geek culture. The McCaw Worships Lorre
Exception is in The Big Bang Theory, as all the pieces
were there in the first season (still occasionally chuckling
over the four Flashes at Halloween). It was funny in Season
1; it became memorable in Season 2.
Part of that is because of Parsons, an incredibly gifted
physical comedian. That shines through most particularly
in Season 2's Christmas episode, "The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis."
Already sharply written, Parsons takes it up a level with
Sheldon's reaction to the perfect Christmas gift. I'm not
alone in noting this; in one of the DVD featurettes, this
scene gets the spotlight when talking about how perfectly
realized the characterizations are.
In fact, plot sometimes doesn't matter nearly as much
in this show as those characters. Though we can rave about
Parsons, whose character is written as the most distant
from emotionally normal humanity, the rest of the cast is
just as sharp.
Parsons unexpectedly has the perfect foil in Penny (Kaley
Cuoco). Originally the cute girl next door, and set up as
the romantic tension for Leonard (Johnny Galecki), her thought
processes, her life, is everything Sheldon finds inexplicable.
Yet somehow, they have actually become strong friends, much
to their surprise. (They also work well as bitter enemies,
as in "The Panty Pinata Polarization" -- video clip below.)
Not that Leonard fades away; Season 2 began with he and
Penny not quite clicking in their first try as a couple.
Eventually, however, it seems apparent that this is one
of those shows that really doesn't need romantic tension
to create laughs. It's used a few times, but what matters
more is how the dynamic has shifted a bit to make Leonard
be the most sane among the ensemble.
Which leaves Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) and Rajesh
Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar). One day they'll get their Emmy
turns. Both characters could have easily been one joke played
over and over, but in Season 2, the writers and the actors
took pains to give them depth. Not that that's easy with
the purposely shallow Wolowitz, but Helberg plays the hurt
as well, without letting it get pathetic.
This year also found excuses for Koothrappali to get drunk,
the only situation in which he can talk to women. Literally.
For any reason. Letting Nayyar loose, the character turns
surprisingly smooth and charming, though occasionally veering
into amusing obnoxiousness. This is a show willing to show
range without sinking to "very special episodes."
As a DVD collection, the season stands mostly on the strength
of its episodes. The fourth disc has a blooper reel, which
includes several attempts to get the rules of "Rock Paper
Scissors Lizard Spock" right. The other featurette explains
how the show gets a lot of other things right, focusing on
the contributions of UCLA physics professor David Saltzberg
as a consultant.
How do they get the comic book stuff so right? They don't
need a consultant; these writers have to know comics already.
There's a reason The Big Bang Theory has the only
comic book store on television that looks like a comic book
store and not a stereotype.
We made the mainstream, people. And this show is our standard.