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A Lot of Action, A Lot Less Direction
on May 24, 2011
** WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS **
Season 4 of 'The Big Bang Theory' had just one thing that separated it from every other show about a group of friends in their late 20's/early 30's: Sheldon Cooper.
When the show first began, it was about a stereotypical Midwestern blonde girl who moves to California to make it big, and she happens to move across the hall from two Caltech geniuses who severely lack the social skills of the average human being. At the beginning of the series, Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Raj were absorbed by science. The humor was a product of their "experiments" and their inability to fit into the social environment. Here we are four seasons later, and that concept has become scarce as the story has progressed. Sheldon was the only facet of the show that gave it originality this season. I love the show, but it pains me to say that S4 of 'The Big Bang Theory' started to get away from what made it so great.
It baffles me why the show would decide to introduce so many new cast members in such a short period of time. As a guy, when I first watched the show, I didn't take to the 4:1 guys to girls ratio. However, that's one of the things made it unique (see: Seinfeld). Penny was able to hold up a level of femininity that most actresses couldn't. She was the perfect solo female star. Not only does evening the gender ratio make this show like every other comedy on television, but it reduces Penny's role on the show. She didn't need a "posse." The show spent much of Season 4 trying to balance seven main characters (eight once Priya became a regular) when the only ones who really are essential to its continued excellence are Sheldon and Penny.
My synopsis of our "new" characters:
*I'm sorry to say this, but Amy Farrah Fowler is a mess of a character. First, she was introduced as the lady Sheldon, someone who only communicated with Dr. Cooper through webcam and text message and had no interest in developing any real social relationships. Then the show decides that Amy should try to befriend Penny and Bernadette and the three of them would become their own girl group. Since that time, Amy has become a complete one-eighty of her former self, awkward and clueless but trying desperately to fit into the social scene. And I hate to say it, but it's nowhere near as funny as it should be. The strangest thing is that her relationship with Sheldon is essentially very little more than circumstantial now. Sheldon constantly asks, "what happened to you?", and here I'm wondering the same exact thing.
*Bernadette, I will admit I do like as a complimentary girl in the show. The only downfall with her is in dating Howard; I always liked the way Howard thought he was so much more suave and debonair with women than he actually was, and putting him in a relationship takes that element of his character away. Bernadette can stand on her own. She's a sweet, cute, sometimes airheaded but lovable character (and to be quite honest, I could listen to her voice all day). She didn't need to be one of the boys' love interests to find a role on the show. Either way, I think she'd work best in a recurring role, something akin to that of Leslie Winkle in the first couple seasons.
*It's kind of a paradox that I liked the idea of Leonard dating Raj's sister, but I don't like Raj's sister. The idea was good because of the dynamic it created between Leonard and Raj, Raj and Priya, Penny and Priya, so on and so forth. The problem is I didn't find that her character brought much of anything to the show. The fact that she was attractive and that threatened Penny was a clever twist because it made Penny re-think her decision to end things with Leonard (and ultimately, we find out that it's a decision she regretted). So I thought the situation they created by having Leonard date Priya was good, but Priya just doesn't seem to fit on the show. Now from what we learned in the season finale, her role on the show may be hanging in the balance. I'm not aching for her to leave the show, but I wouldn't miss her too much if she went that route.
The show suffered a minor slump when Kaley Cuoco broke her leg and had to be absent for two full episodes. Those episodes perfectly showcased how vital the character of Penny is to the show's success. In "The Desperation Emanation" (ep. 4.05), Leonard is set up by Bernadette with a girl named Joy. Her character was not only unfunny, she was downright repulsive. In a season with peaks and valleys, it didn't get any lower than Joy.
By no means am I saying this show has jumped the shark. It had many redeeming moments and a few classic episodes:
*"The Robotic Manipulation" (ep. 4.01) so perfectly personifies Howard Wolowitz.
*"The Love Car Displacement" (ep. 4.13) was a great episode top to bottom. Including a guest appearance from former NBA player Rick Fox, it is the best the writers got out of their extended cast. There was great balance, funny storylines and laugh out loud moments.
*"The Justice League Recombination" (ep. 4.11) re-introduces us to Zack, a hilariously dumb ex-boyfriend of Penny's. The New Year's Eve costume contest is classic 'Big Bang.'
*"The Herb Garden Germination" (4.20) is the high school rumor mill, 'Big Bang' style. I loved it (and it's probably Amy's best episode).
*When the group starts hanging out at Raj's apartment, Sheldon decides he'd rather just replace them with new friends in "The Toast Derivation." (ep. 4.17) Clever episode and very well executed.
*"The Zarnecki Incursion" (4.19) is a brilliant depiction of the gang looking to settle the score when Sheldon's World of Warcraft account gets hacked.
*"The Zazzy Substitution" (ep. 4.03) is the first time we see any sort of fallout from Sheldon's lack of social connection, and it results in a pretty hilarious new gig. I'm also a big fan of whenever Mrs. Cooper or Mrs. Hofstadter make an appearance.
*"The 21-Second Excitation" (ep. 4.08) proves that any episode can be made epic with an appearance from Sheldon's nemesis, Will Wheaton. ^Side note: (This episode is also the perfect example of why I don't like Amy; the humor associated with her character for most of the season is perfectly on display in this episode)
- Sheldon and Penny's back and forth at the Cheesecake Factory bar in "The Apology Insufficiency" (ep. 4.07) is incredible. It's astounding how funny those two actors can make simple conversation. Throughout the series, it's been most evident when they walk together up the three flights of stairs to their apartments.
- "Shelbot" was an inevitable story for a science fiction show to tell. "The Cruciferous Vegetable Amplification" (ep. 4.02)
- Raj's infatuation with Bernadette throughout the season makes for some great love triangle moments.
I didn't particularly love the season finale, but the way the stories all came together at the end was fantastic and should send the show into Season 5 with a head of steam. I loved the idea of having Penny get caught in a scandalous mistake. With Priya seemingly leaving the picture (at least for now), the possibilities are endless. Also worth asking: Will Howard be OK with Bernadette "wearing the pants" in the relationship, or will he finally pursue his PHD in Season 5? The questions are plentiful.
It was an uneven season. It was a season that did a lot of things but didn't really go anywhere definitive with it. I thought the emphasis was too much on developing social relationships and not enough on the science of the show.
- If you asked me what Leonard did in Season 4 other than date Priya, off the top of my head I couldn't tell you.
- Penny spent the entire season in denial over the fact that she wanted Leonard back. As a result, other than a brief stint with Zack and her drunken night with Raj, Penny was involved with no one in S4. Rather, the writers decided to develop her "posse", a decision you already know I wasn't a big fan of.
- Once Howard started dating Bernadette again, Howard stories became "Howard and Bernadette" stories. I'm kind of torn on this, because I think Howard is a better character when he's single, but I do like Bernadette for him. Either way, the writers need to find a way to channel vintage Wolowitz again.
- Sheldon Cooper is the anit-Fonz, and I think when all is said and done, he'll go down as one of the better characters in television history. He is a comedy pioneer for nerds, and he is THE redeeming quality when anything isn't working. Jim Parsons is well deserving of the Emmy he won in Season 3, and once again he demonstrates why he was the perfect choice for Sheldon.
A slight decline from its predecessors, but still as good a comedy as you'll find on television.