A couple of years ago I had emergency surgery and I had to convalesce on my couch for a few days. The one piece of entertainment that made the time pass nicely was The Big Bang Theory.
The Big Bang Theory is my comfort show. It is bread and butter. It is simple and satisfying.
I have a friend of mine whose taste I very much respect who says that she uses The Big Bang Theory as a filter show: if people like it, she decides that have bad taste. She critiqued the show as having broad, flat characters and an undertone of misogyny.
If you look at other shows by producer Chuck Lorre, you can see a similar pattern. Two and 1/2 Men is a tired show that is a unfunny as it is lame. I would also say the same thing about his other shows, Mike and Molly, Mom, etc. And for the first 3 years I felt somewhat the same way about The Big Bang Theory.
I watched the show because it was one of the few mainstream shows that new its stuff regarding geek culture. They knew that Wednesday is New Comic Book Day and that Jay Garrick was the Golden Age Flash in the Justice Society of America. Outside of local geek dens and internet forums, you did see this as often.
So for several years I watched, less invested in the show and more enjoying the inside jokes.
And if that's all there was to the show, I would also have eventually thrown it on the trash heap of Lorre shows.
But around Season 3, the show slowly began to change. Instead of being simply "Four Geeks and a Hot Chick," the show added more elements and relationships. While Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg, and Kunal Nayar all have their strong comedic talent, the addition of Melissa Rauch and Mayim Bialick breathed new life into the show. It shifted it to being simply about 4 man-boys in their arrested development and it became a true comedy of relationships.
And it was here that The Big Bang Theory finally found its way out of being a niche program and touched on something universal. In a few years several of the pop culture references on the show are going to be too obscure to be funny. But beneath that is a big beating heart that mines comedy from the experience man and woman.
The comedy is broad. There is no question about that. But that is not a sin. Sometimes a pleasant and enjoyable laughing diversion is exactly what the doctor ordered.
But what separates this show even more from Lorre's other shows is character development. You don't really see a lot of change in these flat characters in the first few years. But look at them now. Sheldon stiller retains much of his quirks, but he has grown. I especially look at the character of Howard. I hated him for several years. He was a lecherous jerk who reveled in his perversions (even frequenting prostitutes). But he has grown up. More on this later.
(this is from my original post on 10/3/13)
"The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary." (3x09)
This episode had just the perfect mixture of jokes and funny characters including:
-the introduction of Bernadette
-the introduction of Will Wheaton
-Sheldon quoting Kahn
-Sheldon quoting Kirk in Wrath of Kahn
And it has, for me, one of the funniest moments in the shows history. Check out the clip below (skip to 0:49 for the joke)
It was hear that things really began to click and The Big Bang Theory started to become appointment watching, and not "I'll catch later on Tivo" watching. The show got better by adding Bernadette as a permanent cast member and also bringing on Amy.
I should also note the moment I went from really liking to loving this show. It was an episode in Season 5 called "The Stag Convergence" where Howard has his bachelor party and Bernadette finds out all the perverted things he used to do. Her disgust summed up a lot of my disgust from earlier seasons. But then Howard shows up and gives one of the best monologues I've seen on television, because it really encapsulated how Howard and the show itself had grown:
I can now look back on those earlier episodes and enjoy them, because I know that the characters are going to get better. As a Catholic I had a really hard time staying with a show where characters engaged in such horribly perverse behavior. But they are growing out of that. They are slowly being redeemed away from selfish pleasure and giving in to love.
JUMP THE SHARK
As of right now, the show has not yet jumped the shark (though I am not crazy about Penny's hair this season).
"The Recombination Hypothesis" (5x13)
This was the 100th episode of the series. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Penny and Leonard had dated and then broken up. The episode begins with Leonard staring into her apartment as she, Bernadette, and Amy are unpacking some things. Suddenly, Leonard comes in and asks her on a date again.
What follows is not only incredibly funny but incredibly painful. Their attraction and affection draw them together but their differences pull them apart.
Leonard asks Penny why they are doing this because every scenario in his head ends badly. Penny responds that Leonard over thinks everything. Suddenly, we are caught back to the scene where Leonard was staring in at Penny and we realize the whole episode was Leonard working out all the pros and cons of getting back together.
Honestly, when that happened, I was expecting a typical cynical ending. Instead, Leonard goes in and asks Penny on a date. She asks, "Have you thought about this?" He responds, "Yes, but I think we should do it anyway."
And this moment reminded me of something CS Lewis wrote about Romantic Love. Even if we know that it will end tragically, the heart cannot help but want it. Eros cries out "Let our hearts break, so long as they break together."
For a show that specializes in jokes about Klingon Boggle and Wil Wheaton, I was surprisingly moved.
To this day, The Big Bang Theory is my comfort show. I have loved watching the characters grow up with all of the silly struggles along the way.
The Big Bang Theory is not trying to change culture or change television. It is simply trying (and succeeding) to add more mirth to the world. And I have returned to episode after episode fully caught up in the silliness.