I just recently had a chance to check out a few of the fall American shows that are beginning to grace the shores of Blighty, frankly I'm thrilled that more and more legitimate ways to watch these shows are being set up quickly via platforms like iTunes. The world certainly is, as the cliche goes, a smaller place and the electronic world is even smaller again.
The Big Bang Theory is one of the shows that's having its latest season promptly shown on E4 (airing started November 4th) and I've had a chance to see the first four episodes. What follows is a series of mini-reviews about each episode and then some thoughts on what's to like and what's improved in comparison to the earlier seasons.
Episode One: The Robotic Manipulation
"Howard, slow down, the robot hand is stuck on your what?"
Carrying events on from the Sheldon/Amy (or "Shamey") incident The Robotic Manipulation is a solid opening episode with some great moments. In particular I'm glad that the writers decided to put some work into the character of Amy, The Big Bang Theory - like Chuck Lorre's other show Two and a Half Men, suffers from interesting secondary characters being brought in and then dropped without explanation. This could still happen to Amy, but at least she's being given a chance as a character to grow and explore.
Some of the funniest moments in the episode don't entirely rest on Sheldon, while I adore Jim Parsons and his character I do think it's important that the rest of the cast get their fair share of the light and laughs. Howard gets a huge slice of them here with his "theft", use and then horrific misuse of a robot arm. It ends with him having to experience one classic trope in the form of a hospital visit and the classic line "I slipped and fell" that is resolved with another equally classic trope (without giving too much away, think I.T. Crowd) - the nurse in the scene is so great that I hope she'll make later appearances on occasion. There are also some superb Penny/Sheldon interactions, including a fruitless discussion about the triple knocking habit Sheldon has and her interest in Sheldon's relationship with Amy is equally endearing (especially when Sheldon begins to speculate and calculate Penny's romantic bedroom entanglements over her lifespan.)
Episode Two: The Cruficerous Vegtable Amplification
"For your convenience I disassemble into four pieces."
The largest part of the episode's humour rests on the shoulders of Sheldon and his "robotic manipulation" which occurs when he decides to try and expand his lifespan (with the intention of reaching the singularity and thus potential immortality) by sheltering his physical form from the outside world by interacting with it via a "virtual presence" (effectively a monitor, camera and microphone on tracks.) This is without exception the funniest episode of the entire show to date, Jim and Johnny Galdeki's interactions reach a new level of comedy throughout this - Sheldon's overjoyed expression on the monitor is sidesplitting in itself, but his obvious joy in experiencing the outside world without having to actually be in it is comedy gold.
Needless to say the episode culminates in a suitable form of hubris for Sheldon, and although the situation is resolved I do find myself hoping that virtual Sheldon makes another appearance at some point in the future.
Episode Three: The Zazzy Substitution
"You should lend him your copy of Bombay Ba-donk-ba-donks!"
This is the episode I was worried about, the one where the promise of "Shamey" is dropped in favour of returning to the status quo. Sure enough, after discovering irreconcilable differences (due to the equally massive egos of Sheldon and Amy) the pair split up and Sheldon transforms into a terrifying cat person.
I shouldn't have worried, things are resolved in a more than satisfactory fashion (and a neat closing gag), due to Sheldon's ability to consistently underestimate his mother's intelligence and shrewd understanding of all things Sheldon.
In addition, this was a fantastic episode for Rajesh - the situations where he manages to interact with Penny are always hilarious (mostly because he's drunk and offensive). In fact the entire four episodes have a lot of great moments for Rajesh - Kunal Nayyar is an understated piece of brilliance in The Big Bang Theory and it feels like he's been given stronger lines in these episodes and he's risen to the occasion.
Episode Four: The Hot Troll Deviation
"An entire subcontinent where cows work in the street and nobody has had a solid bowel movement."
Penny's willingness to embrace all four of the guys and try to assist them is something I've enjoyed watching as time progressed, in particular the subtle change in relationship between Howard and Penny - since he's stopped continuously sleazing at her and showed a little emotion the dynamic has improved a lot.
The Hot Troll Deviation is a welcome episode on this front, but it's also exceptionally welcome for another reason, the return of Melissa Rauch as Bernadette. Bernadette's appearance and involvement with Howard was a great leap forward for the show and heralded a great deal of promise. Howard needs something else to move him beyond the hormonally imbalanced semi-stalker that he is and Bernadette was a great fit. It also helps that Melissa Rauch is just adorable in every aspect and perfect for the show. I'm hoping her return results in many more appearances.
Rajesh's work relationship with Sheldon also pays off dividends when Rajesh decides to turn the screws onto Sheldon with an audacious piece of furniture. The tit-for-tat that follows is hilarious and Kunal plays them beautifully, but it's nothing compared to the superb guest starring roles George Takei and Katie Sackhoff take as icons of Howard's fantasy and manifestations of his unconscious mind. Katie is pretty good, she is limited by the role of 'cheesecake fantasy figure' in this situation (I can't wait for the episode where she actually plays herself and Howard mistakes her for another fantasy) but she plays what she has with gusto. George Takei on the other hand grabs his part with both hands and shakes all the awesome out of it everywhere. Just about everything he says is hilarious and serves as additional insight into the usually one dimensional Howard.
I've enjoyed The Big Bang Theory ever since the writer's strike managed to get the show to kick itself into a different gear, and while the show has now embraced Sheldon as the primary character I'm pleased to be able to say that everyone else is getting a fair share of the plot and the funny (though Leonard is a little sidelined at the moment due to the post-Penny fallout removing a lot of his character motivation, he's no longer chasing after Penny so he's left to just observe and snark at Sheldon. I'm sure that'll change given time.)
In particular the continuation of more supporting character incidents, especially endearing ones like Bernadette and Amy; along with Penny taking a stronger interest in Sheldon and Howard's relationships and an expansion of comedic stories for Rajesh means that the fourth season of The Big Bang Theory feels stronger and fresher than ever.
(Image originally from the most excellent "The Televixen" check her out here)