In November 2015 I wrote my disappointment that my favorite television series “The Big Bang Theory” had jumped the shark (click here to read it). I dragged up the shark analogy that dates back to a “Happy Days” episode where the “Fonz” waterskied over a shark while visiting California. Well, I decided to revisit “The Big Bang Theory” as it opened its 10th season on Sept. 19, 2016. I’m happy to say that the forecast for “The Big Bang Theory” is a bit brighter after a really solid season opener. I’m trying not to be pessimistic, but after seasons eight and nine I’m pretty gun shy and will officially withhold proclaiming the series resurrected until mid-season.
‘The Big Bang Theory’
(2007-today; starring Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco and Jim Parsons; NOT available via Netflix; can be found virtually every day in syndication somewhere on your TV grid)
SEASON 10 KICKS OFF WITH A BIT OF A BANG
It’s simple: Taken as a complete body of work, “The Big Bang Theory” is in the pantheon of the best ever TV shows. It’s creative; it’s funny; and it is, for the most part, well-acted and overcomes a couple of failings. Along the way, after seven seasons, “The Big Bang Theory” ran out of creative gas and gave its fans heartburn in the bottom-feeding seasons eight and nine. This past week, season 10 opened and it looks like “The Big Bang Theory” is regaining a bit of traction.
To revisit “The Big Bang Theory” jumping the metaphorical shark, the series found itself in seasons eight and nine foundering without the sharp writing, snappy acting and the “must-see” of previous years. The plots were tedious; the acting slipped precipitously; and the writers groped around for creativity without much (if any) success.
Still, the main cast of Johnny Galecki (“Leonard Leakey Hofstader”), Kaley Cuoco (“Penny”), Jim Parsons (“Sheldon Lee Cooper”), Simon Helberg (“Howard Joel Wolowitz”) and Kunal Nyyar (“Rajesh Ramayan Koothrappali”) remains at the top of the heap of TV’s gold standard. You know them; you know their stories; and they are all likeable and you wouldn’t mind hanging out with them. In looking at the last “main” character (and, no, “Bernadette” hasn’t achieved that despite her co-co-star status), Mayim Balick as “Sheldon’s” equally quirky girlfriend “Amy Farrah Fowler” has become the second-best actor behind Parsons in this talented cast – plus, her character has kept the series afloat in the past couple of years.
So … as season 10 opens, you meet “Penny’s” mother “Susan” and ex-con brother “Randall” (I’ll get to the actors in a bit, but her mother is the terrific Katey “Married With Children” Sagal) and get another look at Leonard’s father. It is a nice infusion of talent and “The Big Bang Theory” didn’t fumble on this one.
The thing I liked best about the episode – and I hope extends into the entire coming season – is that is followed both story lines well; had just the right amount of edge; and played off perfectly the established character traits of the ensemble cast. Heck, even Melissa Rausch, who had become quite annoying, tedious and shrewish as “Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz,” gave an excellent turn more in line with how she began her character.
Another thing that “The Big Bang Theory” has with its longevity is a deep well from which to draw comedy from its characters. In one scene, Jim Parsons as the quirky, iconic “Sheldon” blunders thoughtlessly into accusing his mother and “Leonard’s” father in being intimate. He then tactlessly asks if them if in their conversation the following phrase was used – “your genitals area joy to behold?” “Leonard’s” father replies that most likely “I promise you, neither I, nor anyone, has ever said that.” “Leonard” then says in passing, “You don’t know his girlfriend very well.”
A perfect moment! A very funny line set up by the characterizations on the show.
Here are a few other things that I truly enjoyed with Season 10 opener “The Conjugal Conjecture” …
- Banter … instead of tired retorts and comebacks that populated the two down seasons, the barbs where sharp and well-placed throughout the episode.
- New characters are worthy … of moving into such a wonderful TV comedy. Katey Sagal appears as “Penny’s” mother while Jack McBrayer is “Penny’s” brother, who is now out of prison for making and selling meth. Sagal is low-key and thankfully doesn’t try to push her way to the front of the cast, while McBrayer looks as if he (and the writers) are still trying to find his true character.
- Old/New characters stay solid … Christine Baranaski as “Leonard’s” up-tight, smug and tremendously educated mother “Beverly Hofstader” continues to define greatness in her work as an ongoing supporting actor in only 10 episodes and Keith Carradine remains excellent as “Penny’s” father “Wyatt” in his recurring role of just three episodes. Finally, with just one other “The Big Bang Theory” episode under his belt, Judd Hirsch as “Leonard’s” father “Alfred Hofstader” shows more than a touch of class – he tops it off with great, understated zingers.
Laurie Metcalf still works her way well through as “Sheldon’s” mother “Mary Cooper.” She has to overcome the stupid dialogue assigned to her character – and it makes her a religious buffoon. Despite some decent comments in past seasons (“Shelton” once mentions that since he was “raised in a Christian household” he is “uncomfortable with profanity”), Metcalf still stumbles about as the ignorant hick who’s an evangelical Christian. In two examples crossing religion and being a hick, in one episode she mentions cooks with lard and in another it’s mentioned how she hit “Sheldon” with a Bible when he was a youngster. Still, she does a wonderful job conveying her character and you can all too easily see how she manages to use her maternal dominance to keep “Sheldon” in his place.
And Metcalf leads me to the one thing I still find most offensive about “The Big Bang Theory” (and it’s not the only sitcom to ever have this failing): How Lorre uses it to mock evangelical Christians. OK, so there’s always room to get some barbs in to any group (and the behavior of some in the evangelical movement make them an easy target). However, Lorre keeps Metcalf being a faithful fool and a low-key racist by belittling theology that he clearly doesn’t understand and of which he certainly has no intention of attempting comprehension.
In the season 10 opener, the shot at Metcalf’s faith shows the lack of depth and intelligence: When Metcalf tells Parsons she’s surprised he’d think she’d be intimate with a man she just met, “Sheldon” tells her, “A man named Jesus convinced you to build a church in Africa. You’re kind of a sucker.”
Hmmm. Well, Mr. Lorre, I don’t believe that someone of faith making a donation to build a church (temple, cathedral or shrine) to serve a congregation elsewhere is being a “sucker.” Plus, you got to disparage Christianity’s view of Jesus in the same line of dialogue. You used it here as a way to excoriate Christians and Christianity as fools and a con respectively.
Mr. Lorre, you’d do better in trying to keep your show back on the comedy track instead of falling into the inevitable rut sitcoms find in their latter stages (remember how your once magnificent “Two and a Half Men” fell down the sewer once you brought in the talentless Ashton Kutcher). I notice, too, that you don’t do the pointed criticisms and outright ongoing mockery of other religions, faiths and creeds.
Whew! Now that that’s passed …
So, all’s back somewhat in the proper orbit with “The Big Bang Theory” and … you still don’t know “Penny’s” last name!
© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2016.
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