Friday, 15 February 2008

THE BIG BANG THEORY 1.1

Friday, 15 February 2008
Writers: Chuck Lorre & Bill Prady
Director: James Burrows

Cast: Kaley Cuoco (Penny), Johnny Galecki (Leonard Hofstadter), Jim Parsons (Sheldon Cooper), Simon Helberg (Howard Wolowitz), Kunal Nayyar (Rajesh Koothrappali), Vernee Watson-Johnson (Althea) & Brian Patrick Wade (Kurt)

Two brilliant physicist roommates make friends with their beautiful, sexy new neighbour...

Penny: I'm a Sagittarius, which probably tells
you way more than you need to know.

Sheldon: Yes, it tells us that you participate in the mass
cultural delusion that the sun's apparent position relative
to arbitrarily defined constellations at the time of
your birth somehow affects your personality.

Surfing the 07/08 wave of "geek chic" in the US (along with Chuck and Reaper), The Big Bang Theory is more stereotypical sitcom – cursed with the irritating way all live studio comedies from America are performed in front of audiences that collapse into hysterics at every utterance. Either that, or the canned-laughter button got stuck in the editing room.

The incredibly loose-fitting premise has two physicists roommates (Johnny Galecki's geeky Leonard, and Jim Parsons' geekier Sheldon) managing to win the attention of sexy neighbour Penny (Kaley Cuoco), after plucking up the courage to invite her over to eat.

It's like Weird Science, minus the "weird" -- clearly intended to be a series where an underachieving babe helps awkward nerds with their socially-awkward lives, as they in turn probably help her do well academically. Or at the very least how to complete Call Of Duty 4.

So, Beauty and the geeks then; with the triptych of leads all playing pure stereotypes. The geeks are geeks with a capital "G" -- the kind of blunt exaggerations that have whiteboards of scientific formulae in their front rooms and the Periodic Table printed on their shower curtain! The fantasy girl-next-door is equally clich├ęd; she's a diminutive, perky blonde who works as a waitress, bounces around in tiny denim shorts, isn't fazed by the choking amount of "geekery" from the boys, and (naturally) decides to take a shower minutes after meeting them...

None of the characters are actually unlikeable (which is a real blessing), but they're enslaved by archetypes to the extent that their personalities are just one-note. At the half-way point, the cast is filled out by the arrival of Leonard and Sheldon's friends – who are, if anything, even nerdier...

Howard (Simon Helberg) is actually funnier and more palatable than the lead duo, being comically deluded into thinking he's cooler than he actually is, while Rajesh (Kunal Nayyar) spends the episode dumbstruck by the presence of a girl in the room.

There are some funny lines, as American sitcoms are ruthlessly focused on delivering a near-constant stream of punchlines -- no matter how awkward, strained or obvious the set-ups. Dialogue over-saturation means nothing wins a big laugh, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't grin and giggle at times. Just the notion of people actually playing Klingon Boggle still has me chuckling a day later!

For my taste, it's all a bit too strained, forced, unlikely and exaggerated. Maybe once the characters become more delineated, and a sense of real friendship develops between the leads, The Big Bang Theory could become an easier watch. The show earned itself a second season in the States, and Channel 4 haven't hidden this away on E4 (like they have Reaper), so obviously a lot of people have faith in it.

Ultimately, your enjoyment of The Big Bang Theory rests squarely on three things: your tolerance for laugh-heavy US sitcoms, how easily you accept a gorgeous girl hanging out with misfits, and how readily you can laugh at extremely broad stereotypes.

It's certainly worth a look, and I've heard it only improves as it goes along, but this opener wasn't the big bang I'd expected.


14 February 2008
Channel 4, 10.00 pm