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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Bigger BIG BANG

Article first published as A Bigger BIG BANG on TheTVKing.

CBS's The Big Bang Theory began its seventh season with a pair of episodes that certainly felt like a full hour story, not back-to-back separate installments, as other sitcoms have done recently. The episodes did have their own titles: "The Hofstadter Insufficiency" and "The Deception Verification." However, the story flowed seamlessly from one part to the next, making this one of the few truly serial comedies on television.

As "The Hofstadter Insufficiency" begins, Penny (Kaley Cuoco) and Sheldon (Jim Parsons) are both missing Leonard (Johnny Galecki), though only the latter is willing to admit it. They decide to spend time with one another, sharing dinners and games of chess, soon coming to really appreciate the company. With the main guy in their lives gone, they look to each other to fill the void. I hope more of their bonding can occur in the near future, with or without Leonard.

Watching the two of them together is quite touching. They've had scenes alone before, and they have nearly always been memorable moments, but to get so much of it during a single half hour is very rare and  welcome. Cuoco and Parsons have a wonderful dynamic going on between their characters, and because of the differences between them, every new wall broken down is a triumph for them.

For instance, Penny shares something deeply personal about filming a topless scene in a low-budget horror flick when first arriving in L.A. Sheldon, in return, reveals that he lies about being OK with YouTube's rating system change. As most would, Penny blows off Sheldon's confession as trivial, but when Sheldon confronts her, telling her she has hurt his feelings because this is something he cares about, it's a raw moment of feeling between them, one of the coolest things the show has done to date. She will never look at him the same or be so dismissive again after this.

Leonard comes home early in"The Deception Verification" and tries to hide in Penny's apartment, spending a few days alone with her. Sheldon catches him, and is deeply hurt by both Leonard and Penny. I think this, combined with the incident described in the preceding paragraph, reveals a layer of insecurity not seen in Sheldon in the first few years of the show. He likes to act like he's aloof and above everyone else, but there is still a little boy in him longing for acceptance. It's nice to finally get to see this vulnerability come out.

In fact, though Leonard does make it up to Sheldon, his heart sure doesn't seem into repairing their friendship, doing it more as a way to keep the peace in their group than because he feels guilty. This isn't the first time we've seen Leonard be selfish and a little bit of a bully, but this may be the most obvious, held up against someone acting the opposite for a change. Is the dynamic duo at the center of The Big Bang Theory heading for a dramatic break up this fall? That could make for an extremely interesting arc, as it's been done before, but perhaps not with enough far-reaching damage resulting.

Speaking of twosomes, Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) and Amy (Mayim Bialik) spend some time alone in "The Hofstadter Insufficiency." They are at a conference and have some gal time without Penny or the boys. I like Penny and I like the relationship the three female characters have with one another, but it's also really refreshing to see the other girls without her. They act a little differently, a little more comfortable with themselves, celebrating their own individuality instead of standing in her shadow, something that naturally happens when she's around, though is surely not intentional on her part.

The fight the two have over boys, defending their relationships and realizing they are attracted to guys buying them drinks that more resemble their friend's man their than own, is awkward, but also interesting. I don't think The Big Bang Theory is heading for a swingers plot, but it's cool to see such fully-fleshed out roles with their own desires and needs, not hung up only on who they are dating. This is especially important because both Amy and Bernadette were added to the cast after the show was established, both after spending time with one of the main boys.

Raj (Kunal Nayyar) can now talk to girls without alcohol, but still isn't so good at doing so. We see him spend some time with Mrs. Davis (Regina King) at a work function, however, he's not ready for a woman as normal as she yet. They may share a moment, but Raj has some growing to do before he can enter into a relationship with a regular, stable girl, if that ever becomes his type, which quite likely will not happen. However, I do think it would be neat if, in a season or two, the show tries and Raj / Davis romance. Or sooner, if she her divorce gets really rough. They have a strange, yet intriguing, vibe.

Lastly, there's Howard (Simon Helberg), who is affected by his mother's estrogen cream, becoming overly emotional and developing swollen, tender breasts. Let's be honest, this isn't the strongest story in the hour, but it's amusing, and with all of the other serious stuff going on, a little comic relief is fine. I just feel bad for Bernadette, who walks in on Raj and Howard squeezing one another's chests, surely an unsettling sight for any wife, especially given who close Howard and Raj are.

These are good episodes for The Big Bang Theory, a sign that it's still managing to age with grace and dignity, maturing the characters and the plots in sync. It is likely much closer to the end of its run than the beginning, which is a little sad, yet, there are signs that it may be near to having played itself out. I'd rather see it go off the air while it is still of excellent quality than after it begins to slide downhill. One to two more years might be perfect, though considering the gigantic ratings it garners, and the network's reputation for long-running sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men, CBS may balk at pulling it so soon.

The Big Bang Theory airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.

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