There’s something vaguely insulting about CBS’s The Big Bang Theory.
I think it comes primarily from the fact that, these days, it’s accepted lore that The Big Bang Theory is actually “on our side,” as it were. The conventional wisdom, as espoused by show writer and former computer programmer Bill Prady, is that the comic book- and science-fiction-loving main characters aren’t actually being lampooned but lionized. The notion that—even though the characters are stereotypical, one-dimensional and not at all human—we’re supposed to be happy with their portrayal because, after all, it’s a modicum better than The Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy, seems a little absurd.
Set against the backdrop of a university where most of the central characters work, season one’s premise was that four geeks had their world upset when a gorgeous girl moved in across the hall from them and distracted one from his studies and his comics. Leonard (Johnny Galecki) fell in love with Penny (Kaley Cuoco) almost immediately and hilarity ensued. Or at least some minor chuckles.
Of course, it’s clear that some very smart people, who also happen to be interested in (or at least kept abreast of) comics, sci-fi and other geek culture, are on the show’s writing staff—and some of the conversations they have in season two are the same as you might hear your friends having at the comic shop or around a role-playing game board. But really, that’s not enough for me.
The second season saw Wolowitz finally get laid after spending the entire first season chasing tail, and finally saw Penny and Leonard making out. You also got the vibe, toward the end of the season, that Penny was really into him and maybe if he weren’t going away for roughly the same amount of time that the viewers were, he could score. My favorite character, Leslie Winkle (played by Sara Gilbert in what’s surely the show’s most inspired performance), gets a lot of mileage this season, too—she’s the most well-adjusted of the geeks, and the most well-rounded, too. In her first appearance (back in season one) she had sex with Leonard (the central character and the one usually referred to as the most well-adjusted), and then walked outside and fixed a calculation error on the whiteboard of Sheldon (ostensibly the most brilliant person on the show). While they never again depict her as showing up any of the men in her circle with brains, she’s easily able to do so with attitude and sex—something that drives a few of the stories in the second season as she takes Wolowitz down the rabbit hole for a while.
So the romantic B-plots were much-improved. And with the increase in popularity the show enjoyed its second season, they managed to swing some impressive cameos (by actors, and by ACTUAL noted scientists instead of actors playing fictional ones)…so I guess it’s fair to say that the recently-released-to-DVD The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Second Season is a substantial improvement over the show’s first season (something ratings will attest to).But still—it stings to watch. Even when the show is funny, I find myself laughing at it with half of my brain, while the other half is trying to figure out if I’ve just been insulted. And frankly, up against competition (on its own night and network) like How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men, it’s just not funny enough for me to feel like it’s worth thinking that hard.