The Big Bang Theory, CBS, Thursdays 8pm
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Well, you know, as each new TV season approaches, I read the Fall preview issues of TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly. Maybe I do some research online, not just to decide if I want to check out a new show, but if I should put a link for the series premiere on my website's calendar. But the description of this show didn't interest me. It seemed kind of stupid, like a typical show about geeks who want a hot chick they can't have, or whatever. Now that I've seen a bit of the show, I don't recall if maybe I misread the previews, or something, but I now realize that's not what the show is about. Anyway, I only started watching partway through season two, because my dad likes the show, and thought I'd like it. (But hey, he didn't really have any channel available to watch other than CBS, at the time.) And... it really can be incredibly funny, especially if, like me, you happen to be a socially awkward, geeky guy, who's interested in a lot of the same stuff the characters are. So I'm kind of sorry I haven't been watching all along, but it doesn't bother me that much. When I first started watching, I don't think it was something I felt the need to watch every episode of, but it did get to that point, before too long. Oh, also, the theme song by Barenaked Ladies is pretty cool.
So, here's the plot: there are these two roommates, Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki, whom I previously knew from Roseanne), a geeky experimental physicist who seems to be the most socially functional of his group of friends; and Sheldon Cooper, a theoretical physicist. Sheldon is the least socially functional of the group, with stuff like OCD and maybe like some kind of high functioning Autism. I dunno. He seems very supercilious and punctilious, though fairly lacking in empathy or an understanding of how others think or feel. (As far as I can tell, btw, he doesn't have any interest in sex or dating or anything, unlike his friends.) Anyway, Leonard and Sheldon both have an interest in typically geeky things like science fiction and comic books, as do their friends, Howard Wolowitz (an aerospace engineer) and Rajesh Koothrappali (an astrophysicist). Howard is kind of lascivious (but without much luck), and Raj is too shy to talk to women unless he's drinking. Oh, and Howard lives with his mother, whom we never see, though we do hear her screeching at him (and him screaming back at her). There are frequent jokes throughout the series about his mother being incredibly obese and overbearing (which I find offensive; the show can definitely be problematic). Anyway, Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Raj all work at Caltech, but they mostly seem to hang out at Leonard and Sheldon's apartment. Also, they have a neighbor named Penny (Kaley Cuoco, whom I vaguely knew from "8 Simple Rules" and The Hollow), an aspiring actress who works as a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory. She's friends with Leonard, and even dated him at one point (before I started watching). So she spends some time with the guys, in spite of not having much in common with them. And I don't think she particularly likes any of them besides Leonard. (At least at first, though she does come to care about all of them, over time.) Sheldon doesn't seem to like her, but he doesn't really like anyone. And throughout the series, Penny and Leonard have an on-again-off-again romantic relationship, though much of the time they're just friends.
There are any number of other recurring characters I should probably mention, but I've probably forgotten most of them. In seasons 1-3 there was a coworker of Leonard's named Leslie Winkle (Sara Gilbert, whom I knew from "Roseanne"), who occasionally had casual sexual relations with him (and with Howard, I guess), and who was a nemesis to Sheldon. And there's another scientist at Caltech, Barry Kripke, who has a speech impediment, and is basically an ass. For awhile in season 2, Leonard dated a doctor named Stephanie Barnett (Sara Rue, whom I vaguely knew from something, I'm sure). And there's a hapless guy named Stuart Bloom, who owns a comic book shop the guys frequent. (Stuart is so poor that he lives in the comic shop.) Incidentally, I often feel it's amazing that the show rarely feels to me like it's making jokes at the characters' expense, in spite of the fact that their geekiness (or varying degrees of PDD) is the derivation of that humor. But occasionally I do feel more like it's laughing at them than with them. Certainly that's the case with Stuart, who is basically the universe's butt-monkey. But I should also mention that, as much as Sheldon's psychological condition (whatever precisely it may be) is played for laughs, it is occasionally treated seriously, and we can see that as much as he makes the people around him suffer just by being so unreasonable, he himself suffers because everyone seems so unreasonable to him. I can totally relate to that, and I often wish I could talk directly to Sheldon and try to make him understand... so many things. Anyway, throughout the series there will be other guest or recurring characters, including some of the main characters' relatives, many played by actors I know from other things. But I won't bother listing all of them. I will say Leonard's mother, Beverly (Christine Baranski), is a neuroscientist and psychiatrist, and she likes Sheldon more than she does her own son. Sheldon's mother, Mary, is played by Laurie Metcalf (whom I knew from "Roseanne"). She's a devout Christian whose religious beliefs Sheldon completely rejects, though they do seem to genuinely care about each other.
Season 2 ended with the guys going to the Magnetic North Pole for a scientific project, for three months. When they return to Pasadena at the start of season 3, Penny and Leonard start dating again, but they break up near the end of the season. Also this season, Howard starts dating a microbiologist named Bernadette Rostenkowski. She was originally a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory, with Penny. And Wil Wheaton occasionally appears as himself (at first an evil version who becomes Sheldon's nemesis, but later in the series he becomes friends with everyone). At the end of the season, Sheldon gets a new friend named Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik), a neurobiologist who is basically the female version of Sheldon. (Though over the course of the series her character changes considerably, I'd say.)
Sheldon's friendship with Amy develops. Amy also develops a friendship with Penny and Bernadette (though she prefers Penny, on whom she seems to develop a platonic crush). Leonard dates Raj's sister, Priya. For awhile, Penny dated a dumb (but nice) guy named Zack (maybe they started dating in season 3). At the end of the season, Bernadette earns her Ph.D. and gets a new job.
Leonard eventually breaks up with Priya. Howard gets a chance to work on the International Space Station, so he spends much of the season preparing for that. Sheldon and Amy begin dating, though Sheldon still doesn't want a physical relationship. (By this point, it's hard for me to understand why Amy has even developed romantic feelings for Sheldon. She was originally as cold in her demeanor as Sheldon, which is one reason it made sense that they became friends. But over time, her personality had defrosted considerably, while Sheldon remained mostly the same as ever. Which means that his own likes, dislikes, wants, and needs matter far more to him than those of anyone else, including Amy. And her wants are often very different from his. It also seems weird to me that it had previously been established she didn't have any physical attraction to him, but now she does. Which would make sense if I could accept that she was in love with him, but I can't.) Penny and Leonard once again begin dating. He eventually proposes to her, but she says no. Raj gets a puppy, which he names Cinnamon, whose affection serves as a substitute for a girlfriend. The season ends with Howard and Bernadette getting married, and Howard then launching on his mission to space.
With Howard away, Raj looks for one of his friends to spend more time with, and ends up hanging out with Stuart fairly often. Stuart also serves as a substitute for Howard with the rest of the gang. We also occasionally see Howard video chatting with his friends, and complaining about various aspects of the mission and his fellow astronauts. Sheldon gets an assistant at work, a grad student named Alex Jensen (Margo Harshman). She seems to be romantically interested in Leonard, which causes some trouble for him and Penny. When Howard returns from space, he's rather obnoxious about having been an astronaut, and seems to have forgotten how much he actually hated it. Penny takes a class at a community college (we don't see that, but she talks about it occasionally). There's one episode with a scene I quite liked, where Sheldon talked very seriously about his extreme discomfort at the idea of a physical relationship. (I totally get how he feels, though I think he feels it even more strongly than I do... which also makes me upset to think that in spite of that, he's more likely to have such a relationship with Amy than I am with anyone, ever.) Raj starts dating a woman named Lucy (Kate Micucci). She's even more socially awkward and uncomfortable than Raj is. Sheldon and Leonard meet a childhood hero of theirs, Dr. Arthur Jeffries (Bob Newhart). He used to host a children's science show, playing a character called Professor Proton. At the end of the season, Lucy breaks up with Raj, and Leonard accepts a position in a four-month scientific expedition in the North Sea.
Sheldon makes a major scientific discovery, but gets upset when it turns out to be the result of an error he'd made. Arthur Jeffries makes a couple more appearances this season, including as a "ghost" in Sheldon's dreams, after Arthur dies. There's one episode I quite liked where Sheldon forced Leonard to wear an itchy sweater for several days to make him understand how uncomfortable certain situations make him. (I feel like all neurotypicals should be forced to wear itchy sweaters, because there are just so many trivial things in life that cause me a level of psychological discomfort I don't think they could possibly understand.) At one point, Penny proposes to Leonard, but he doesn't accept, because she was drunk at the time. Penny later quits the Cheesecake Factory to devote more time to pursuing an acting career. Sheldon eventually kisses Amy for the first time. Penny gets a role in a lame sequel to a lame movie she was embarrassed to have been in the first time. Wil Wheaton also gets a role in the sequel. (They both eventually get fired from it.) Raj eventually starts dating a woman named Emily Sweeney. Sheldon comes to believe he made a mistake by devoting his career to the study of string theory, and wants to find a new field of study. At the end of the season, Leonard and Penny get engaged. Sheldon gets upset because the university won't let him change his field of study, and because Leonard plans to live with Penny (and not him) when they get married, so he goes away on a train trip to be alone and think. The comic book store burns down, so Stuart asks to crash with Raj, but Howard and Bernadette give him a job taking care of Howard's mother, who had broken her leg and whose annoying behavior had driven off all the nurses they tried to hire for her.
Sheldon returns home, and goes back to working at Caltech, where he begins studying dark matter. Penny gets a job as a sales rep for the pharmaceutical company Bernadette works for. Stuart continues living with Howard's mother even after she recovers, which upsets Howard. Raj's parents get divorced. Leonard develops a scientific theory, which he and Sheldon then co-author a paper about, which is well received by the scientific community. Stuart eventually reopens his comic shop. Howard's mother dies (because the actress who voiced her had died). Howard learns that he has a half brother named Josh. Howard and Bernadette move into his mother's house, which Howard now owns, though Stuart is still living there. In the season finale, they want to tell Stuart to move out, but end up being too sorry for him to do so. Sheldon and Amy celebrate their fifth anniversary (which I find odd, because it's actually the fifth anniversary of their meeting, not of their dating). But at the end of the episode, Amy decides to take a break from the relationship, feeling that things have been moving much too slowly. Raj decides to break up with Emily, but instead tells her he loves her. Leonard and Penny drive to Las Vegas, planning to get married. (Though throughout the season, there have been little things that made me think they maybe shouldn't be together, and the finale leaves it unclear whether they actually will get married.)
In the season premiere, Leonard and Penny do get married, though not without feeling some doubts. They decide to split their time between living in Penny's apartment and Leonard's, to make things easier for Sheldon (who doesn't want to live alone, but also can't find a roommate he considers acceptable). Sheldon struggles to get over Amy, while she begins dating other people. Eventually, they get back together, and soon after that, they have sex for the first time (ever). Also this season, Howard and Raj start a band, though not much comes of that. And Stuart finally moves out of Howard and Bernadette's house. And Raj meets a woman named Claire (Alessandra Torresani), and is unsure if he'd rather be with her or with Emily. (There's some back-and-forth on this, but by the end of the season, he's dating both of them.) And Bernadette becomes pregnant. Howard, Sheldon, and Leonard develop a new kind of guidance system, which they hope to patent so Howard will have more money when the baby comes. (Though there will be concern that it might have unintended military applications.) In the penultimate episode, Leonard's mother, Beverly, visits, but she's upset that she hadn't been invited to attend his and Penny's wedding. So Penny decides to have a new ceremony so they can invite friends and family. In the season finale, Leonard invites his father, Alfred (Judd Hirsch), and he ends up bickering with Beverly, whom he had divorced some time ago. Meanwhile, Sheldon invites his mother, Mary, and she ends up getting along very well with Alfred.
Penny's family shows up for her and Leonard's vow renewals. This includes her father Wyatt (Keith Carradine), mother Susan (Katey Sagal), and formerly incarcerated brother Randall (Jack McBrayer). Meanwhile, an Air Force colonel named Richard Williams contacts Howard, Leonard, and Sheldon. He wants them to design a smaller version of their guidance system within four months. Also, Amy and Sheldon begin living together in Penny's old apartment, and Penny moves into Leonard's apartment with him. And I think sometime this season Emily and Claire both broke up with Raj. Stuart eventually moves back into Howard and Bernadette's house. Bernadette has a baby girl, whom she and Howard name Halley (after Halley's comet). Raj decides to stop accepting money from his wealthy father, so he can be more independent. But that means he can no longer afford his apartment, and he moves into Sheldon's old room in Leonard and Penny's apartment. The guys finally finish their project for the Air Force, and then it's confiscated before they can test it. Also, there's a geologist at Caltech named Bert Kibbler (Brian Posehn), who had been seen a couple of times since season 6, but he's in more episodes this season. And Raj eventually moves out of Sheldon's room and into a room above Bert's garage. Amy takes a teaching position at Princeton for the summer, and it will be hard for Sheldon to be away from her so long. In the season finale, a scientist named Ramona Nowitzki, who had briefly been obsessed with Sheldon in a season two episode (when she was a grad student), once again comes into Sheldon's life. His friends think she's interested in him romantically, which he doesn't believe. But when he finds out they're right, he immediately flies to Princeton, and proposes to Amy. And her response will have to wait for next season....