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The Big Bang Theory:
The Complete 2nd Season

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.

Buy The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Second Season at Amazon!

Derek McCaw

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