Mike's Adventures in Sitcomland: Day One

What can I say: I'm a sucker for idiotic projects. So this week, in part to retain some semblance of sanity while fighting off both a flu and a giant stack of student papers, I've decided to, each evening, tune into one new (to me) sitcom, and report back to all those loyal readers in Barrelhouseland about what I find.

Up front, let me just say I'm not optimistic. It's not a great time for the sitcom, by nearly all reports. For Christ's sake, Two and a Half Men* is supposedly the best the genre has to offer. The only sitcom I watch with any regularity is How I Met Your Mother, but even that regular watching has less to do with great comedic moments** than with my own laziness and aversion to change (at this point, I pretty much have to find out how he finally meets my mother, right?). I suppose Entourage is sort of a sitcom, in that it's half an hour and meant to be (mostly) funny, though I just don't think HBO shows count, since they inherently play by different rules (cursing, nudity, no commercials, etc.). Honestly, the only reason I can name more than one or two currently running sitcoms is their prominent advertising during college football games and the MLB playoffs.

Anyway, on with Day One's show, which is something called The Big Bang Theory. The title alludes to the actual Big Bang, since the main characters of the show are geeky scientists (physicists, specifically, according to IMDB.com, though I'm not sure their specialty matters all that much) who live next door to a "hot"*** girl. That's pretty much the whole premise, so far as I can tell.

I'm not sure it's fair to criticize the cliche-factor of a sitcom's premise, since pretty much every sitcom is positioned in relation to cliche (either as a cliche itself, like 'fat, losery dude inexplicably paired with smart, funny, beautiful wife,' or as cliche-breaking in a rather obvious way, like 'black family living the kind of mid-80s upper-middle-class existence previously represented televisually only by white families'). 

But the cliche of TBBT -- geeky scientists juxtaposed with "hot" neighbor -- doesn't leave the show with many options, story-arc-wise. Either the guys will prove themselves to be more winning with the neighbor than one would expect, which might be interesting but not particularly funny, or they'll be a collection of geeky-science-guy stereotypes, which will be funny only in the lamest, most predictable ways.

It seems the writers of TBBT have gone with that second option, as the episode I watched involved a lot of geeky science-speak, a lot of social awkwardness (one character is literally unable to speak in the presence of the "hot" girl) plus an Indian guy who speaks in an exaggerated, Apu-style accent.

All of this would be perhaps be okay except for two things I just couldn't get past, having to do with two of the science-guy characters. One, Leonard, is played by Johnny Galecki, better known as David, from Roseanne, Darlene's losery boyfriend for several seasons. I always liked David's character: he was sort of subtly funny, and mopey, always being abused in one way or another by either Darlene or the other Conners. He was a sad sack, but a lovable sad sack. So I just can't buy him as a brainy scientist. At first I thought this was my own fault, but Galecki seems to be playing the geeky science-guy character with pretty much the same mannerisms, voice inflection, slouchiness, etc., that he brought to the character of David. Sure they've put dark-frame glasses on him, but frankly that just makes him look like an older David, who's maybe semi-realized his dream of penning his own comic book, rather than a guy who's exploring the outer reaches of our universe with a giant telescope. 

My other problem with the show is Jim Parsons, who you may remember for his brief appearance in the movie Garden State: he was the guy who worked at Medieval Times, and was sleeping with another character's mom. On TBBT, Parsons' character is supposed to be unemotional and rational in a Spock-like way, but this is played up to the point where he resembles nothing so much as a deranged serial killer. It's fucking creepy, which could be interesting, but it's obvious the creepiness is mostly unintentional; I didn't get the impression there'd be a future episode in which he reveals a closet full of body parts.

As for the episode's actual plot, it wasn't really interesting enough to dwell on. 

Verdict: This show's been on the air a full season already, so presumably certain people are watching it. But I don't think I will be.

*I refuse to watch Two and a Half Men. Sorry. I just will not.
**Actually, HIMYM is sometimes funny, but mostly because of Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Segal and, to a lesser extent, Alyson Hannigan (I can never decide if I think she's funny or just hot. I know that shouldn't be a hard distinction to make, but for some reason it is, probably having more to do with me than with any sort of universal law re: funniness and hotness). Point is, the actual plot of HIMYM is pretty stupid, and not very entertaining, and the main character and pretty much all of his girlfriends are completely insufferable. It's sort of like late-period Friends, in that the whole thing is patently ridiculous and overly sitom-ish, but every now and then either Joey or Chandler would say something funny.

***Kaley Cuoco, who you may or may not remember as the daughter on Eight Simple Rules for Dating My Daughter, a show memorable mostly because it featured John Ritter, and then John Ritter died, and it tried but failed to awkwardly sputter on without him. I don't find Cuoco particularly hot, though I suppose she is in a kind of bland, sitcomish way: if you squint a little, she looks sort of like a mid-breakdown Britney Spears.


JP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JP said...

Okay. Okay, fine. Okay, I love this show. I do. I agree that the chick isn't that hot (which is fine, since real geeks in real life would find her both good looking and unattainable, so I'm willing to take the leap.) And you failed to mention that the guy who can't speak in front of chicks IS the guy with the Apu accent. Which for some reason makes it better. And there's the really disgusting extra-horny would-be Quagmire Jewish kid who lives with his mom. And Johnny Galecki does okay, I'd say. And Darlene is a guest star! And you at least have to give a network credit for trying out physics humor instead of the usual relationship-only stuff. It's at least an attempt, you know?

But it all boils down to Sheldon. Sheldon! Are you kidding?!! I love his character. LOVE. In fact, my old roommate said once: "Jessica, you would totally date that guy." And he was right! Because I make poor choices!

Anyway, that's not the point. The point is, How I Met Your Mother has some stellar moments, and so does TBBT. I'm just saying. As long as you can excuse the obvious and inescapable sitcom lameness factor, it's pretty entertaining. Take it or leave it.

You're leaving it? Well, I'm not listening to you. [covering ears] LA LA LA THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE WAS IN A HOT DENSE STATE.....

Anonymous said...

The Onion AV Club just starting reviewing TBBT, and is mostly positive. I don't intend to watch TBBT anytime soon, but the reviewer does comment on the creepy guy character is perhaps supposed to be someone with Asperger's Syndrome:

The BBT creators have pointedly avoided addressing whether Sheldon has a neurological condition or if he’s just “eccentric,” and I don’t blame them for their reticence. If they tie Sheldon’s personality to something specific and medical, that limits what they can plausibly do with the character. And yet, the portrayal of Sheldon has been remarkably consistent with Asperger’s, in that he hasn’t shown any sudden emotional growth or extraordinary bursts of tractability. I’ve checked a few Aspie forums, and parents and Aspies alike have expressed their appreciation at seeing such a familiar character on TV, and in what amounts to a starring role. I know I appreciate it. For that reason above all, Big Bang Theory has won me over.


Mike said...

I guess this is what happens when you just watch one random episode, i.e. I had no idea the dude was supposed to have Asperger's, which I guess is kinda interesting. Though I still think it would be a cool plot point if he hacked up some other scientists and stored their body parts in the freezer.

Otherwise, I stand by my ruling.

JP said...

That IS pretty interesting, actually.

(And as an aside, I think the fact that Sheldon might have Asperger's just confirms Seth's comment that I would probably date him.

So sad.)

joy said...

I love this Two and a half men!.It's an amazing mix of dirty humour and amusing 'real life' situations. It's very enjoyable for a laugh and some fun!