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Monday, May 12, 2008

that's still on? "the big bang theory"

Let's face it: There's a lot of TV out there. It can be easy for a show to sneak under your radar, like many-a Russian submarine, and keep powering along unnoticed, watched by just enough people to keep it afloat. (I know subs don't traditionally float, but stay with me here.) That's why the focus of this new Channel Surfing series, That's Still On?, is to seek out these Red Octobers and bring them to the surface. These aren't necessarily the shows you should be watching ... these are shows you didn't even know you could be watching.

Today's That's Still On?: "The Big Bang Theory."

Lifelong nerd that I am, I was intrigued by CBS' "The Big Bang Theory" when I first heard about it. This is great, I thought. A show about nerds, a show celebrating the nerd lifestyle, that will thrust nerds into the mainstream of popular culture and help me get a date! I shall watch this show! And then I completely forgot about it. (But Thrust Nerds would make a kick-ass band name, don't you think?)

I forgot about it so spectacularly, I could've sworn it debuted last season already, and was now well into its second year. But no, "The Big Bang Theory," produced by sitcom stalwart Chuck Lorre ("Dharma and Greg," "Two and a Half Men"), first aired in September of aught-seven, which I know seems like forever ago when you take into account the writers strike. But this kind of space-time anomaly can occur when a show simply vanishes off my plane of reality, drifting aimlessly in a forgotten netherworld populated by relatives' birthdays, the Grammys, and most of my high school education.

Yet while I'm not alone in my obliviousness to this show, if recent Nielsen ratings are any indication, I may well be in the minority. "Theory" landed at #42 (with an 8 share, whatever the hey that means) for the week of April 21, the most recent date available from my exhaustive Wikipedia research. While the show has never cracked the top 20, it's never dipped below 50 — and that, my friends, is the sign of a mediocre, long-lasting sitcom.

"Mediocre" is the key word here. (How mediocre is it? Its theme song is performed by Barenaked Ladies. Yeah ... 1998 called, it wants its crappy novelty band back.) The episode I watched tonight — the only episode I've ever seen, keep in mind — was pure sitcom fooferall. In an age when the traditional situation comedy has two feet, an arm, and most of its torso in the grave, "Theory" is clinging to the terra firma by its multi-cameraed, laugh-tracked abused, bare teeth. Even the show's premise has the stink of rigor mortis: A hot, dim blonde (Kaley Cuoco) moves in across the hall from four brilliant, shut-in physicists. She then befriends the poor lonely dweebs and teaches them about the outside world, BECAUSE THAT HAPPENS. She even, from what I can tell, develops feelings for one of dorks, Leonard, played by Johnny Galecki ("Roseanne").

This particular episode, titled "The Peanut Reaction" (each episode has vaguely sciencey-sounding titles, like "The Dumpling Paradox," "The Fuzzy Boots Corollary," and "The Luminous Fish Effect" — again, Wikipedia), dealt with Leonard's birthday, and his friends' quest to throw him a party, something he never had before. (Of course not, seeing as how geeks never party — not even with cake and Pin the Tail on the Donkey.)

The other three geeks contribute with varying degrees of geeklike behavior. Sheldon (Jim Parsons), the bastard lovechild of Niles Crane and Toby Radloff, set on buying his roommate a wireless router as a present, misses the party because people at the electronic store keep asking him tech questions, which he is only too happy to field until security is called. Creepy little sleazoid Howard (Simon Helberg), tasked with keeping Leonard busy while the party is set up, fakes an allergic reaction to a peanut. This fails to fool Leonard for very long, and so, promised by hot neighbor Penny that she will hook him up with one of her slutty friends, Howard gobbles up a peanut granola bar, prompting the show's best line: "I'm doing this for you, little guy." As for the lone minority character, Rajnesh (Kunal Nayyar) ... well, I guess he should be happy he's got steady acting work, because he didn't have much to do this week.

From what little I've seen, I can understand the appeal of this kind of show. It goes down easy, offers a few genuine laughs, and doesn't take a lot of thought (which is disappointing, considering it's about frickin' physicists). It leads into the more-popular "How I Met Your Mother," and probably carries a lot of that show's viewership, who don't care to have to change the channel come 7:30. (I watched tonight's "Mother" as well, by the way, featuring the return of Britney Spears, and it made me want to pry my teeth out with a butter knife.)

I'm not about to structure my Monday night around "Theory," but as far as mediocre sitcoms go, you could do a lot worse. (COUGH HowIMetYourMother COUGH.) Now that CBS has picked it up for a second season — wait, seriously, this isn't its second season already? — let's see just how long this run-of-the-mill comedy can tread ratings water.

That's Still On? Score: 6.4 (out of 10)
DVR Priority: Low
What You Could Be Doing Instead: Reading Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time."

Adam Reinhard,

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Well, I was too busy watching "Gossip Girl" to pay any attention to "Big Bang Theory" but, theoretically (get it, theoretically?) I'll probably agree with you on that.

But, I can't let the more than obvious digs at HIMYM go by. First of all, the show features dearest lovable Nick Andopolis aka Jason Segel - how can you hate on that? - and Doogie Howser MD! Admittedly last night's episode, which I watched in between the 128091729712 commercials on CW, was pretty flat, but if the death of the situational comedy is imminent, then HIMYM is its last hurrah.

It's taken the best of what the traditional sitcom format offers - flashbacks and laugh track included - and kept it relevent. The characters have that good old ensemble chemistry (think Seinfeld and Cheers) that is often lacking from "The Office" and, yes, even "30 Rock." Don't get me wrong. I do think the sitcom is on its dying breath, but I don't think it's dead yet.


By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At May 13, 2008 at 8:52 AM  

I must say I, like you, stumbled upon "Big Bang" one night and through a combination of laziness and trying to figure out where I've seen the Leonard character before, managed to watch an episode. I can't completely agree with you on the 6.4 only because if you compare this show to the almighty reigning sitcom "Two and a Half Men" (don't get me started on why this is so damn popular), then I have to say it's ... not all bad. Yes, that's a compliment. I would recommend a lot of other shows before this one, but I say give it another few episodes before dismissing it.

-- Sara

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At May 13, 2008 at 9:32 AM  

But look at that Leonard guy. He's a total nerd. He's wearing glasses and stuff.

By Anonymous Anonymous, At May 14, 2008 at 10:30 PM  

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