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The Big Bang Theory: “The Relationship Diremption”

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Chuck Lorre begins his production company’s 452nd  vanity card by confessing that he doesn’t want to write these things anymore. He’s likely talking about the paragraphs that accompany the majority of his vanity cards, but there’s the outside chance that we are witnessing Chuck Lorre come to a breaking point with his sitcoms, which are the primary source of comedy on CBS. They have brought Lorre loads of success, but also a fair share of drama with TV stars, and a man can only sustain this kind of output for so long before burning out.

Lorre never actually specifies what “these things” are in the vanity card, and it’s interesting to look at the rest of his message with “these things” meaning his sitcoms. He doesn’t want to write them, but that doesn’t mean he won’t. All of his comedies were picked up for next season on CBS, and Big Bang Theory got renewed for three more years. These shows are paying the bills and a whole lot more, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be going away any time soon. He doesn’t want to work on them, but he can resign himself to his contract and turn out work he’s not passionate about.

Because Lorre likes to use unspecified pronouns, he leaves his words open to interpretation. “Half the time they’re innocuous, the other half just piss people off.” Is he talking about his vanity cards or his episodes? The line works so well as a description of his work on The Big Bang Theory, which helps perpetuate gender and social stereotypes but operates in a realm of storytelling that is almost never provocative. Tonight’s episode involves Sheldon breaking up with string theory, getting drunk, and sleeping with a Geology textbook, a.k.a. the Kardashian of science. Meanwhile, Howard meets Raj’s girlfriend, who he ditched four years ago on a blind date after clogging her toilet with shit. The envelope is not being pushed here; more than half is innocuous, and it’s still going to piss people off.  

There are people that hate this show because they’ve seen it and are immediately offended by its superficial portrayal of nerds and the women that love them. That impulsive reaction keeps a person from seeing the show’s heart, which has helped it develop the biggest audience in network TV comedy. Sheldon can be annoying, but he can also be very sweet and vulnerable at times, and Jim Parsons has done incredibly textured work realizing the character. Parsons’ work in tonight’s episode is particularly excellent, capturing Sheldon’s internal struggle as he reconsiders his career path and his uninhibited stupidity when he tries to keep up with Penny’s drinking.


Parsons’ Sheldon is a strong physical comedian in the vein of Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean, bringing chaos wherever he goes and not really giving a shit about the consequences. He has real chemistry with his costars, and his scenes with Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting have this wonderful brother-sister energy that continues to develop with each episode. They have a very nice conversation at the start of the episode that shows how these character have created a bond over an extensive knowledge gap, and they have a mutually beneficial dynamic where they can turn to each other for assistance with matters the other person only semi-understands. Sheldon has also started to loosen up in the second half of this season, and he’s become a more interesting character in the process, taking his relationship with Amy to the next level and giving Parsons the opportunity to explore a new side of his character.

There’s been a heavier emphasis on Sheldon and Howard’s relationship in recent episodes, which works very well because Parsons and Simon Helberg are the strongest members of the male cast. Helberg has turned Howard from the group’s resident creep to one of the show’s most endearing characters by playing up the character’s vulnerability. His Clogzilla storyline plays too heavily to the lowest common denominator, but Helberg makes it work because he realizes Howard’s pain and shame in this moment. People that see a few minutes of Big Bang Theory and turn it off aren’t going to see these layered performances, but the show’s laugh track also makes it easy to think that there’s no depth to what’s happening on screen.


Then there are those people who have never seen Big Bang Theory and hate the very idea of it based on a variety of reasons. One is the way it’s promoted, which is a completely valid criticism for people that define themselves as nerds. The advertising for this show sucks, but I would say that the majority of network television shows have horrible advertising. Another is that it’s a three-camera sitcom with a laugh track, and that’s a format that a lot of people find antiquated in this age of high-quality single-camera comedies. And then there are the people that hate The Big Bang Theory because its the main ratings competitor to Community, but I’m sure nobody here at The A.V. Club feels that way.

I know this isn’t what you wanted to see when you came to this review. I wouldn’t blame you if you threw your hands up in disgust and went off to read someone else’s writing. And you totally can. I’m not the only knucklehead who does this. Okay, I feel better. Not better enough to write something worth reading, but certainly good enough to let this one fizzle out.


Stray observations:

  • This episode has some fun moments, but man there are some tired jokes. Scientists don’t have sex! Cosmopolitan has tips about getting over a break-up in every issue! Poop smells! Are you laughing yet???
  • That slow zoom on Stephen Hawking’s door works remarkably well for those scenes with Sheldon’s drunk-dial. Also, the nicknames Hawkman and Sheldonoscopy are wonderful.
  • “Break it off. Shake hands. Walk away.”
  • “Empty room. Empty room. Empty room. If somebody says, ‘Come in,’ I’m going to freak out.”
  • “I heard you reading pretty loud last night.”
  • “I kiss girls now.”
  • “What a jackass.”

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