The Big Bang Theory: Season 7

The Big Bang TheoryThe Big Bang Theory, like every other long running comedy, has had problems with turning its characters into stereotypes. I don’t know why it happens, maybe it’s laziness on the parts of the writers and/or actors, or maybe it’s something they think the audience wants “they laughed when X happens, so do it more and do it bigger!”. Either way, that’s where they start losing me. Too often it pushes the characters from being extreme but credible to being charicatures and unrealistic.

The Big Bang Theory has been heading in this direction for a while. Characters could reasonably be expected to mellow with age, with the extremes of their personalities rounded off a bit as they meet more people and experience more life, but instead they get odder and odder. It makes the characters seem alternately stupid and cruel. Sheldon, despite supposedly being in a relationship and being surrounded by ‘functional’ people like Penny and Leonard who have repeatedly told and shown him that his behaviour is inappropriate, continues to be selfish, rude and hurtful. It makes him seem mean, and it makes the other characters seem foolish for continually associating with him and trying to change him.

But then, as if an alarm goes off in a character’s head, they take a step forward – Sheldon inches his relationship with Amy closer, Penny realises what she wants in life, Raj learns how to be in a relationship. It feels like fireworks should go off. These moments are so sweet and lovely, so elegantly written and true to the soul of the characters that other missteps are forgiven. Until the next time and then with a sigh I find myself seeking out a clip of a highpoint and remind myself of the good.

The writers have made some improvements at least. Amy’s obsession with Penny has been toned down and Penny’s increasing familiarity with science and geekery are a refreshing acknowledgement of how long she’s been with the group. I wish they’d smooth Stuart’s character out a little and make more use of him, I like his addition to the group, I guess we’ll have to see how integral Raj’s girlfriend becomes but I hope it will last as that will be an interesting direction for the character.

I don’t really see myself giving up on the series, it’s pretty much the only sitcom I watch and it’s easy to slot in during the week. But they need to make sure that they keep hitting those highpoints regularly enough to keep me forgiving the low points, and if they could maybe avoid the low points a bit more often, that’d be great too.


The Big Bang Theory: Season 6

The Big Bang TheoryI wonder whether there’s an expiry date on sitcoms. As any series gets older it becomes harder to keep things fresh, while not making so many changes that the series becomes unrecognisable. As the years pass it becomes increasingly unlikely that the characters would all still be in the same place, the same jobs, the same friendship groups, the same domestic situations and more tellingly, making the same mistakes. Many dramas get stuck in a rut of endless running through the same procedures with different guest stars and window dressing, but with a comedy you’ve got the added pressure of making the whole thing funny.

What’s strange is that when I started writing this review, I was all set for a lament about how that applies to The Big Bang Theory, but now as I come to document the evidence, I’m wondering if maybe the complete opposite is true. Actually, The Big Bang Theory HAS managed to avoid many of the common pitfalls while still staying true to its original pitch.

The addition of Amy and Bernadette, and even the tentative inclussion of Stuart the Comic Shop Guy, and recurring characters like Kripke and Lucy, have broadened the potential of the show. While it’s true that the characters are broadly in the same jobs and same situations, and the friendships between the group haven’t changed much, the romantic relationships have and each of the pairings have matured satisfyingly. While characters do tend to take 2 steps forward and 1 step back, they are at least still making steady, if slow progress forwards.

The moments in the show that demonstrate character growth are really lovely – Sheldon and Amy moving forward in their relationship, Penny telling Leonard she loves him, Raj talking to Penny, the less girls playing Dungeons and Dragons, or discussing comic books to better understand the guys. Each of those moments proves that not only can the characters age and grow, but they can still be funny while they do it. They’re moments that I re-watch and chat about with friends, and they’re timelessly endearing.

That all sounds great, so why was my first instinct to launch this review with talk about expiry dates? The problem is I think that while the memories that stick are the real highlights of the show, when I watch week to week I’m overwhelmed by the frustrations that leave me wanting to hide behind cushion. Raj is a particularly difficult character, with his jokes about money and India feeling increasingly uncomfortable. Sheldon has made some big steps forward (for him), but it’s the leaps backwards where he comes across as downright mean and inappropriate (the whole HR storyline).

For the moment, there’s enough there to keep me coming back for the next season. It will be interesting to see how the group have coped without Leonard for a few months and that should provide some great material, allowing the show to investigate what it’s like without one of the characters, without actually being without them. For now the potential and the good outweigh the short term frustrations, and this is still the only comedy that I really watch. So fingers crossed they keep moving in the right direction, even if it is very slowly.

The Big Bang Theory: Season 5

I don’t seem to have reviewed The Big Bang Theory on this website, so this review is going to have to do a bit of catching up before really getting to the review of the latest season.

I only started watching the show in the last year or so and was able to plough through it pretty quickly thanks to the wonders of dvd box sets and E4’s endless repeats. I quickly became charmed by the series and its collection of geeks. I’ll be honest, the characters, scenarios and conversations are pretty familiar to me. I studied physics at university and have shared houses, gaming days and a multitude of geeky discussions with people more than a little similar to these characters. That’s not to say that you need that background to appreciate the show, the fact that it’s one of the highest rated shows (8th) on US TV at the moment attests to that. I know plenty of people that like it who don’t have a science background, and at least one person with the same background as I that can’t stand it actually. But for me it really helps that the show’s writers clearly have a knowledge and respect for science geeks, meaning for the most part it stays respectful rather than mocking.

I say for the most part, because the show isn’t without its over the top moments and characters. Sheldon of course is the most extreme, he’s not utterly unbelievable, but he isn’t far off. In the early seasons it doesn’t really matter though, because by surrounding him with credible characters he is automatically more believable – Leonard and Penny are normal (for sitcom characters) and they think that Sheldon is odd but not imaginary so somehow it convinces me too. That doesn’t make much sense now I come to write it, but you know what I mean. It also makes the moments when Sheldon does something normal that much more lovely, the simple act of Sheldon hugging Penny as a thank you for a Christmas present brought tears to my eyes.

Unfortunately that balance is one of the things that gradually shifts over the seasons. Raj becomes an increasingly unlikely character and is mostly used as the butt of jokes, somehow actually becoming less socially aware as the years go on. The biggest problem however is Amy, who as a female Sheldon only draws attention to his weirdness; one of them is just about believable, two is too much. Fortunately the other new character, Bernadette, actually has a grounding effect on Howard (even if it’s never really clear what she sees in him) and forms a nice friendship with Penny.

Season 5 isn’t the best season of the series, I’m afraid my hatred of Amy (the character, the actress is actually very good) and growing frustration with Raj is just too much for me to get over, I cringe whenever they’re on screen. When they’re not about, the show is still a great deal of fun and there’s some very sweet relationships which it’s lovely to see evolving over time (Leonard and Penny’s on/off relationship, Howard and Bernadette’s engagement, Sheldon and Leonard’s friendship).

The fact that I generally don’t like American 1/2 hour comedies, the fact that I’ve got to season 5 of this one tells you a lot! There’s certainly a lot that they do very well, the actors are all superb and even the mediocre episodes still make me laugh out loud and it has a theme song by The Barenaked Ladies! I think if the over the top edges of Amy and Raj were sanded off, the show could easily return to the strengths of the early seasons, going back to being a charming and light look inside of the world of geeks that I remember.

Setting the scene… or not

I’ve got a request to make of executive producers, or creative directors, or whoever it is that makes these decisions for television – stop putting title sequences on your shows.

That’s not to say I don’t love a good theme song and credits, I really do. But there are a lot of shows out there at the moment that seem to at the last minute before the first episode is delivered for airing realise they never filled the 30second place holder where the titles are supposed to go. An executive producer throws out last minute instructions to pick a random piece of music with no tune, throw together a montage of explosions and characters looking moody “and make sure my name is big”.

In the great days of old title sequences were about setting the scene for your show, give the audience a helping hand picking up what you were trying to say. Remember all those great opening themes and voice-overs you got on things like Star Trek and The Outer Limits? It wasn’t until I thought about it that I realised how amazing the title sequence for M*A*S*H was, it wasn’t a bright chirpy tune to put you in the mood for a comedy, it was sombre and quiet, reinforcing the sadness of the drama behind the comedy. More recently, Firefly did a similar thing, reinforcing the western feel that might have been over-shadowed by the science fiction.

The primary inspiration for this article came from the fact I watched an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles, followed by an episode of Blue Bloods and couldn’t help but see that the thing the shows had in common were two absolutely awful title sequences.

Standing alone the title sequences are both awful, loud cliché music, cheesy explosions, melodramatic posing from the actors and unimaginative text. The biggest crime though is how badly they fit with their shows. NCIS will usually jump from a dramatic reveal of a murder or crime straight into loud obnoxious music, Blue Bloods will jump from gritty and modern New York straight into a title sequence from the 80s. Knowing that each title sequence is coming leaves me anxiously hovering over the remote control so that I can fast-forward (god bless Sky+) before the opening chord intrudes on my viewing.

Most shows at the moment thankfully don’t bother with titles at all, taking five seconds for a splash screen and getting on with the show. Grey’s Anatomy used to have credits but rapidly got rid of them. Maybe it’s a bit surprising that Glee, a show all about music and presentation doesn’t have a theme song, but then how could they possibly pick just one song?

Some shows manage to make a surprising impact with even the most minimal splash screens, maybe Lost is the first that really got it right, showing exactly how much can be communicated with just a chord, a font and a fade. Supernatural adopts the same system, just the shows name, a sound and a special effect, but adds a variation by changing the effect and sound each season (and the occasional extra special version – see the collection). Even Brothers & Sisters with its simple sliding text and soothing couple of bars of music sets the correct tone for the show.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t however comment on a few shows that do manage to make title sequences work. For some reason channels like HBO and Showtime really make an effort and put a lot of thought into what they want their titles to say about their shows. The majority of things that would appear on my list of favourite credit sequences past (Six Feet Under, Carnivale, Deadwood, Dead Like Me) and present (Dexter, Sons of Anarchy, Boardwalk Empire) aired on HBO or Showtime in the US. All absolutely beautiful title sequences that really suit their shows. There would be a clip of the Sons of Anarchy intro here… but there doesn’t seem to be a version on YouTube.

Lie to Me – I can’t help but smile every time that woman’s eyes light up

Big Bang Theory – I don’t watch the show (I know I probably should, it’s on my list, I just haven’t got to it yet) but I love the titles!

Fringe – the standard intro is nothing special after a couple of seasons, but this year they’ve done a few alternate versions to fit with their alternate themes, including this genius one for their flashback to the 80s episode.

(Thanks to Smashing Magazine and for their collection of links.)