It is difficult to reconcile the notion that the quite wonderful sitcom The Big Bang Theory comes from the same people who inflict upon the viewing public the hilarity-bereft smugfest that is Two And A Half Men. Both are Chuck Lorre shows, as was the utterly appalling Dharma And Greg, the slightly more tolerable Grace Under Fire (the title of which unforgivably punned on the protagonist’s name), and the mostly pretty smart Cybill, which featured the wonderful Christine Baranski, who in turn has a most welcome recurring guest spot on The Big Bang Theory.
The set-up for The Big Bang Theory, if it needs to be explained, involves two physics geniuses (Sheldon and Leonard), one of them evidently touched by some kind of autism and extreme OCD, their two fellow “nerd” friends, and the entirely ordinary aspiring actress with generous cleavage in the adjacent apartment (one might call it “Four Half Men”). Much of it is as derivative as Sheldon characterises Leonard’s research. We have the short straightman with dark curly hair and his socially inept flatmate who says inappropriate things living in the same building as blonde female company. Why, it’s Cousin Larry and Balki from the unlamented Perfect Strangers all over again! It even has that show’s laugh track (or is it a studio audience conditioned to laugh at anything, no matter how unfunny?).
What sets The Big Bang Theory apart from the legacy of traditional sitcoms which it draws from is the whip-smart dialogue and, above all, the character of Sheldon (and arguably that of diminutive Howard Wolowitz, whose sartorial style and Beatles hairstyle seems to manically draw from the Swinging Sixtiesm, and whose mother seems to be related to Estelle Costanza)). But it’s Sheldon’s show, and therefore Jim Parsons’. Parsons takes off the obnoxious edges of what really is an insufferable individual by investing his evidently gentle personality and melodious and precise elocution in his character. Rather than being an annoying and intolerable type, Parsons’ Sheldon is almost cute in his deployment of pompous condescension (which is really a defence against a world which he doesn’t quite understand). Alas, there are incongruous passages when Sheldon regresses into an inconsistent state of childhood, such as when he returns from Disneyland wearing a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. It is here that the show appeals to sitcom denominators which one might have hoped to be extinct, at least in more discerning comedies such as this.
And therein resides the quibble with the mostly brilliant scriptwriting (and a set design which takes care to ensure that the formulae on whiteboards are correct science): consistency is sometimes traded for a quick gag. It’s an unwelcome throwback to the traditional sitcoms which preceded The Big Bang Theory – such as the criminally mirthless Perfect Strangers. But these are minor objections and easily forgivable when so much of the show is so delightful. The show deserves highest praise alone for the invention of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock, a soundfile I have prepared below.
Sheldon, by the way, has a most excellent collection of t-shirts. I would kill (not literally, of course) to have the TV test-card t-shirt pictured right. There is also a splendid t-shirt showing the evolution of man, from primate to robot.
The Big Bang Theory’s theme song is suitably quirky, by the masters of quirk: Canada’s Barenaked Ladies. In about half a minute it outlines the evolutionary history of the world: “Our whole universe was in a hot dense state,” the theme explains, “then nearly 14 billion years ago expansion started. The Earth began to cool, the autotrophs began to drool, Neanderthals developed tools, we built a wall (we built the pyramids). Math, science, history, unravelling the mysteries that all started with the big bang!” In 2007, a longer single version (still only 1:45 long) was released.
Another Barenaked Ladies song, Be My Yoko Ono, appears in the show’s second season, when Sheldon has an overbearing groupie (the John and Yoko gag is repeated in the current season, the fourth, when Sheldon has a likeminded female sidekick). Apparently Yoko once was asked whether she liked the song, which mocks her singing. She said she did, but preferred the band’s If I Had $1,000,000. It is indeed the better of the two songs, though the Barenaked Ladies’ grand opus surely is Brian Wilson.
Theme from The Big Bang Theory
Barenaked Ladies – Big Bang Theory (full version)
Barenaked Ladies – You Can Be My Yoko Ono
The Big Bang Theory – Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock