Let me offer two theories about The Big Bang Theory — one big, one small. The big one’s an explanation of how this sitcom triumphed over this country’s ingrained dislike of intellectuals to become a mass-appeal hit. Viewers love Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Sheldon (Jim Parsons) not because they can tie string theory into artful bows — no, they love these hyperarticulate guys because they’re inferior to us in one area at which Americans pride themselves in excelling: socializing.
Much has been made of the notion that Sheldon is so literal-minded, withdrawn, and repetitive in his interactions that he has undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome. But you don’t even need to get clinical about it. The show’s writers allow us to feel superior to Sheldon and Leonard despite the duo’s higher IQs because they’re such nerds: Their immersion in comic books and sci-fi/fantasy movies and TV shows is wittily excessive.
Here’s my smaller theory about Big Bang, and you’re probably not going to like it. I think the show was a lot better before the two brainiacs became a foursome. To me, beefing up the roles of Rajesh (Kunal Nayyar) and Howard (Simon Helberg) over the past few seasons has spread the comedy thinner. With developments such as Howard getting a girlfriend — and I like Melissa Rauch as Bernadette, believe me — there’s just less screen time for Sheldon and Leonard, never a good thing. Worse, it’s made TBBT more conventional. Raj is that sitcom staple, the horny loner who doesn’t understand why people find him a bit dim and occasionally creepy. (Think Richard Kline’s Larry on Three’s Company.) And Howard is just the latest version of every neurotic mama’s boy, extending all the way back to Richard Crenna’s Walter Denton in the 1950s’ Our Miss Brooks.
It’s nice that Kaley Cuoco’s Penny is now a fully integrated, less dim gal pal. I still find it a stretch, however, that Penny settled so comfortably into being Leonard’s girlfriend — his geek quotient, while lower than Sheldon’s, is still radioactively high.
But let’s face it, what lifts The Big Bang Theory into frequent excellence is its one constant from the start: the brilliantly nuanced performance of Jim Parsons. Galecki is good at rattling off science formulas as eloquent gibberish, but Parsons gives gibberish soul.
I know, I know, you love Raj and Howard. Fine. All I’m saying is, if Sheldon wasn’t around to prick their pretensions with his precise needling, the amount of hot air those two boys emit would burst the bubble of Big Bang‘s ebullience. It’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it. B+
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