Thursday 31 March 2011

The Answer Was There All Along

This evening I watched Big Bang Theory. The episode was called 'The Pants Alternative' (Season 3, Ep18), the climax of which you can see here. It won Jim Parsons an Emmy for his performance.

Let's make no bones about this. Big Bang Theory is a funny show. It's a good setting, the characters are well-drawn and the jokes are laugh-out-loud funny. I like it. I don't love it, for reasons I'll explain. For me, the writers have allowed Sheldon to become too dominant. The show, for me, should be about Leonard, as he is our 'way in' to the world - and someone we can identify with. I, personally, would have made it a will-they/won't-they with Penny and ran that for a few years. But then, Chuck Lorre really does know what he's doing. The house I live in would probably fit into the downstairs bathroom of his house.

Clear Quest
But I felt 'The Pants Alternative' episode had a strong positive and a strong negative that was worthy of note. And some annoying niggles. The big positive is that the quest of the characters is pin-sharp, easy and clear:

Sheldon has to give a speech. Why? Sheldon has won an award. But a condition of accepting it is giving a speech to a large room of people.

Problem: Sheldon physically cannot give a speech to a room of people large enough to trample him. (Funny joke - but hides the fact that I don't quite believe this. Sure, Sheldon could give a speech. He is surpremely self-confident, but I'll got with it).

Solution: The other characters take it upon themselves to get Sheldon through it, and prepare him to give a speech. Penny takes him shopping for a new suit. Leonard tries psychiatry. Rajesh does meditiation. It provides three decent set-piece scenes. Seems odd that no-one has mentioned what he's going to say, but again, I'll go with it. So far, so good.

No New Information
Leonard steps up to introduce Sheldon at the dinner for the speech - but in Leonard's speech, Sheldon gets nervous. So what happens? He has a drink. Sheldon doesn't drink, apparently. This hadn't been mentioned in the episode before. Then Sheldon gets up and, hammered, gives an inappropriate speech, leading to losing his trousers.

Here's the big negative: Why are we introducing alcohol to the story? For me, the third act, leading to the climax, should contain no new information, or anything that hasn't been feature in the episode. The quest is clear. The problem crops up. We think we have a solution. But it doesn't work. We need another solution - and it should be something that was there all along. Otherwise if feels that the characters are not to blame for missing it. It feels like a deus ex machina.

I can well imagine plenty of viewers have no problem with the episode - and laughed at Sheldon's drunken antics. And I'm just being picky. But I really think that episodes lose momentum when they introduce new elements too late in the story.

All that said, Sheldon, giving a speech drunk, was funny.

But it wasn't as funny as it could have been because it didn't have any consequences. Nothing was really at stake. The award was not withdrawn - which, granted, wouldn't have been funny. Nothing else happened. The episode just ended. Now, I'm all in favour of swift endings. Writers often labour over epilogue scenes which tie up all the loose ends when the audience just don't care. But in the case, I cared. And it didn't seem to matter. Which is why, ultimately, I don't love it.


  1. I agree about this particular episode and remember being disappointed by the ending myself.

    That said, I think The Big Bang Theory is one of the best sitcoms on TV at the moment, but the better stories are the ones throwing Sheldon and Penny together. Their relationship is what makes the show for me personally

  2. I have never watched this show but if you want drunk speechgiving I highly recommend Gussie Fink-Nottle presenting the prizes at Market Snodsbury Grammar School in Right Ho, Jeeves.