The Big Bang Theory: Bang, You’re Dead


Thanks to a minor yet unpleasant disruption to sleep, I wound up downloading and watching the final two episodes of The Big Bang Theory before 6.16am. Twelve years ago, in another world, I caught either the second or third episode on Channel 4. It was a comedy that might have been made for me, geek humour, about loneliness and isolation and the things I loved myself, and understood.

After twelve years, it’s not that programme anymore, but I still love it and it’s been the most consistent source of laughter, uproarious laughter, throughout all that time. Now it’s over.

It’s over because Jim Parsons wanted to leave, and do other things. Understandable, if dismaying. Good luck to him and all of them. Parsons has been the star, around which all has revolved, but in the process has drawn some of the attention that Kaley Cuoco has deserved. Of course I like her: she’s blonde, beautiful and sexy, but so much more important, she’s a gem of a comedienne, with timing that’s so absolutely to the point.

But I like them all, and I liked them for twelve seasons, which is not natural, especially for me, and now I’ll never again feel the fun of a new episode. This Friday ritual will never take place again.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bang Spin-Off?


In the quest to avoid spoilers for those few television programmes I actually want to watch, I may be going a little bit far. I was all enthused about The Big Bang Theory returning this Monday just gone, but it’s taken till today to learn that the much-dreaded spin-off show, Young Sheldon, started immediately after it.

Now the spin-off has a lot going against it. It’s a spin-off to start with. And it’s Sheldon at the age of nine, with none of the gang to bounce off. Which means child actors, and lots of them. And having to invent Sheldon’s family, of whom we’ve only ever seen his mother, frequently, and his sexy twin sister Missy twice, a bloody long time ago.

And Iain Armitage has to a) act well and b) convince us we’re looking at a nine-year-old version of Sheldon. And Zoe Perry, who plays Mary Cooper, has to live up to the performance of Lawrie Metcalf.

Basically, the words we are all groping for at the moment are “Hiding to Nothing”.

But apparently, the debut episode had incredible viewing figures, and retained more of the BBT audience than any other new show that’s been used to try and gain the benefit. Enough so that CBS  have already taken up the option for the additional nine episodes that make it a full season. In short, it’s an instant hit.

Is it any good, though?

I have now given the episode a spin. Yes, it made me laugh several times. yes, Iain Armitage does a good job, and yes, Zoe Perry looks and feels and acts like the woman who’s going to become Lawrie Metcalf, which is high praise.

I doubt very much whether the family group is ever going to be anything as strong as the geek gang, and there are very early signs that this set-up is going to have to tread some in deeper waters. The episode is built around Sheldon’s first day at High School, aged 9, a fish not so much out of water as out of a whole bloody ocean, but he’s at a school whether his dull, steadily drinking, don’t want to get involved father George is the football coach, and his older brother Georgie (George Jr) is both on the football team and in the same class as his little brother, and he’s already going through hideous embarrassment at it, of a kind that, because of his age and the vulnerability of the developing boy, cannot possibly be as unalloyedly innocent as the embarrassment ‘old’ Sheldon causes his peers can be.

And George Sr, who is completely absent in the BBT Universe, and is not missed by anyone, is already having a serious and sympathetic past painted in: he used to be a good coach with a good job in Galveston, until he whistle-blew on cheaters: he got fired which is why they’re here and he’s clearly on the downhill path that I suppose will be drawn out over however many seasons the concept can sustain. To the detriment of the comedy, because this is getting its sentimentality in early.

Fortunately, Young Sheldon has one very potent weapon against sentimentality, and that’s Missy, who will never knowingly be out-cynicalled, and who is being played by a child actress of casual brilliance in Raegan Revord, and she’s why I’ll tune in for a few more episodes. If they have the sense to give her a big role in each episode, this might be worth the time.

The Big Bang Theory season 11


An enormous number of people love The Big Bang Theory.

An enormous number of people hate The Big Bang Theory.

A lot of them hate it for being slick, professional and very popular. Others for laughing at, instead of with the geeks and nerds that form its bedrock. And others for betraying the science, fantasy, comics and SF of its earlier seasons by turning into a comfortable, domestic, relationship comedy, just like Friends.

All of these reasons are true, or at least undeniable.

Take the end of season 10: Amy has gone to Princeton for a Research Project. Riki Lindholme, who guested long ago as student Ramona Nowitsky, who was obsessed with Sheldon, reappears and tries to take up with him again. When she unexpectedly kisses him, he leaves the room, flies to Princeton, knocks on Amy’s door and, when she opens it, he’s there on one knee, holding up his grandma’s engagement ring, which was used as the season ending cliffhanger a couple of years ago.

Season 11 began last night in America (the show has been renewed through season 12). It picked up instantly from the previous season’s end. Amy’s answer is interrupted by Sheldon’s phone going: it is Leonard and Penny trying to find out where he is. He explains what he’s doing an that he’s still waiting for Amy’s answer…

So she says yes. There’s a comic but still touching moment when Sheldon blithely tells her that when Dr Nowitsky kissed him, he realised he only wanted to be kissed by Amy for the rest of his life.

Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, Bernadette can’t celebrate the good news like the rest because she’s just discovered she’s pregnant again. This freaks out both her and Howard, who try to lessen their own worries by persuading Leonard and Penny to get pregnant too.

Raj, on the other hand, is bitter and twisted that everyone’s getting hitched but him. He expresses his concerns to Stuart at the Comic Book Shop. At least they’re in the same boat: but no, Stuart has a date tonight.

This is what the majority of the episode is about: relationships, domestication. There are only a handful of moments that go beyond this. Sheldon joins Amy and her microbiologist colleagues for a meal but is miffed that they only want to talk about her brilliance and developments, not his. Which is not about the science of either of them, but about Sheldon being Sheldon.

And there’s a bit where Sheldon consults Professor Stephen Hawkings by Skype – but it’s about his hurt feelings at being ignored in favour of Amy (Hawkings really is a sport about appearing in The Big Bang Theory, and he’s usually an absolute scream, being automatically deadpan).

An there’s a geek joke, which entirely justifies the objections that the geeks are now being laughed at. Raj is at the Comic Book Shop initially to buy an engagement gift for Sheldon and Amy, but changes his mind. What, he asks Stuart, do you have for someone lonely, bitter and twisted? Stuart sweeps his hand around: practically everything.

So what they say is true.

And yet I laughed immoderately all the way through.

Because it’s not the show it was in the first few series. Because it’s not geek oriented any more, and it’s softened and become more conventional. The socially inept geniuses have got together with a couple of gorgeous blondes. The fantasy/comics references have been greatly reduced.

But I still know these characters. I understand them and their concerns. The humour is still my humour, more so than any other comedy I’ve seen before, because I’ve been laughing at this programme for a decade now and I’m not tired of it, I’m not bored, it’s not as good as it used to be but it’s still better than anything else out there.

I know a lot of people hate the show, and they can do so for all I care. Offer a reasoned argument, stating why you think it’s not funny, and I’ll discuss it with you, but at the end of the day I’ll just agree to differ. More likely, you’ll just offer a slagging off, be it of the show or of the people who watch it, which I’ll treat with the disdain you deserve.

Another twenty-three episodes lie ahead. I’ll buy the Season 10 box-set as a self-Xmas present and delete all the downloaded episodes, and at Xmas 2018, I’ll buy the boxset of this series. I like The Big Bang Theory. I don’t need anyone’s permission to do so, and that, as far as I’m concerned, is that.

The Fall Season 2016: The Big Bang Theory season 10


Ahhhhh!

With The Big Bang Theory returning for its tenth season, and the last of its three-season contract, there was a debate yesterday over whether it would – or should – be renewed for an eleventh year that would place it alongside Friends and Frasier for longevity.

As you’d imagine, it was another excuse for those who don’t like the show, who’ve never liked the show or used to like it but think it’s gone off the boil to demand that it not be renewed, or that time machines be employed to ensure it never got broadcast at all.

One advantage of age, and losing your insecurity, is the wonderful ability to ignore these people completely. You don’t like, you don’t watch it. If you choose to watch it and don’t like it, it’s you, not me, who is the idiot. There are hundreds of other programmes to choose from, hundreds of which I don’t like: tell you what, I won’t interfere with your enjoyment of what you like.

Of course the show isn’t as good as it used to be, but it’s still plenty funny for me and the opening episode of season 10 gave me plenty of laughs. Much of it sprung from the unresolved ‘cliffhanger’ that rather limply ended season 9, on the eve of Leonard and Penny’s ceremonial ‘re-marriage’: did Leonard’s dad sleep with Sheldon’s mom?

The answer was no, but not before some prolonged wicked humour from Sheldon, waspish about coitus, genitals and defilement, and Beverley, Leonard’s mom, consumed with mutual loathing for her ex-husband.

And there was Penny’s family to meet for the first time: we’ve long been familiar with Keith Carradine as her father, Wyatt, but now we got to see her mother (Katy Segal) and her brother Randall (Jack McBrayer), newly released from prison at last and far more wiling to talk about his past as a manufacturer of illegal drugs than was his mother. They were brilliant.

And we still didn’t get to find out Penny’s surname!

The subplot with Howard and Raj was well below the rest of the episode and could have done with being postponed until next week. Frankly, I’d forgotten completely that Howard had apparently created perpetual motion and that the Air Force had immediately contacted him. That was built up, with more paranoia, which will hopefully work better when it has room to breathe in its own right.

I still enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to twenty-three more episodes between now and next May. The Fall Season starts here.

 

End of Term Report: The Big Bang Theory


Still funny after all these years

Season 9 of The Big Bang Theory has closed out with rather less of a stinger moment than we’re used to, which will no doubt lead to another hailstorm of criticism that it isn’t as funny as it was when it started, more demands to get rid of the girls and yet more sneering from those who despise the show as the worst kind of pre-strained pap ever recorded.

Me, I still like it and here’s to season 10, coming up in September.

I’ve been a fan of TBBT since I first saw it, on C4, very early into its first season, and I’ve loved it ever since. It’s not the first sitcom I’ve found hilarious, but it is unique in being the only one that I can watch constantly and still find as funny as if I were watching it for the first time.

Of course it isn’t as funny as it used to be, and of course it’s changed over nine seasons. Nothing gets to stay as good forever, especially when it’s broadcast 207 episodes. I mean, Porridge lasted 21 episodes, Fawlty Towers 12 and The Office 12 plus two specials. And, over nine seasons, the characters have evolved as a result of their experiences: for them not to have done so would have been ridiculous.

Season 9 has been the middle of a three season order that’s allowed the show to run easily. Possibly it has gotten a little lazy. This season began with the aftermath of Leonard and Penny’s spur of the moment wedding, but the show chose to have its cake and eat it by keeping Leonard living with Sheldon. The jokes about Penny being out of Leonard’s class have only mutated slightly. It’s been business as usual, with the main developments being ones that the show, in its formative years, wouldn’t have countenanced: Sheldon having sex with Amy at mid-season, Raj having two girlfriends at the same time and, the dreaded cliche, Bernadette becoming pregnant.

I don’t laugh as often as I do. One or two episodes were a bit dull. And the season ender had the smell of unfinished business about it, as if there were was another episode to come in which the set-ups would be resolved. It felt rather unsatisfactory if that is to be left hanging over the summer.

There’s been talk that TBBT will end after the tenth season. If that’s so, then sobeit. I have loved this show for what will this time next year be a full decade precisely because it is the closest a TV sitcom has come to understanding me. It’s geek humour: its subjects, its themes, its characters’ inadequacies are all things I know from the inside out, and it has reflected me back onto the screen over and over  again. I think Kaley Cuoco is gorgeous and her comic timing is brilliant: her relationship with Leonard has gone through all the stages of my love life and I have howled in recognition more times than I could possibly ever count.

It means that I can never be entirely objective about the show, and that I really couldn’t give a damn about other people’s opinions: if you don’t like it, fuck off and watch something else. It’s not like you haven’t got a choice. For me, even half good TBBT is funnier than anything else out there at the moment, and if it doesn’t get to season 11, I will miss it more than any other series I’ve ever watched.

The Nuisance Suit Idiocy


Always go for a photo of Penny, no matter how irrelevant…

Though it’s no longer as funny as when it started, The Big Bang Theory continues to be my favourite American sitcom. It’s geek humour, and I’m a geek (as you may have worked out by now): I understand what they’re saying and thinking. And I have watched the earlier episodes at least half a dozen times now and still laugh out loud at the jokes, which is more than I can say for even Fawlty Towers or The Office.

Speaking of Big Bang Theory jokes, the show has suddenly been hit, halfway through its ninth season, with a lawsuit claiming damages, profits and legal costs involved in a breach of, I assume, copyright. It’s all to do with Soft Kitty.

For those not familiar with BBT, Soft Kitty, or rather ‘Soft Kitty’ is a two-line lullaby that Sheldon Cooper sometimes requires to send him to sleep when he’s stressed. It used to be sung to him by his ‘Mee-Maw’ (grandmother) when he was little.

Until I read about this suit, I had assumed the lullaby was created for the show, but in fact it was a genuine, pre-existing song, written in 1937 by schoolteacher Edith Newlan, and published by Kentucky-based Willis Music. The Producers acquired the rights to use the lullaby from Willis Music.

Suddenly, nine-and-a-half years after the show debuted and about five years into its reign as the most popular sitcom in America, this lawsuit emerges, brought by Ellen Newlin Chase and Margaret Chase Perry, the daughters of Ellen Newlin, in whom the copyright vested on her death in 2004 (three years before the show first appeared).

Mrs Chase and Mrs Perry, presumably as the result of a particularly slow-burning urge for justice, fairness and decency, are seeking not only the aforementioned ‘damages, profits and legal costs’ but also an immediate injunction preventing the use of ‘Soft Kitty’ in the show until they have been properly compensated for this unjust, unconscionable and horrendous breaching of their rights.

What makes this into such a massive joke is not the length of time they’ve waited before asserting their claim, but the typically overblown terms in which the suit has been brought. Mrs Chase and Mrs Perry claim that ‘The Soft Kitty lyrics are among the best-known and most popular aspects of The Big Bang Theory. They have become a signature and emblematic feature of the show and a central part of the show’s promotion.’

The Big Bang Theory will, early in 2016, broadcast its 200th episode. ‘Soft Kitty’ has been sung on the show ‘at least eight times’. If we are generous and extend that to nine, that would make once a season. ‘A signature and emblematic feature of the show’? In whose Universe?

To be serious about the suit, given that I have a legal background, I think I can make a pretty good guess at the situation (allowing for the fact that I am not versed in American law). Willis Music are the publishers of the song. As such, they would be under a duty to Mrs Newlin, and her heirs, to manage the song on her/their behalf. This would involve the commercial exploitation of the song at the best available price, in addition to resisting its misappropriation without consent. The publishing contract would, in effect, make Willis Music the agent of Mrs Newlin and entitled to make commercial decisions on her behalf. Such as selling the rights to use the song to a tyro sitcom which may or may not succeed.

But The Big Bang Theory succeeds, massively, becoming a tremendous hit. All licensable aspects of the show’s tropes and memes are exploited, including, but certainly not limited to the ‘Soft Kitty’ lyrics. One assumes that the appropriate copyright notice is affixed to all such items, because if it isn’t, serious shit will arrive on the doorstep of CBS et al.

And one also assumes that, if Willis Music were doing their job properly, the contract would have either included or reserved the appropriate rights to income based on licensing the song.

But that was then, when The Big Bang Theory was a twice-made pilot, a mere hopeful among that year’s crop of would-be TV series. Now it makes millions, and one assumes that Mrs Chase and Mrs Perry – either independently or under the influence of predatory lawyers – have decided that they’re just not getting their ‘fair share’ from their late mother’s composition, and are going for broke.

(As an aside: let me make it plain that I have always believed, and still believe, that the creator should have the primary interest in, and a proper entitlement to payment from the use of their creation, and that goes for their heirs – especially when it’s family – for as long as copyright endures. And I’m in support of the ladies if, and only if, they are being improperly denied what is due to them. But carrying on as if ‘Soft Kitty’ is the be-all and end-all of the programme when it’s no more than a minor and charming element, is risible.)

There are two possibilities here: that Willis Music did a crap job on the contract selling the rights to ‘Soft Kitty’ and the ladies are being grossly underpaid for what the song is genuinely worth – bearing in mind that that song is only worth any elevated value because of The Big Bang Theory – or that the contracts are all fair and reasonable and proper and this is a nuisance suit.

If it’s the first of these, then the joke’s off and thy should get a fair deal. But, and I am likely to be prejudiced here because I love the show, I strongly suspect the latter. After all, if Mrs Chase and Mrs Parry have a case, why are they only bringing it now? When the first suggestion has been made of a possible end to the show, after season 10?

But ‘a signature and emblematic feature of the show and a central part of the show’s promotion’? That is to laugh.

The Fall Season: The Big Bang Theory


Anndddd it’s back.

The new, and busy Fall television season in America started last night with the first episode of The Big Bang Theory season 9. It’s running on Monday nights for six weeks before reverting to its usual slot on Thursday evening.

We picked up directly from the end of last season, with Leonard and Penny en route to Las Vegas to get married, and Sheldon in a state of confusion over Amy’s saying she needed time to think about their relationship. With the rest of the cast in decidedly subordinate roles, these two situations quickly played out into disasters.

To be honest, it wasn’t that funny an episode. I still love the series, but I’m not blind to the fact that, comedy-wise, season 8 was the weakest to date, and by throwing in obvious, and serious obstacles, season 9 isn’t leaving much room for the comedy to peek around the edges.

Sheldon was Sheldon, completely misreading the situation. He was completely incapable of giving Amy the time she requested to enable her to think. He turned up outside her apartment, accompanied her (uninvited) to Howard and Bernadette’s, to watch the internet broadcast of Leonard and Penny’s wedding, and spoilt the whole situation for everyone with his petulant self-absorption, eventually pushing Amy to the point of actually breaking up with him.

I found that side of it hard to laugh at, having witnessed the entire thing in real life: a friend of mine broke up with his wife and ended up blowing his chances of resolving their issues by simply being unable to leave her alone to think, though admittedly what he was trying to do was make things better, and not be snotty and superior.

The other half of the story was a crash-course slide towards disaster. All the way through, neither Leonard nor Penny looked as prepared for marriage as they said they were, but the shit hit the fan when they arrived in the honeymoon suite, lawfully wed, only for Penny to choose that moment to admit that she was struggling to get over Leonard’s revelation about kissing one of his fellow scientists when away in the Arctic.

This promptly got worse when Leonard admitted he sees her (professionally) at work. By the time they got back, they were back to different apartments.

As a story, it was a bit too obvious a contrivance. After all, we already have one happily (mostly) married couple, and it would never do to allow Leonard’s lack of self-confidence wither, would it?

The most affecting element of all this was the closing scene, of Sheldon and Leonard in their apartment, each reacting to the crash of their relationships in opposite manners: Sheldon with bombast, arrogance and selfishness, convinced he has not an atom of responsibility for any of this, Leonard utterly dejected, facing losing what matters to him most, and blaming himself for screwing things up.

Downbeat or what?

Personally, the hardest balance I’ve always recognised is to interweave comedy and tragedy. I have always found it hard to laugh at jokes about things falling apart, and the writers haven’t made a good start on this season. Add to that the obvious contrivance of creating this rift to begin with, which I predict will lead to requests for a divorce, and no reconciliation until at least episode 16.

Of course, since the series has been renewed to a further season after this, there’s nothing to keep the writers from extending the split into next year, though personally, I’d be loathe to see that. Hopefully, whatever they do, they can throw in some stronger jokes this year. I have enjoyed The Big Bang Theory  for too long to want to see it decline too badly now.