Giving The Big Bang Theory a Fair Chance

Open Mind is a weekly series in which Josh Kurp takes a look at shows that we wouldn’t normally cover, to see whether they’re as bad (or occasionally, as good) as people say. This week: The Big Bang Theory.

My father once complained that he didn’t like Seinfeld because he said it seemed like all the characters, particularly Jerry, knew they were telling jokes and were too self-satisfied with themselves after the punch line landed. I, of course, called bullshit on this, and probably went and watched “The Betrayal” in protest.

Except now, I feel that way about a character on another widely popular, well received sitcom: Jim Parsons on The Big Bang Theory. I’ve seen bits and pieces of a few Big Bang episodes, but last night, with “The Prestidigitation Approximation,” was the first time I really sat down and paid attention to an episode of that other Chuck Lorre show.

Overall, the show’s not bad. It’s not great, either, but it’s much better than any of CBS’ other sitcoms, outside of How I Met Your Mother. With the exception of Parsons as Sheldon, who we’ll get to later, the rest of the cast is very enjoyable, especially Johnny Galecki as Leonard, who was originally the focus of the show before he became the Richie Cunningham to Parsons’ Fonzie. Galecki has been around since appearing as David Healy in season four of Roseanne, and he’s a gifted comedic and dramatic actor. Last night, in a plot about wearing contacts instead of glasses for the sake of his new girlfriend, he also showed he was a gifted physical comedian, crashing into plates, tables, and people carrying trays of food, a sitcom staple if there’s ever been one.

The woman that Leonard’s dating, Priya, is the sister of Raj (Kunal Nayyar, an Indian actor who doesn’t resort to lame stereotypes, like the folks over at Outsourced), and she’s jealous that Leonard still hangs around with his ex-girlfriend, Penny (the very winning Kayley Cuoco). Early on, Penny was your typical blonde archetype, i.e. playing (and actually being) dumb to the rest of the “way smart” characters, which is one of the reasons why I couldn’t fully devote myself to Big Bang. But she’s more fleshed out now, and even outsmarts her so-called brainier friends.

Priya tells Leonard that she doesn’t want him hanging around with Kelly anymore because, well, it’s weird to see your ex all the time (even though they live next door to one another and Kelly came first and etc.). In the scene where he does, the show does a neat trick of having the conversation taking place on a five-story staircase, the camera placed at the top and bottom of each floor. It’s something I haven’t seen before him a traditional multi-camera sitcom, a statement I can’t often say. Other positives: the Barenaked Ladies theme song (Pierce would agree); the relationships between the characters are believable; and the elaborate apartment set, an underrated quality for any comedy.

Then there’s Sheldon, who gets the majority of the geeky jokes on Big Bang, like looking for uranium on Craigslist. It’s nice that there’s a nerdy break-out character on a popular sitcom who’s portrayed as relatively normal (meaning, he doesn’t have a pocket protector or glasses with tape around the frame), but there’s just something off about Sheldon, and not in the way he’s supposed to be different. He just seems like an unlikable know-it-all, who needs to constantly prove he’s the smartest guy in a room full of smart guys; he reminds me of Dwight Schrute, actually, minus the beet farm. Because Sheldon has become so popular, the writers must feel a need to include him in plots they might not have in the show’s early run, which does two things: a) gives the people want they want, but b) destroys the character from overexposure. Again, see Fonzie.

Last night, Howard (played by Simon Helberg, a.k.a. Moist from Dr. Horrible!) and Raj scheme together to cheat on a card trick, just to annoy Sheldon, who takes the thing way too seriously. Remember that Simpsons episode where Lisa goes crazy trying to solve a brain teaser that Ralph Wiggum solved immediately? It was like that, but rather than Sheldon wondering whether he’s as smart as he thinks he is, he instead refuses to believe that he can’t figure it out and hacks into military computers and looks for the aforementioned uranium to solve it. It was a golden opportunity to humble a cocky character, but the opportunity was wasted and no one learns a thing (other than Howard and Raj, that is, who now know how to piss off their friend).

I think that’s The Big Bang Theory in a nutshell: it lays out intriguing enough plotlines with (mostly) likable characters, but instead of striving for any real meaning, the writers are content with just telling easy jokes, meaning it’ll always stay in that B- category, never lower and never higher.

Josh Kurp is clearly fascinated by Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli.

Giving The Big Bang Theory a Fair Chance