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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

THE BIG BANG THEORY - THE COMPLETE NINTH SEASON

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'The Big Bang Theory - The Complete Ninth Season' on Blogcritics.


Some television shows begin to show their age after nearly a decade on the air, especially sitcoms, which tend to thrive on one-off stories. Their lack of complexity makes them fun in the short-term, but it’s hard to sustain a high quality level of humor and enthusiasm year after year without the cast and the audience beginning to grow bored. An exception to that generalization is The Big Bang Theory, which is releasing it’s ninth season on Digital HD, Blu-ray, and DVD this week, and shows little sign of slowing down.

If you’re not familiar with the show (though it’s hard to imagine you aren’t, with the series being the most-watched comedy of the last several years), it’s about four geeky scientists and the women that they love. The Big Bang Theory didn’t start with much in the way of female representation; the sole woman in the early days was Penny (Kaley Cuoco), and she was mostly just there to be a dream girl for Leonard (Johnny Galecki) to pine for. But over time, that changed, and other girls came along and stuck.

I think that’s part of the key to The Big Bang Theory‘s success: it has allowed itself to evolve and grow over time. Penny and Leonard marry in the season premiere of this release, but it’s no longer a one-sided affection, nor is it shallow these days. They have come to appreciate one another for a variety of reasons, and work as a couple because they’ve both changed through their exposure to one another. They seem like a solid pairing.

This rings true, also, for Howard (Simon Helberg) and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch), the former of whom is still getting over his mother’s death from last season as they move into her house this year. They begin to think about starting a family in season nine, and we can see how they have stabilized, the man child ready to be a man with a child, and the woman who has thankfully pushed him towards that point.

Raj (Kunal Nayyar) is far less settled, dating two women at once. It’s not as skeezy as it sounds (usually), as Raj really does care deeply for both Emily (Laura Spencer) and Claire (Alessandra Torresani, Caprica), and he doesn’t lie to them (much). But even with the negatives in the story, it’s a big leap for Raj from the shy man who couldn’t even speak in the presence of women at the start.

Even famously particular Sheldon (Jim Parsons) is softening, forced to face the fact that he may lose Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik) if he doesn’t learn how to express his affections both vocally and physically. The results of these growing pains are funny, yes, but they’re also painful as we learn what makes Sheldon tick, as happens arguably more this season than in any other.

If that makes the guys and Penny sound totally different from where they started, they are. Yet, all of this evolution has been gradual and authentic, changing as real people do over time. They rub off on one another, and it has made them all more complex, mature individuals. The Big Bang Theory hasn’t lost its premise or what made it special; it simply enhanced and deepened it as the years went by, a sure recipe for success. I can’t wait to see what season ten has in store this fall.

The Complete Ninth Season has a bunch of bonus features, though I would rank it middling in what is offer. Two sets of “#JustAskBBT” has cast members responding to fan questions, though most of them aren’t very good questions, and it’s puzzling why this is in two parts instead of just one. “Love is Rocket Science” is basically just a recap of the romantic relationships at this point, which is emotionally satisfying, but doesn’t really add anything to what we’ve already seen. But “The Big Bang Theory Gives Back” is better, highlighting how the series has positively helped college students going into STEM fields. And the included gag reel is predictably, comfortably funny.

While I’m lukewarm on the extras, I’m clearly not on the episodes, which attract guest stars like Bob Newhart, Christine Baranski, Laurie Metcalf, Judd Hirsh, Keith Carradine, Wil Wheaton, Adam Nimoy, Stephen Merchant, Elon Musk, Adam West, Stephen Hawking, June Squibb, and more in just this season alone. Whether you’ve been a faithful watcher from the beginning, have only caught a few episodes here and there, or want to jump in for the first time, I can unequivocally recommend The Big Bang Theory – The Complete Ninth Season, available September 13th.

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