Review by Johanna and KC Carlson
The sitcom about the science geek and their pretty neighbor returns, even funnier than before. The season begins with Leonard (Johnny 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 the hallway security camera to spy on them, which gives them plenty of ammunition to tell him what he’s done wrong.
Turns out Penny is insecure about not having graduated from college, while Leonard has a Ph.D. She shares this secret with Sheldon, which makes him crazy for having to hide a confidence from his best friend. Sheldon’s reactions are frequently what elevate the series’ typical sitcom plots into something fresh and hilarious. Plus, this whole conversation takes place in the laundry room, where Sheldon is using a board (like they use at the Gap and other retail stores) to fold his t-shirts into perfect little squares, illustrating the way his life is right-angle different to just about everyone else’s. But it’s part of his charm, how he’s skewed in a way that makes internal, logical sense once you accept his starting premises.
For instance, in this episode, Penny tells him he has to find a way to keep her secret, so he decides the best way to do that is to move out, so he won’t be around Leonard, but he won’t say why he’s leaving. That leads to the friends arguing about what Leonard might have done — listing some of Sheldon’s many quirks — before they start handing him off because no one can stand him for that long. It all spirals out logically from the point before until we wind up with drugged Sheldon spilling his guts. It’s no wonder Jim Parsons was Emmy-nominated for this role; it’s an amazing performance.
One of the best parts of this season is the way the friendship between Penny and Sheldon develops. There’s nothing romantic, but they play off each other beautifully and comedically and uniquely. She pierces his pretensions, comparing them to “real life”, while her support allows him to reveal his weirdness to the audience in highly amusing ways. And when she calls him “sweetie” while listening to something that’s actually hurt him, she sounds like the mom he needed but never had.
The dialogue is also great. So many funny lines that I can’t start quoting them, or we’ll be here for eons. It just builds and builds. Although Sheldon is not really in touch with what many of us think of as the real world, he is capable of rapier wit when deflating the pretensions of others. Plus, funny costumes, too, as when they go to the Renaissance Faire (which inspires rants on historical accuracy from Sheldon) or Sheldon drags out his Flash costume after having too much coffee.
Their daily clothes are pretty amusing, too, as Howard tries to look cool for chicks (but winds up resembling a 70s Sears catalog) and Sheldon has an array of geeky t-shirts.
In order to get over the failed date with Penny, in episode 2, Leonard takes up with Leslie Winkle (Sara Gilbert), another scientist with a remarkably practical view towards dating and a sharp rivalry with Sheldon. When she suggests she and Leonard get together, he asks how she proposes they proceed. She responds, “Your place, we’ll order Chinese, you’ll rent a movie, artsy but accessible, then light petting, no coitus.” “Sounds fun,” he weakly replies. She finishes, “I’ll leave the details up to you. I think it’s better if you assume the male role.” (Gilbert was supposed to be a regular this season, but she only appears here and episodes 6 and 16.)
Leonard has a dreamy charm that balances Sheldon’s abrupt practicality. You can tell he still has imaginative hopes and likes some of his illusions about the way the world should be. Which may be why he goes out on occasional dates while Sheldon never has.
Leslie (Sara Gilbert) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki)
It’s a small thing, but I love the way these characters always end up eating together. Lunch during workdays, evening takeout dinners, dates that involve meals … it’s realistic, that people come together over food.
This DVD set contains the 23 episodes of season two. Other episodes on disc one include Penny getting addicted to online gaming as a way of escaping her feelings of failure (#3), which has a hilarious scene where Sheldon doesn’t realize he’s giving a cute male student the wrong impression about why he’s asking for his phone number. Koothrappali gets recognized by People magazine in episode 4, and the fame goes to his head (featuring a Charlie Sheen cameo). In episode 5, Sheldon is forced by the others to finally learn how to drive, while in the next episode, he acquires an obsessive girlfriend/acolyte/stalker. This leads to a discussion of what Sheldon’s “deal” might be (i.e. what turns him on?). It’s inconclusive.
Sara Rue guest stars
Disc two covers the next six episodes. In number 7, Penny gets the guys addicted to watching America’s Next Top Model and Sheldon decides to banish her, leading to an escalating war of petty aggravations. Episode 8 debuts the game of Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock (there’s even a shirt!), as well as introducing the wonderful Sara Rue as (medical) Dr. Stephanie Barnett for a series of episodes where Leonard “steals” her from Howard. This plotline continues through episodes 9 and 10, as Sheldon and Penny try to adjust to Leonard and Stephanie’s more serious relationship.
Episode 11 is the Christmas episode, in which Sheldon goes crazy trying to figure out what to get Penny while she dates a genius, gorgeous, rock star-style visiting physicist. She gets him the most perfect gift ever, then in episode 12, the guys build a killer robot for a battle tournament.
Episodes 13-18 are on disc three. In the first, Sheldon has to make friends with a competitor in order to get computer time, which leads to him approaching it in his typically direct fashion. Next, Sheldon loans Penny money to help her with some bills while Leonard tries to recover money her ex-boyfriend owes her. A high point is episode 15, where Leonard’s psychologist mother (played by the amazing Christine Baranski) bonds with Sheldon.
Christine Baranski and Jim Parsons
Leslie Winkle returns in episode 16, where she hooks up with Howard, while Summer Glau appears as herself in episode 17. Episode 18 has Penny starting a small business making flower barrettes called “Penny Blossoms” that explodes when Sheldon gets involved.
Episode 19, the first on the final disc, is a high point. It begins with Penny teasing Sheldon about how badly he’d coped with new neighbors, spirals through Howard finally trying to move away from his mother, and cascades into the arrival of a new blonde neighbor who isn’t shy about flirting to get what she wants. To fight back and quell her jealousy, Penny even tries to tell a joke about quantum mechanics. (Cuoco does an amazing job in this episode.)
Penny (Kaley Cuoco) and Stuart (Kevin Sussman)
Episode 20 takes Penny to the comic book store with the guys. She wants some comics for her nephew, and Sheldon is his usual self, overwhelming her with minutiae. Stuart (Kevin Sussman), comic shop clerk and artist, ends up asking her out after a terrific speech about Hellblazer. In episode 21, the guys take Howard to Vegas to get his mind off Leslie, leaving Sheldon behind, which makes for more great interaction with Penny.
Stuart returns, as does the comic shop, in episode 22, as Leonard struggles with whether to give him advice. The last episode features the guys preparing for a three-month scientific expedition to the North Pole.
Special features include information about the real-life particle physicist who consults on the show (about 10 minutes), a gag reel (8 minutes, including a demonstration of how difficult Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock can be to explain), and a behind-the-scenes discussion about the humor, characters, and situations of season two (16 minutes or so). Here’s a two-minute clip:
Season 3, which debuts September 21, features the guys returning from Antarctica and Penny and Leonard taking their relationship to a new level. Here’s my free suggestion for an upcoming episode: Mark Waid guest appearance!
See clips and episode summaries at the official DVD site. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the studio.)