One of the perks of having a funky sleep schedule is that sometimes infomercial time will surprise you, as it did just now when CBS dropped a sneak preview of the new comedy The Big Bang Theory, the latest product from the Dharma and Greg/Two and a Half Men factory, in an overnight slot where Comedy Central usually airs continuous Girls Gone Wild ads. Some people would call that "better". I'd just call it "a different kind of bad".
The premise, such as it is: Leonard (the short one with the glasses) and Sheldon (the tall one...um...without the glasses) are two all-purpose stereotypical science nerds who live the all-purpose stereotypical nerd lifestyle, until a cute blonde with a lighter-than-air brain moves in across the hall. Leonard falls for her like a ton of bricks, setting up what I'm sure they'd like us to believe is a madcap love story, with Sheldon taking on the Greek chorus role. And really, that's all there is. All kinds of fun things have been built on premises you can write on an index card with room enough for the lyrics to "American Pie". From early indications, this isn't one of those.
If you're familiar with me at all, you'd know I consider myself a geek, mainly because the path of nerddom sounded like hard work. So let's do the geek/nerd/jerk thing and parse the above elements, which also gives me an excuse to not write something that, you know, actually has a flow to it.
NERRRRRRRRRRRDS!: The two main nerds are Leonard and Sheldon (Johnny Galecki and Tim Parsons), and I can't think of a single nerd signifier the writers skipped in crafting these characters apart from the sledgehammer-obvious bow tie/high-water pants/snort-laugh made famous in Revenge of the Nerds. They speak in that supposedly intimidating spectacles-on-end-of-nose style that decades of popular media has taught us means "I R SMRT," but in my experience can also be either a bludgeon of snob superiority or a self-defense mechanism to drive out the infidels who think of "black holes" only as a perfect setup for a dirty rejoinder. There were references to World of Warcraft and Klingon Boggle (perpetuating the lie that there are people in the world who are fluent in Klingon). There was a scientific theorem written on the side of the refrigerator in dry marker. There were "bootleg" Stephen Hawking videos brought over by a friend with a bad haircut and questionable fashion sense. For God's sake, Leonard and Sheldon even get pantsed, in a scene that had me rolling my eyes so hard that I could see my own brain. And those names. Leonard. Sheldon. Really. No, really?
The point is if you're going to make a comedy about smart people, you shouldn't be afraid to make it a smart comedy, and not just settle for a typically lame sitcom with bigger words.
Totally irrelevant point: if Sheldon isn't supposed to be borderline OCD, I'll be stupefied. His explanation of why the far end of the sofa was "his seat" was a bit creepy if you allow yourself to think about it.
The Hot Chick (not a Rob Schneider reference): Penny (Kaley Cuoco, who I'm told was in 8 Simple Rules For Making Another Show Eric Didn't Watch) is a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory, and who are we kidding, she is cheesecake factory. Ba-dump-dump. She's not just dumb, she's painfully dumb, the type of dumb that gives you a headache you have to sleep off. She's a depressingly common sitcom type, attractive but completely oblivious to her effect on others, especially when walking around strange men's apartments in nothing but a bath towel...gee, haven't seen that one lately. And when she opens her mouth, oh! what "delightful things" fall out. A vacuum opens in the space over your Tivo which will take days to dissipate. Warning to future writers: There's a special circle in Hell for writers who steal (pardon me, repurpose) lines from Paris Hilton interviews.
The Inevitably Unfair Comparison: I hope I haven't made this sound more interesting than it is, even in a trainwreck sort of way. The pilot is never a good judge of a show's potential, but this one is particularly weak sauce. Maybe this just shows you how far gone I am, but I'm the type of geek who thinks the perennially low-rated NBC Thursday block, the stuff you're not watching because you got hooked on Grey's Anatomy or C.S.I., represents the best and brightest of the current generation of American TV comedies. I'm one of the "dozens and dozens of viewers" mentioned in Tina Fey's 30 Rock Emmy acceptance speech (you're welcome). The NBC shows are intelligently written, run at a brisk pace that a live audience setup makes difficult, and have fun with their chosen format rather than just residing in it (Scrubs is a master of the last point). At its best, The Big Bang Theory is just there, and at worst it's still there at a point when you want it go away. Say what you want about 30 Rock, but since it found its groove it's never "just there".
While the acting is competent enough for this type of sitcom and I wouldn't mind seeing these people again in something that didn't actively piss me off, it'll be a major surprise if this one isn't long gone by midseason.
The pilot is online at the above link, so you can sample it now and get it out of your system before the Monday night debut.
(Edit @ 8:58: Here's someone who hated the show more than I did, and in a fraction of the time, too!)
(Edit #2 on 11/23: A reader points out that the two previews CBS posted on YouTube look like a significant improvement, and son-of-a-gun, they do. Also, son-of-a-gun, I have readers! Obviously this case requires further study. Also, before this edit I got Dharma and Greg mixed up with Will and Grace (not to mention the wrong number and a half of men), so obviously I must atone. Expect a follow-up in a few weeks...)