100th Post: It All Started with a Big Bang

It wasn’t really The Big Bang Theory that inspired me to start this blog; it was Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. But for my 100th post I wanted to write about a show that I really, really love but for some reason hadn’t written about yet.

Actually there is a reason. I’ve been holding out hope that I would someday get to see the unaired pilot and blog about that, but Chuck Lorre isn’t letting that particular Schroedinger’s cat out of the bag/box. In our minds it will remain simultaneously great and terrible.

…except for the cold open, available on YouTube here: http://youtu.be/jftzOTnB30I (No embed code, for some reason.)

Like the opening scene of the aired pilot, it’s set in a high I.Q. sperm bank, and the dialogue is similar. The main difference is that here, Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) and Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) have already made their “deposits,” while in the aired pilot they have a change of heart and leave. Personally, thinking that they couldn’t go through with it makes me like them a little better.

Even in the aired version, this scene feels tacked on, and a few things don’t quite fit with what we now know of the characters. Leonard makes a masturbation joke to Sheldon: “You’re a semi-pro.” (Sheldon? Really?) And donating sperm just isn’t the sort of thing Sheldon and Leonard would do. They never seem to lack for money and Sheldon seems incapable of anything remotely sexual. And Leonard just acts like a jerk telling the receptionist the answers to her crossword puzzle–sure, he’s smart but he’s not a jerk. (Weird trivia: both Parson’s and Galecki’s fathers died in accidents.) 

Once you get past that scene, however, the show comes to life. As the guys trudge up the three flights of stairs past the forever broken elevator in their apartment building, they get a glimpse of the beautiful, tan blonde (Kaley Cuoco, previously the jump-the-shark character addition on Charmed) unpacking in the unit across the hall. A lesser show would have had them do something like trip and fall or stutter when they talk to her. Instead, Leonard extends a heartfelt but off-kilter greeting.

In the original the guys meet a girl on the street—rather than a new neighbor— and let her stay with them. I can’t see them sustaining that plotline for very long. Perhaps the plan was to have the girl eventually take the apartment across the hall.

And who doesn’t love the theme song? It was almost “She Blinded Me with Science,” but the Bare Naked Ladies’ recitiation of the formation of the universe is infinitely more satisfying.

Many of the show’s recurring elements are introduced in the pilot: Sheldon’s spot on the couch, the broken elevator, Leonard’s previous relationship with Joyce Kim (who we later learn was a North Korean spy), and Raj’s inability to talk to women. Also, Sheldon wears a Flash T-shirt, the first in a collection.

One of the great things about TBBT is Penny isn’t just an empty-headed blonde bimbo, though unfortunately this is how she comes across in the pilot. Her reference to astrology acts as short-hand for “she’s a ditz” while her bangs give her a little girl look that she outgrows as the character develops. She even seems to talk in a higher voice than normal. Sheldon, on the other hand, is a little too astute about sexual proclivities. He knows Leonard’s intentions almost before Leonard does.

Raj (Kunal Nayyar) and Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) are introduced about midway. Their characters are fairly one-dimensional and would remain so for at least a season. That goodness they’ve come so far! In hindsight it’s kind of hard to believe that Chuck Lorre, the creator of such douchebags as the Harper brothers also created such loveable characters.

Though Sheldon and Leonard are introduced with equal weight, it’s suggested that Leonard is the one most desiring to sleep with Penny and is thus assumed to be the protagonist. As the show has progressed, it could be argued which one of the guys is actually the star. Sheldon continues to grow as a person, in the meantime garnering Emmy nominations for Jim Parsons, while Leonard has a followed a typical boy-pines-for-girl-gets-girl-then-loses-girl trajectory. Sheldon makes the show. Even on their Comic-Con panels, Parsons tends to grab the spotlight.

Throughout the episode the geek jokes abound, ranging from Klingon Boggle and Luke Sykwalker shampoo to complex equations worked out on a whiteboard just for fun, complete with jokes that no one without a Ph.D. would get. This stuff is just the icing on the cake, though. Although a good portion of us fans are no doubt geeks, the truth is most of us are somewhere in between the guys and Penny on the genius spectrum. We might have Lukeskywalker shampoo (or want some – do they have that at Rite Aid?) but we probably didn’t build anything that’s currently orbiting a moon of Jupiter. If you did, mad props.

…math, science, history, unraveling the mystery that all started with a big bang. (Bang!)

Two and a Half Men

Let’s play pretend. Let’s pretend that we don’t know Charlie Sheen has gold teeth or what he truly thinks of Chuck Lorre. Charlie Sheen is a movie star who made an unfortunate foray into television taking over for Michael J. Fox on Spin City. And Jon Cryer is just Duckie. And these two guys who we last cared about in the 80s are co-starring on a new show called Two and a Half Men.

Charlie Sheen’s character, Charlie Harper is painted as a womanizer literally from the first seconds of the pilot. He’s in the bedroom with a woman. When she leaves the room to change into a lacy negligee, another woman calls the answering machine to tell Charlie off. The laugh track is kept busy with sex jokes for the first minute and a half.

The next voice on the answering machine is that of Alan (Cryer), Charlie’s brother, who announces that his wife has thrown him out. Thus the premise for the show—Alan wants to stay with Charlie, where he will surely be in the way of Charlie’s love life. In fact, he’s already there on the other side of the bedroom door. In the conversation that follows, we find that Alan, the brother who has been married for 12 years seems to know far less about women than the single Charlie. Also, it’s slipped Charlie’s mind that Alan has a 10-year-old son, Jake.

The jokes fly fast and furious. Alan has brought his own sheets to sleep over. He’s been named Chiropractor of the Year. Charlie gives a rundown of his cush life, which includes midday margaritas and sundeck naps.

The next morning Charlie opens his eyes to find a pasty little boy face hovering over his bed. Jake (Angus T. Jones) is not a cute TV kid. He’s a pudgy, dorky kid, one used to structure—eating lunch at a certain time, drinking a specific brand of milk. Charlie doesn’t do structure. Jake’s presence sets up some no-duh commentary on adult life, i.e., “If [wine] makes you feel bad, why do you drink it”? Charlie quickly learns of another advantage; the kid is a babe magnet. “You’re better than a dog,” Charlie delights in telling him.

In this episode we meet Judith (Marin Hinkle), Alan’s uptight wife who believes she might be gay and Evelyn (Holland Taylor), the guys’ well-dressed, no-nonsense mother. We also learn early on that Charlie has a stalker who calls him “monkey man.” She’s a cute neighbor, Rose (Melanie Lynskey) who claims to be the maid and does nonsensical things like gluing the kitchen cupboards shut. We know to expect a lot more of her.

The revelations of Charlie’s degradation continue throughout the episode. “Charlie is great with kids,” Alan assures Judith. Cut to Jake playing poker with a bunch of men in a smoke-filled room. In retrospect, it’s easy to wonder if Charlie Sheen is even acting; he doesn’t even have to respond to a different name.

A lot of Alan’s humor comes from his pained facial expressions. He naively clings to the belief that he and Judith are just “working things out.” He’s so uptight one wonders how he fathered a child in the first place. There is no end of potential jokes in this odd couple scenario. (As a side note, Alan’s character bears an uncanny resemblance to Felix in the 1968 film The Odd Couple.) It takes a new tone, though, one that was perhaps more irreverent than network sit-coms tended to be in 2003.

Alan and Jake try living with Evelyn, but Charlie asks them back. It seems that the love of a kid has put a tiny crack in the walls around his party boy heart. Clearly things don’t work the same way in real life.

UPDATE: 5/13/11 Ashton Kutcher has officially been cast in Two and a Half Men.