TV on DVD: The Big Bang Theory -- The Complete Second Season (2008-2009)

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One of the sweetest yet sharpest situation comedies in years, creator Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady's The Big Bang Theory impressively manages to entertain us while at the same time remaining true to their refreshingly original thesis that nice, likable people can be funny too.

Kicking off its third season on CBS in the coveted Monday night time slot as the lead in series to Lorre's smash hit Two and a Half Men, the show about two physicists and their beautiful neighbor managed to score the highest ratings of the night when it returned on the 21st.

And the credit for the success goes primarily to the talented team of writers who wisely leave the snarky anger where it belongs on Two and a Half Men in their intriguing development of misfit characters who-- a few annoyances aside-- genuinely like each other instead of the miserable dynamic we witnessed via CBS' former ratings blockbuster Everybody Loves Raymond.

Additionally, Bang is perfectly cast and amazingly inventive in the way that it moves beyond what could've been a one-joke premise of turning the physicists into dorks without feelings and the beautiful girl into a self-absorbed bimbo who wouldn't give them the time of day. And although the talented trio of Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, and Kaley Cuoco seemed to visibly bond by the time the middle of season one rolled around, season two finds them with a much greater handle on not only who their respective characters are but also how to bring out the best in each other.

Likewise, Prady, Lorre and their writing staff have managed to avoid the sophomore slump of taking a safe route or falling into the old network comedy traps of building up a "will they or won't they" question for so long that by the time it occurs, its audience is no longer interested (Frasier) or patronizing the characters we've come to know and love by turning them into punchline ready machines (The Office, Friends) or depending upon A-list actors for "must see" cameos (Will & Grace).

To this end, the characters refuse to stay the same "types" they were when the series began when we encountered Ph.D Caltech physicists Dr. Leonard Hofstadter (Galecki) and his arrogant child prodigy turned obsessive compulsive
best friend and roommate, Dr. Sheldon Cooper (Parsons) as they met their guileless, beautiful blonde neighbor Penny (Cuoco) who'd moved to California to become an actress but is currently employed as a waitress at a nearby Cheesecake Factory.

In the first season, a majority of the humor revolved around the higher functioning genius Leonard's inability to romantically connect with the woman for whom he'd fallen head over sneakers in the opening episode. Yet overall the series and its characters evolve along with the physicists' Caltech colleague friends including the painfully shy Raj (Kunal Nayyar) and clueless aspiring player Howard (Simon Helberg) into an unlikely makeshift family.

Of course, the sexual tension and failed attempts at romance between Leonard and Penny still continue throughout and the two are set to become involved officially within the beginning of season three but it's hardly the driving force of the series overall. Furthermore for Bang, it's been great to see the impact the group has had on each other as Penny helps get them outside their apartment and comfort zone and as evidenced in season two, she's officially become one of the guys.

Obviously Sheldon's unease with everything hasn't gone away and Penny's attempts to challenge him lead to some of the season's strongest episodes as even the writers reveal in a behind-the-scenes featurette that anytime Penny and Sheldon are put together, it makes for some truly funny moments. Early on in the season, Sheldon tries to comfort a frustrated Penny by introducing her to the world of medieval gaming online and she becomes hooked morphing from the hot friend to a fellow dork even more at risk than the rest until Sheldon and Leonard have to intervene.

Yet one of the best Penny/Sheldon concoctions of the season occurs in the standout "The Panty Pinata Polarization" when Sheldon ejects Penny from the apartment for violating his endless, illogical rules and she decides to get even to increasing levels of neighborly war. Of course, Leonard usually acts as the mediator or rule-breaker to ensure Penny comes out as the victor but the two respond to each other so well that it's adorable to see Sheldon go out of his way to bring baked goods over or use slang to try and casually ask Penny for advice.

Moreover, Parsons has the most difficult role by spouting off a whirlwind of tongue twisting physicist meets Star Trek dialogue that takes him hours to prepare to deliver in his rapid fire screwball meets Gilmore Girl fashion (befitting Prady's former gig on Girls). And cleverly Entertainment Weekly revealed that the episode that was submitted to Emmy voters in consideration of Parsons' well-deserved Best Actor nomination was the Christmas one wherein Penny presents Sheldon with an unexpectedly perfect present that prompts him to hug instead of ramble in a decidedly un-Sheldon like maneuver.

Of course the dynamic between Galecki and Parsons and the rest of their nerdy entourage garners the most laughs by far especially when the guys use science on a quest for love as sex is always the only thing on the mind of scene-stealing hornball Howard. If Charlie on Two and a Half Men were all talk and no action and with a much higher IQ, he'd be Bang's Howard who uses his access to governmental programs to try and locate the home where the contestants of America's Next Top Model reside and when he gets the Mars Rover stuck in a ditch in pursuit of seducing a doctor who surprisingly becomes Leonard's new girlfriend.

Likewise, it's always a treat to see Galecki reunite with his Roseanne costars who are given excellent material including Sara Gilbert as one of Big Bang Theory's best comedic weapons as the Kryptonite to the men for her mind and the fact that she's always willing to play the "friends with benefits" card when she desires. Along with Gilbert's semi-recurring role, Roseanne's Laurie Metcalfe shows up as Sheldon's Kryptonite whom Penny and Leonard call once in each season when her son Sheldon is out of control.

Aside from the pointless cameo of fellow WB produced series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles actress Summer Glau which led to a a dead-end subplot and a few episodes that felt a bit structurally repetitive, admirably the season fails to include a genuine dud in this hilarious four disc set. However, in addition to the fact that I'm still puzzled as to why the writers continue describing Penny as a waitress at The Cheesecake Factory when the restaurant's set clearly has nothing in common with the actual chain, I also think the series would benefit if Howard and Raj had a chance to develop a bit more as characters which we saw slightly in Howard's case after Penny took an insulting joke a little too far.

Yet with the recent announcement that the award-winning, popular comedy series has been renewed at least for a fourth season, I'm confident that the talented staff will continue to have positive results in their irresistible formula and inspired experiments regarding which ingredients produce the best comedic fodder.

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