The Big Bang Theory
August 31, 2008

The Complete First Season of The Big Bang Theory is out on DVD on Tuesday. It consists of 17 episodes of the sitcom, including Chuck Lorre’s end vanity cards, which instead of being a production company logo are little bits of his philosophy or fiction or rants.

The Big Bang Theory cover
The Big Bang Theory
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Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki) are nerdy genius grad students (named after Sheldon Leonard, producer of TV classics including Make Room for Daddy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Andy Griffith Show). Penny (Kaley Cuoco, previously on 8 Simple Rules) is the blonde Cheesecake Factory waitress who lives across the hall. Leonard develops a crush on her and sees her presence as a chance to try out another social sphere. The result is a great “crossing the tracks” kind of relationship that reminds me of 1930s movies, only instead of class/income, this time it’s brainpower that separates the characters.

Howard (Simon Helberg) and Rajesh (Kunal Nayyar) are the boys’ friends. Howard thinks he’s a ladies’ man, only his bragging is based on his geekiness, and Rajesh has a pathological inability to speak to women. The writers compare Howard to Pepe Le Peu in how overconfident he is, and it’s right on target.

Some of the one-liners are laugh-out-loud funny. The plots can be ridiculous, as when Sheldon is so obsessed with the mess in Penny’s apartment that he breaks in at midnight to straighten up, but it still stems from the characters. (That’s the one where Leonard, when he thinks he hears a noise in the middle of the night, wields an illuminated light saber as both nightlight and weapon.) There’s also slapstick, witty banter, geek culture references, and goofy fun. Much of it works because of the skilled delivery of the players. The plots aren’t really the point so much as the character interaction.

Big Bang Theory group

The pilot features Sheldon and Leonard going to a high-IQ sperm bank to get some extra money. They solve the receptionist’s crossword for her, demonstrating that they have no tact or consideration for emotions. In typical sitcom fashion, Penny’s shower isn’t working, so she winds up wrapped in a towel in their apartment, while the guys wind up getting pantsed by her ex-boyfriend. The laugh track in that episode is also turned up too high. Keep going afterwards, and the show will quickly improve and grow on you.

The first really good one is the fourth episode, where Sheldon gets fired for insulting his department head. It shows how quickly the geeks’ lives disintegrate when their routines and comfort zones are interrupted. It also allows him to go to the market with Penny, who has begun humoring her neighbors. Those two interact hilariously in a clash of opposites. It culminates in him trying to find out details about her menstrual cycle in order to encourage her to save money on a lifetime supply of tampons and getting the door slammed in his face. Laurie Metcalf (a Roseanne alumni) guest-stars as Sheldon’s fundamentalist mother, which plays up how much these grown men (in their mid-20s) with academic careers look, act, and relate as youngsters.

In contrast, Penny’s character is so undeveloped as to have no real ambition. There’s a throwaway joke in the pilot about her wanting to write a book, but we know more about what she’s running away from — bad boyfriends, getting out of Nebraska — then what she wants to be. That’s not surprising, given that it’s a Chuck Lorre show, and he seems to still be working out his problems with driven women after being involved with Grace Under Fire, Cybill, and Roseanne. These days, he much prefers the blonde bimbette type for comic relief. (See also Two and a Half Men.) Penny’s still mostly an object and plot device, although the actress does a great job fleshing out what she’s given. She’s fallen into almost a mom role, taking care of the nerds.

Big Bang Theory hug

The series came back after the writers’ strike hiatus with a series of great episodes, beginning with the ninth, where the two leads fight over whether to present their work at a physics conference. (You can tell the break because of the length of Penny’s hair.) Episode 10 features “exquisitely convoluted” lies (Sheldon’s phrase) to keep them from having to listen to Penny’s poor singing performance, while 11 has Sheldon coping badly with being sick. In episode 12, a new, younger rival arrives, which disrupts Sheldon’s entire worldview and ego. At this point in the series, the scripts are polished and the cast really clicking, and that continues on through the series ender, in which Penny and Sheldon have a meaningful conversation about Leonard.

Sheldon is my favorite. He’ll say anything and he’s really really smart and completely unselfconscious about it. He’s worse than Leonard in terms of relating to others on anything other than a purely intellectual basis. He’s got little patience for most people and most conventions of behavior, plus he’s constrained by his obsessive habits. The actor does a terrific job with long sentences that he delivers masterfully.

The guy characters remind me of the people I went to school with. Heck, I was one of these people — and thankfully, the show does acknowledge girl geeks, with the occasional appearance of Sara Gilbert (whose character on Roseanne was married to Galecki’s character) as Leslie, Leonard’s sometime girlfriend, beginning in episode 3. (Maybe I still am one of those people, interested in DVD commentaries and computer gaming and evenings at home with a few good friends instead of going out to clubs.)

My brother, a new Ph.D., also enjoys the show because of what he says is its realism when it comes to the authenticity of struggles over status and publication in academia. He cited the ninth episode, where the leads argue over whether to present their co-authored paper at a conference. He said in his department, they would play a game of “find the error” in professorial and student presentations because it would establish a pecking order. Sheldon’s meglomania in looking down on everybody is common in that environment, with over-confidence masking insecurity.

Big Bang Theory cast

The only extra on this set is the 17-minute “Quantum Mechanics of The Big Bang Theory: A behind-the-scenes look into geek chic” featurette. The Executive Producers (and series creators) Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady talk about the show interspersed with clips that illustrate what they’re talking about and the stars are interviewed about their characters. It’s actually a great introduction to the show, although anyone who would buy the box set likely already knows most of the information it contains. I would have liked to have known more about the theme song as well, with maybe a free downloadable version included. A complimentary copy of this DVD was provided by the studio.

The second season of the show debuts September 22 with Sara Gilbert added as a series regular.

24 Responses  
David Oakes writes:  

I’ve changed my mind. It is ethically and morally wrong for you to get review copies. You should give this away, right now. To some one who proved their character by generous giving up his T-shirt to an even bigger Middleman fan.

I hand’t really thoguth about it, but yeah, the first episode was trying too hard, wasn’t it. And armchair psychology aside, I think that Penny is holding her own with the boys (as would, yes, the average 12-year old girl) and compares well to most female sit-com characters (again, daming by faint praise to be sure). She can’t be too unbroken, because she is a recurring character in a comedy. As a one-off comparisson, Sheldon’s sister seemed to be quite capable and secure.

And while part of me feels terrible for Ms. Gilbert to be typecast as Galecki’s girlfriend, the rest of me could care less because she is so… smart. Anything to get her on a show I remember to watch more often than not.

Anonymous writes:  

>geek chic


Johanna writes:  

Except they called Sheldon’s sister “dumb as soup”. But maybe that’s the subversive underlying theme: better to be happy than smart. Although the guys are pretty happy most of the time.

If “geek chic” is a bad thing, good that I didn’t mention the tagline “Smart is the new sexy.”

Rich Johnston writes:  

I’ve seen two episodes of this. The second to make sure the first wasn’t an exception.

This is the kind of thing the US version of Spaced or The IT Crowd would have ended up as, right?

Adam Arnold writes:  

>This is the kind of thing the US version of Spaced or The IT Crowd would have ended up as, right?<

Yeah, pretty much.

Big Bang Theory has the misfortune of having some really bad first episodes. In fact, I completely gave up on the show after seeing how bad the plot and acting were in the first episode. It was the summer dry spell that made me give the show another shot… and even then, Big Bang doesn’t become watchable until episode 4, which is as Johanna said above.

Still, Big Bang is better than that recent UK comedy Lab Rats. That was mindlessly awful.

Rich Johnston writes:  

Quite possibly. But I haven’t seen anyone praising that.

The episodes I saw, I’m pretty sure, were quite a way into the first series.

Ooh good, The Wire’s on in ten minutes.

Nat Gertler writes:  

In weighing Chuck Lorre’s tendencies with women, I think we have to include Dharma Finklestein, who was smart, driven, and capable. There was a risk that she could just end up as the “force of nature” for the average man Greg, but in the long run she was the more fully fleshed-out character. And all of the women regulars in that show (both mothers, Dharma’s friend) were strong and effective in various ways, and only Greg’s mom was depicted on the whole as an antagonist (one could in fact argue that each of the others was meant to depict individual strengths, all of which were reflected in Dharma; if Two-And-A-Half Men is about the weaknesses of men, Dharma & Greg is about the strengths of women.)

Johanna writes:  

Oh, I wasn’t analyzing the shows — I was referring to his interview comments, where he talks about wanting to avoid most women, which is why his two current shows are so male-heavy.

Nat’s TV or Not TV » Blog Archive » Chuck’s girls writes:  

[…] was responding to someone else’s blog about The Big Bang Theory, and it got me thinking about a previous Chuck Lorre creation in ways […]

Justin writes:  

Thanks for the review. Despite the lack of extras I am still leaning towards buying this season, and that is in spite of having seen most episodes. I am also wondering if I should wait for a price cut since I think this will likely be one of those shows that noone thinks to get.

Oh and the theme song is on Itunes. Bare Naked Ladies sang it. It should be found by searching Big Bang Theory Theme.

Chris writes:  

This is probably my favorite show of last season. An intelligent comedy was something that I’ve been waiting for so long, lol. Some say I’m a little like Sheldon and I’m flattered, lol.

Anyway, I love how the characters interact, and how Penny is street smart, while the guys are just smart-smart. They turn out quite dumb at time and so does she. I like that little game they have.

All in all, some of the best sitcom in ages!

Ryan writes:  

I went to high school with Jim Parsons (Sheldon), and it’s a positively surreal experience to see Jim on TV every week. But if anyone deserves success it’s him.

Like any sitcom, it took a few episodes to find its feet, but it seemed to hit its stride.

The Big Bang Theory - Comic References » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[…] rewatching The Big Bang Theory for my DVD review (the set is out today!), I started cataloging the various comic book references I […]

Scott writes:  

The Big Bang Theory is the best new sitcom in years. I am excited about the second season premiere on Monday, September 22, 2008. Great show.

Nat Gertler writes:  

Ah, okay. I’ve not seen the DVD interview (nor am I likely to); but I will note that for someone who isn’t going much for female leads, he has some fine actresses covering his female roles: Holland Taylor, Conchatta Ferrell, Sara Gilbert. Those are folks I’m always glad to see.

Adam writes:  

Not having watched many of Chuck Lorre’s other shows, I wasn’t aware of his “Vanity Cards” until I noticed one flash by during the credits and paused to read it. Some pretty fun/interesting things to be found in those.

There’s a full archive over at his website:

Johanna writes:  

Adam, I linked those in the first paragraph. :)

Jeff writes:  

Love The Big Bang Theory. Funniest show on TV.

Adam writes:  

Oh, so you did. Been a while since I read the actual article attached to the comments…

BB Fan writes:  

Yeah, I gotta say, this is a great show. I gave up on sitcoms long ago and randomly saw this and love it. I’m getting the DVD for sure. There is a cool Big Bang IQ Test @: http://warnervideo.com/bigbangtheorydvd/ . I only got an 85 :(… Guess I’m an Big Bang Dunce.

The Fall TV Schedule » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] comedies all the way! How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory bookend the other shows: Two and a Half Men (aging out as the kid does) and the new Accidentally on […]

The Big Bang Theory Season 2 » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] Galecki) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco) returning from their first date, a situation set up at the end of Season One. Sheldon (Jim Parsons), Howard (Simon Helberg), and Rajesh Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar) have hacked […]

violet writes:  

i love to watch big bang theory i watch it every thursday!! xDD.

King of the Nerds Returns This Month » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] a reunion around that movie and guest stars including Bill Nye the Science Guy, Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory), Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), Kevin Sorbo (Hercules), Kumail Nanjiani (Franklin & Bash), […]


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