Thursday, September 6, 2007

"In This House We Obey the Rules of Thermodynamics!"

The Big Bang Theory (CBS, Mondays at 8:30): When we were in high school, my best buddy Misha was close friends with a girl named Katie Reid. They would often sit on the bus together--in the days before we had our licenses and prior to us pretty much writing off public transportation forever--and Misha would regale her with a series of (and I'll interject here: largely fictitious) witty tales and anecdotes. Katie was--and remains--a sweet girl and, as it happens, tended to laugh at pretty much everything Misha said. (Truth be told, this may have been Jackie Armstrong--I'm no longer certain. But let's try to stay on track, people.) This led a bunch of to observe that, should Misha ever become a stand-up comedian, he should stipulate that Katie been in attendance for every performance, so as to encourage the crowd. Alas, Misha's career followed a different trajectory, and the matter was promptly dropped. Well...I'm happy to report that Katie--possibly cloned 200 times over--is alive and well working as the laugh track for the ingratiating and thoroughly disappointing The Big Bang Theory, which premieres Monday, Sept. 24 at 8:30 on CBS, just after the wildly underrated How I Met Your Mother. More on that in a sec.

TBBT is the brainchild of Bill Prady (fun fact: he ran for Governor of California in the 2003 recall election) and Chuck Lorre (currently, a producer on the inexplicably popular Two and a Half Men), who appear to have met while writing for that paragon of comedy known as Dharma & Greg--and with that impressive pedigree, the sky is truly the limit for this show. It tells the story of physicist pals Leonard (Johnny Galecki, best known as Darlene's boyfriend and, later--who knew?--husband on Roseanne) and Sheldon (Jim Parsons, who was actually wickedly funny as Tim the pathetic pyramid scheme guy in Garden State) and their awkward encounters with the hot new neighbor, Penny (Kaele Cuouco--otherwise known as the hot daughter on Eight Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter). The lone other notable--because he's given the only funny line in the entire episode (a cruel, if funny, shot at Stephen Hawking)--is Howard (played by Simon Helberg--one of the MadTV guys and, unfortunately for him, a bit player on Studio 60).

Problems, suffice to say, abound. Lines and scenarios are cribbed directly, I assume, from the opening day seminar in Crappy Sitcom Writing 101. What if we make the girl next door really, really hot? And what if the guys are, like, super ordinary looking but really smart and one of them thinks he has a chance with her? As if! And what if the other roommate says what other people only think? He'll have, like, no impulse control. OMG, that is so funny! Who talks like that? No one, that's who. And what if her ex-boyfriend is like this big, burly guy and, for some ridiculously contrived reason, they're forced to confront him? Oh, man! He could totally pants them! Remember pantsing?? This is really good! Are you writing this down? You should be writing this down...

I feel like Elaine confronting the New Yorker editor, in that I want to grab these writers and shake them while shouting: "ADMIT THAT YOU DON'T THINK THIS SCRIPT IS FUNNY!"

Another major problem, which brings us back to my original paragraph, is that the laugh track is so thoroughly irritating, it detracts from whatever small amount of enjoyment you might get from the show. By way of example: What if [laugh] every sentence I wrote [laugh] was peppered with stray [laugh] roars from a seemingly [laugh] semi-retarded [laugh] studio audience [laugh]? You'd probably [lau--sorry] want to kill me pretty quickly, wouldn't you? (Admit it.) Well, it's just like that here. I can't count the number of times I turned to Carrie and said, "seriously, what the hell are they laughing at?" only to have her shake her head incredulously.

They've also opted to use the stairwell of their apartment building (complete with an out of order elevator) as a key set--the show's Central Perk if you will,'s a fucking stairwell and not a coffee shop. The audience is thus treated to not one but two shots of the two boys making the slllllowww trek up three flights of stairs to their apartment, which...why do this, exactly? It's actually even more boring that it sounds. I mean, I don't even like doing this in real life, so why would anyone think that people would enjoy watching fictional characters do it? Baffling.

Even the show's logo is lame, to the point where it pains me to include it. But here it is:

Seriously, was this a Grade 9 Graphics Design class project? Did they hold some sort of contest on the back of the paper napkins at Denny's to see who could come up with the best logo? Look how shitty it is! I'm at a loss.

The only form of pleasure I've derived from this show thus far--which I had to watch twice, by the way, because I was a little bit drunk the first time and couldn't really remember anything about it except that I hated it--is the joy I'm expecting from looking over the Nielsen numbers after the show's second episode, where it will no doubt show TBBT losing 98% of HIMYM's lead-in audience. This anticipated joy is, however, slightly mitigated by my concern that HIMYM will somehow get tarred by the same brush--NBC's Thursday Night Comedy Block this is not.

How This Show Can Be Saved: they actually fucking hire someone that writes something funny? Government-mandated mass lobotomies? Too obvious? Hmmm....I suppose if they actually recreated the big bang I would possibly tune in again. Short of that: good riddance.
How it Will Fail: just keep on doing what your doing, guys. It'll happen...
Likelihood of A over B: God...gotta be 100 to 1 against. Haven't you been paying attention? This show is awful! Don't make me resort to more tortured analogies...


Anonymous said...

Wow dude. You really need to get a life.

RT Murphy said...

Don't listen to the haters, player.

That opening anecdote was a little forced, broheed. Is the laugh track really that uniquely and uniformly terrible?

And the stair thing... yeah, that sounds like an idea that they've cribbed and wanted to use for a while, so long that they've lost perspective on how terribly mundane and logistically awful it is.

Not like I was going to watch it, but good to know I can steer clear. Is anyone really excited about it, though?

Kyle Wasko said...

Chuck Lorre, is that you? Don't worry, this column isn't even syndicated.


As we've discussed a couple of times in the office while pretending to be working, I have no problem with a laugh track, per se. Some of my all-time favorites--Cheers, Seinfeld, and Frasier--used laugh tracks, as does one of my current faves (HIMYM). The difference is: those shows are all funny. If it was up to me, HIMYM wouldn't have a laugh track (technically, it's not canned laughter, since the episode is filmed, put together, and then shown to a studio audience), but since I'm invariably laughing when the audience is laughing, it doesn't bother me in the slightest.

With TBBT, however, the laugh track is incredibly noxious. Audience members are literally howling at the most innocuous lines and, truth be told, it's distracting. Seriously, check out even the first ten minutes of the show and tell me I'm wrong...

Anonymous said...

Ummm, first of all, HIMYM is not filmed in front of a studio audience, so it's ALL canned laughter.

Second of all, I've been to a taping of TBBT and I can tell you that the audience does laugh that much (because to people with a sense of humor, it's actually funny)

and lastly, I trust the opinions of critics like variety & usa today over this blog anyday.

Have a good day!

RT Murphy said...

You got served, Wasko! You've been outed!

In other news, puppet shows are actually talking socks and not real people.


Kyle Wasko said...

Lol…if you’re the same "anonymous" from yesterday’s comment, I have so many, many questions/queries. First and foremost:

1. Are you a viral marketer for TBBT? Be honest. How did you even find this review? I googled myself and even I couldn’t find this review…

2. re: HIMYM. If you read what I wrote in my previous comment, you’d see that I said that the show is filmed, then edited, then screened in front of a studio audience. Those laughs are then recorded and aired with the episode. From Wikipedia:

[HIMYM’s] structure necessitates many more scenes than the average sitcom, therefore the show is not filmed before a live studio audience despite being shot in the traditional sitcom format. Laughter is not recorded until the episode is shown to an audience after it has been completely edited together.

So, true, it’s not filmed in front of a studio audience, but only because it would be practically impossible to do so given the format. This does not, mind you, mean that the laughs are “canned.” They’re real. And--pay attention, because this part is important--comprehensible.

3. You actually went to a taping of this train wreck? I’m--in all sincerity--fascinated. What parts did you find funny? When Sheldon asked for his sperm sample back because he couldn’t promise that his seed would be hyper-intelligent? When the friend that believed himself to be super-suave struck out with the hot girl? When the other friend--and this part is classic--was so nervous that he couldn’t actually speak to the girl? When they compared psychics equations on the board? When Leonard thought he was going to hook up with the hot girl but she just wanted him to run an errand for? When they got their pants taken away? When they fucking played Warcraft?? The possibilities are seemingly endless.

Did they pump in nitrous oxide? Take you out back and get you high? Was there a warm-up comedian? Was it Carrot Top? Did he kill?

Maybe it wasn’t the taping of the pilot at all. So, let’s see. It’s too soon for the boys to take Penny to a Battlestar Galactica Convention/Physicists Conference. Ditto for Penny getting a new—no doubt of embarrassingly average intelligence—boyfriend, thus driving Leonard batty (that’s more like an episode 5 or 6 storyline). So…let’s play this one blind:

Leonard’s friend Howard asks Leonard if it’d be ok if he asked Penny out. Leonard, wanting to play it cool, says it’s fine, but, secretly, he’s tormented. Penny accepts Howard’s offer and they go out to dinner. They seem to be having a good time (laughing and such) at, say, an Italian restaurant, which Leonard and Sheldon can confirm because they’ve oh-so-secretly decided to go to that very restaurant (oh chasquido!) to spy on the new couple. Sheldon makes several snarky comments. Leonard is forced to excuse himself, utterly dejected at his bad luck. He decides to walk home, maybe stopping for a DVD on the way home, only to run into Penny as he’s about to enter his apartment. Turns out, she doesn’t like Howard—she was just being nice. Awww, she’s just so darn lovable! Leonard asks if she’d like to watch a movie (the very movie he just rented!), but Penny says she’s tired, tells him he’s sweet, kisses him on the cheek, then traipses into her apartment. Leonard gazes longingly at her door, as, say, something from The Decembrists, The Shins, or Wilco plays and the credits roll.

Was it riveting? Were you totally shocked that Penny rejected the other guy? I bet that Sheldon had some hilariously cruel/smugly superior things to say. He’s such a character, isn’t he? How about that ending? Really leaves the door open for a heartfelt season-ending cliffhanger, eh?

4. You leave Variety out of this, dammit!! And, as far as USA Today goes, I, too, would prefer all my reviews in pie chart form, but, alas, it’s not meant to be.

Anonymous said...

1. Nope. Just a fan of the show. Do a simple google blog search and you can find your crappy site.

2. Fantastic.

3. Wow. That was brilliant. You should quit your day job. I can only imagine what you could come up with for a show that you actually like. Oh, and by the way, if you'd seen the finished pilot you'd know that some of the scenes you've mentioned are no longer in it.

4. I'll talk about Variety all I want. And I'll keep coming back here to poke fun of your pathetic little blog. Because I can.

RT Murphy said...

So... who needs to get a life again?

Anonymous said...

Your mother?

Kyle Wasko said...

...or Death Cab.

I promise to stop talking about this if you can name one funny moment from the taping you went to.

RT Murphy said...

The second half of this entry by the NJ critic whose Blogger blog I love deals with TBBT in a slightly more concise but no less pithy fashion. My favorite is how he compares the sitcom's ideas to unused 'Charles In Charge' scripts.