Field of Science

One day left before the singularity

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From a January 2009 post on another blog which I forgot to cross-post here:
As I have discussed with friends often, the reason why we start liking certain sitcoms so much is not just because they remain intrinsically funny, but because we gradually start to become friends with the characters and anticipate their actions and words. That certainly happened with Seinfeld. With me that also happened with F.R.I.E.N.D.S., at least till the sixth season. But for this to be so, the lines have to be genuinely creative and witty and most importantly, actors have to inhabit the characters almost perfectly, which seldom happens.

Now it seems to be happening again. The Big Bang Theory has enormously entertained me since it kicked off last year. While it may seem that it would appeal only to science-type nerds, it has potential to get a much more general audience hooked. The premise is not entirely novel but is beautifully packaged. Two brilliant physicists at Caltech, Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter, are living a life of total nerdiness; speaking in nerd-speak all the time, analyzing every statement literally, playing Halo every Thursday, collecting tons of actions figures, and attending role-playing medieval games. Needlessly to say, their social ineptness figures in the nth power of ten. Leonard (an experimentalist) is a little more normal, while Sheldon (a theoretician) who is the most brilliant of them all is infinitely annoying and exasperating, being unable to understand simple linguistic devices like sarcasm and metaphor in spite of (or because of) his incandescent brilliance.

Their total lack of social tact and immersion in science is only helped by their two best friends also from Caltech, Howard Wolowitz, an obsessive womanizer and total loser who in spite of his repeated failures will never stop trying to get every attractive woman in bed with him, and an Indian named Raj Koothrapalli who is so scared of attractive women that he can't talk in front of them...unless he is drunk. Between Howard trying to fend off his mother with whom he lives and Raj trying to fend off his parents who are hell-bent on getting him into an arranged marriage, the four friends usually hang out at Sheldon and Howard's apartment, stay away from most human beings, have lunch everyday at the university cafeteria and in general exemplify the epitome of nerdiness.

But things change dramatically when an attractive, not-so-bright (but often having more common sense than the geniuses) blonde named Penny moves in next door to Sheldon and Leonard. How their state of equilibrium is suddenly disturbed by this violent perturbation and how the event has several manifestations of various kinds is the general subject of the episodes. Throw in ample science-speak, the typical lives of awkward geniuses, fun at physics quizzes and desperate dates gone embarrassingly bad, and you have one entertaining sitcom.

It's been a while since I was this entertained. As I noted before, the series works because of clever lines and the actors' ability to almost perfectly inhabit their characters, so that they gradually form a distinct identity in your mind that allows you to start appreciating and anticipating their tics and lines. Hopefully the series will find a large enough fan following to continue playing for a long time.

The Big Bang Theory plays at 9:30 p.m. on Mondays on CBS.

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