Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Big Bang Theory

Having heard nothing but fantastic things about The Big Bang Theory from pretty much everyone in the civilised world, about three weeks ago I forked up £25 and bought myself a DVD boxset of Seasons 1-4 of the show. Now, it's three weeks later and I've finished watching all 5 seasons of it, and I'm wondering what I ever did with my time before!

In many ways, The Big Bang Theory is a very odd programme. You wouldn't normally expect a show that is distinctly and unashamedly about Nerds and All Things Nerdy to be such a hit. Neither would you expect a main character like Sheldon Cooper (who, let's face it, could so easily have been universally hated) to have been so taken into the hearts of millions and millions of people. And yet, it was and continues to be a hit, and Sheldon Cooper is loved by all. The Big Bang Theory's Facebook page boasts over 23 million fans, whilst Sheldon Cooper's page comprises over 9 million fans. The world is a very strange place indeed.

The delightfully nerdy (except for Penny!) cast of The Big Bang Theory.
That being said, I'm not complaining at all. I happen to think that The Big Bang Theory is one of the funniest and well-written shows of the 21st century, and as a bit of a nerd myself I can't help but love it whenever Star Wars or Doctor Who or Superman gets a mention from characters who love those things even more than I do. To a degree, I think that one of the many keys to the programme's success might just be that kind of fanboy obsession. Because even though the bulk of the show's audience will not have seen every episode of Star Trek or Red Dwarf or Firefly and will have no desire to do so either, I'm willing to bet that every single one of them will still be able to identify with the kind of love Sheldon, Leonard, Raj and Howard have for them. Who can honestly say that they're not a fanboy/fangirl of something? Whether it's a sports team, a brand like Apple, or whatever. Each one of us has at least that one thing that we love to pieces and love to geek out over, and to see that kind of love translated onto screens taps into the inner fanboy/fangirl in all of us. It allows us to empathise with the characters, and we appreciate them for being so willing to express their love for their interests in either the same way as we do or the way that we wish we could.

I mentioned Sheldon Cooper in an earlier paragraph, and anyone who thinks that he's not at the very core of why the show is so popular is just plain wrong. Sheldon is played by Jim Parsons, and in his time on The Big Bang Theory he's won awards galore. He's won 2 Emmys, a Golden Globe, a People's Choice Award, a Critics' Choice Award, and more. And do you know what? He deserves every single one of them and then some. The quality of acting in Comedy is something that is often overlooked, and it's easy to forget just how brilliant actors in comedy shows often are. But with Jim Parsons, it's understandable why he's been met with such universal critical acclaim. In short, his performance is nothing less than astounding. Forget learning all the technobabble and monologues that Sheldon comes out with (which is in itself is a Herculean feat) - it's the way that Jim becomes Sheldon that's truly astonishing. I mean, I know it's nothing unusual for an actor to become a character, but there's something more to it when Jim does it. I've seen Jim in interviews, and watching them it's clear just how much he changes every facet of himself when he becomes Sheldon. His mannerisms, his body language, even his voice - every tiny little nuance, it all changes. And not necessarily in an extremely obvious way; a lot of the time the changes he makes are very very subtle. But the fact remains that the transformation he as an actor undergoes is phenomenal. I also mentioned earlier that it would be very easy for Sheldon to be unlikeable; again, it's a testament to the quality of Jim's acting that he makes Sheldon not just likeable but in many ways absolutely adorable. Underneath all the arrogance and condescension, there's such a vulnerability and gentleness to Sheldon. And actually, the way he's played, you can't help but like him. In essence, Jim Parsons' portrayal of Sheldon is one of the finest displays of acting you're ever likely to see, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that, and I'm just so glad that that's been recognised, and that we as viewers are lucky enough to get the opportunity to see him at work week after week. Now Jim, come and do a play in the West End so I can see you live, damn it!

Jim Parsons is stunning in the role of Sheldon Cooper.

In general, it's usually comedy shows that make me laugh and dramas that have scenes that make me sit back and go, "Wow." But the best ones do both. The best dramas can make you laugh and cry. And the best comedies make you laugh at most scenes but also sit back in amazement during others. And, obviously, The Big Bang Theory is one of those comedies. The one scene that stands out most for me is the final scene of Season 5's final episode, The Countdown Reflection. In it, Raj, Bernadette, Amy, Sheldon, Leonard and Penny sit in front of their television screen and watch their friend (and, in the case of Bernadette, husband) Howard journey into space. I know Chuck Lorre said in his vanity card for that episode that what choked him up most about that scene was the fact that the characters all subconsciously reached out to each other to hold hands, and whilst I agree that that moment was beautiful, the most beautiful line of all - and what made that scene perfect in every sense of the word - was Sheldon's final line. Just 4 words:

"Boldly go, Howard Wolowitz." 

Do you know what? The whole show is summed up in those 4 words. And a lot of the human condition is, too. Human beings are meant to explore. We've crossed oceans and climbed mountains. We're meant to reach out and, with outstretched fingers, touch the face of God. That's what Howard was doing, and that's what his friends knew he was doing. And those 4 words encapsulate everything. They encapsulate how we humans cling on to and love even tiny things like television shows, whilst at the same time strive towards the extraordinary and things that are greater than ourselves. It's an expression of admiration, pride, hope, friendship and humanity. - All that... in 4 words in a 30 minute comedy show. And if things like that aren't what makes The Big Bang Theory so special, then... BAZINGA to you!!

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