(Premieres tonight on CBS, 8:30 pm ET/ 7:30 pm CT)
Really bad television shows tend to pander to the mean: In affirming the superiority of Joe and Jane Average, they mock both the egregiously stupid (e.g. Kellie Pickler, Jay Leno’s man-on-the-street bozos, and other adults not smarter than a fifth grader) and the hyper-intelligent, who are struck down for the arrogant, unpardonable sin of… um… knowing stuff. The new CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory is a broad example of this principle—really broad, like Amazon basin broad. It’s hard to believe that anyone’s even making a three-camera sitcom this mothballed; only an offhand mention of the word “blog” suggests that it takes place in the present-day. In every other way, the show bears an uncanny resemblance to the sitcom spin-off of Revenge Of The Nerds, and even that didn’t make it past the pilot stage.
Here’s what happens in the first episode: Super-dork apartment-mates Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Sheldon (Jim Parsons)—first introduced trying to donate at a “high-IQ sperm bank”—spaz out upon meeting their new next-door neighbor, a ditzy blond waitress named Penny (Kaley Cuoco). Her shower doesn’t work, so she asks to use theirs and winds up strutting around in a skimpy towel. (No seriously, this happens.) Then she asks them to drive to her muscle-bound ex-boyfriend’s house to get her TV back, and they end up getting depantsed. (No seriously, this happens, too.) End of episode.
In between, there’s a lot of sitcom banter that emphasizes how dorky they are, how air-headed she is, and how amusing those extremes are supposed to be together. The awkward chemistry might have been funnier if either the nerds or the ditz resembled actual people who live in the year 2007, rather than sitcom types from the mid-‘80s. (And has a grown man ever been depantsed after college?) To give you an idea, here are a few subtle indications that Leonard and Sheldon are not like you and me: They play “Klingon Boggle,” keep separate whiteboards for quantum mechanics equations, wear striped sweatsocks up to their calves, own a Periodic Table shower curtain, and have Star Wars-themed shampoo and conditioner. (They also have two equally nerdy friends who come over with a DVD copy of a Stephen Hawking lecture from 1974. This is what nerds do for fun.) For her part, Penny believes in astrology, calls herself a vegetarian who eats fish (“and steak—I love steak!”), and appears to have had a serious long-term relationship with real-life version of Bluto from the Popeye cartoons.
If there’s a silver lining here, it’s Galecki, who logged many seasons as Darlene’s boyfriend in Roseanne, and knows how to hit his marks. Truth be told, I did laugh several times during the pilot, though mostly for the wrong reasons. (A busted shower? Depantsings? Really?) I think one episode is enough ironic fun for me, however.
One genuinely funny exchange: Penny tells the nerds she works at Cheesecake Factory. Leonard: “I love cheesecake.” Sheldon: “You’re lactose intolerant.” Leonard: “I don’t eat it. I just think it’s a good idea.”
Okay, a second (somewhat) funny exchange: Leonard, fantasizing about scoring with Penny one day: “Our babies will be smart and beautiful.” Sheldon: “Also imaginary.” [Update: Two hours later, this isn’t looking that funny, after all.]
The first hour of CBS’s two-hour sitcom block on Mondays—the consistently winning How I Met Your Mother followed by this canned fart—offers plenty of grist for both sides of an “Is the sitcom dead?” argument.