Into its fifth season, it's hardly a dark horse choice, but with as many changes it has undergone, The Big Bang Theory is now much more than it ever intended to be. Is that a good thing?
When it started, Big Bang was centered around four nerds: the primary Leonard and Sheldon, plus their friends Raj and Howard. They hang out at Leonard and Sheldon's to watch movies, play video games, and perform science experiments. All is nerdy until a hot girl moves in across the hall. As Penny the waitress and would-be actress is the outsider to this strange world and under normal circumstances, she would be the surrogate. In a twist that defies most story telling and popular TV trends, Sheldon explicitly tells her the truth that we all realize: Even though she's the outsider, the guys are the normal ones and she's the strange one. Of course, that's just subjective perspective, but let's follow the course of events as they are now.
The show has now become more broad in its scope, following the women in their events that do not include the men. The figurative straw comes in the form of Amy Farah Fowler, played by TV's Blossom (I only call her that because no one would recognize the name Dr. Mayim Bialik). While intended as a "mate" for Sheldon, she seeks female companionship through Penny and Bernadette, her first girlfriends ever. She definitely can be funny, with her research into simian neurology and academic trivia. But her prescence has given momentum to a devolving syndrome in TV I like to call "I don't care about any of this".
Now before I get accused of being a chauvinistic pig who is condemning the show for adding gender balance, it has nothing to do with women being on the show - it has to do with them taking away what is good about the show. The originality behind Big Bang is its science humor. Between Schrödinger's cat references and experiments gone wrong, the show's target audience likes it not because it's men doing science things, it's because there are science things. Big Bang's audience grew up watching Bill Nye the Science Guy make science fun and enjoyable, while teaching us complex concepts. While Big Bang is far from educational, it does offer some practical examples that you can do at home. I'm not against girls joining in on the science fun and I don't think anyone really is. But I draw the line at girls going, "Well, this is boring, let's go shop for pretty dresses." Maybe I lack the background that would make jokes about them being the "Three Menstruteers" funny, but it doesn't have the same comical effect as the slapstick (I could have chosen a better word) humor of phallic comedy. Howard getting his junk caught in a robot hand and double entendres about floppy drives are humor at the expense of male pride (or shame, may vary) and a part of our culture, peaking with America's Funniest Home Videos. Maybe that in itself is a double standard that women want equality with, but I'll go out on a limb and say it would be less funny.
If anyone wants to call me out for being anti-feminist/equality, let me blow your minds. What is Penny's last name? Five years into the show, we've added central female characters, and the first one still doesn't have a last name. Why? It's not my fault, and I want her to have last name because her having a last name is less controversial than not having one. Aside from the feminist consequences, the question frequently arises about Howard and Raj's supposed latent homosexual relationship. They regularly embrace each other intimately against their better judgment and characters call them out on it. Raj is overly effeminate and cannot talk to attractive women, while Howard allegedly overcompensates with machismo chauvinism. With Howard on deck to get married now, Raj has become the spinster and only character to not have anyone in their lives. His only way to combat his pathological shyness is to get drunk (or think he is), which is making him an alcoholic. Sheldon's mom recently pointed out what we're all thinking - it's usually the "other kind of Indians" that have a drinking problem. Of course, that's insensitive to Native Americans, but your single ethnic character on the show is an outcast with a chemical dependence. With a diminishing role of "nerd is the new cool", we're seeing more Friends-esque commentary and socially awkward situations.
Above all else, this is supposed to be a shipper series. We know Penny and Leonard are meant to be together and the world is just trying to keep them apart. Rather than completely review The Big Bang Theory as a whole, which would obviously be a project, I somehow focused on gender studies and character pollution. We literally have characters sitting on milk crates just to be in the same room together because they're in relationships. Obviously, they never intended to be in relationships (at least at the same time). Why have they not changed their lifestyle to accommodate more people? CBS has had so much success with this series that they bought a 3 season extension, guaranteed it will see its 7th season. By then, will Penny finally confess her undying love for Leonard? Will Sheldon and Amy grow a baby in a test tube? Will Howard kill himself from the pressure of marriage? Will Raj run for public office?
Big Bang Theory fans: To fit the show into literary tropes, Penny (the waitress) enters a culture foreign to her (the nerds). Because our culture would consider her "the normal one" and she is the outsider learning how to adapt, she is the audience surrogate. But as Sheldon points out, in a confirmation of the target audience, the nerds are "the normal" ones and she is the odd one. While Penny (with no last name) intermittently adapts to their way of life, the series demonstrates the nerds evolution to become more like her. Who is the surrogate in this case?
Prager (also known as David Prager to those who aren't familiar) may have announced it "with pride and a heavy heart", but I cannot describe my sentiment with anything but tragic dismay as Revision3 plans to end their flagship series Diggnation later this year with episode 340.
For the uninitiated, Revision3 is a network of video podcast media founded by refugees of TechTV's merger with G4. While Leo Laporte secluded himself in the suburbs of Petaluma to start TWiT.tv, a group still in San Fransisco cobbled together one of the first legitimate networks of internet media aimed at being the television of the Internet (the third revision of television). With the help of David Prager and other production backers, former co-hosts of The Screen Savers Robert Kevin Rose and Alexander Jennings Albrecht teamed up to host Diggnation - Covering some of the hottest user-submitted stories on the social news website Digg.com.
Why does any of this matter? Why is this show so important that The New York Times had an exclusive on this? Why would CNN bother covering it back in 2007? Podcasts begin and end all the time, right? Well, Diggnation was one of the first regularly "broadcast" web series produced by a commercial studio. It's always had a cult following, mainly college guys who are willing to sit on a couch drinking beer while watching videos of guys sitting on a couch drinking beer. As boring as it sounds, they've had some genuinely hilarious moments that will forever be remember in the annals of web history. Of course, this doesn't mean the end of Kevin and Alex's roles at Revision3, nor does it mean Rev3 is ending. Alex is still cohosting The Totally Rad Show and has future projects in store, while Kevin is hosting the entrepreneurial-centric Foundation and might have something else up his sleeve.
What sets Diggnation apart from most web shows is that the following is so strong that they occasionally went on tour for live shows in front of audiences of hundreds and possibly thousands. From Comic Con to SXSW and even low key events at MSNBC, Diggnation live shows help legitimate web video as a medium, which is how Rev3 went from advertisement sponsors like GoDaddy to big names like Ford. I've had the privilege to attend 2 live Diggnation shows, both at San Diego Comic Con 2010 and 2011. While I will admit that the decline in quality/enjoyment has declined over the years, there's still nothing like it. I will always be glad that I was a part of this community and hope to see more quality programming from Revision3.
Preview Night is half known for allowing early access to the show floor for attendees to wander with less of a crowd, but for the past five years, it's also been the launch pad for Warner Bros (a huge sponsor on Comic Con) to preview fall TV series and other properties. This year's highlights were the Supernatural direct-to-video TV series, Alcatraz, and The Secret Circle.
Supernatural is a Japanese anime adaptation of the long running CW show about the Winchester brothers and their demon hunting family business. The live action series is amazing and is definitely a much watch for anyone who likes The X-Files, Buffy, or fraternal humor in general. The anime series is a literal adaptation of the season 2 finale "All Hell Breaks Loose". Stars Jared Padaleki and Jensen Ackles provide voice work for their roles (the only redeeming quality), while the only other recurring character we see is Bobby, who is imagined and voice drastically different than his live action counterpart. Like most anime, the absence of a natural background soundtrack leaves only the dialogue and whatever music they put in, but the gasps, grunts, and other guttural sounds come off as awkward and distracting. Seeing how it copies the early plot of the live action series scene for scene and involves a story arc that has since been wrapped up in the live action series, it has basically no compelling qualities. The audience had serious problems with it, especially when the second part of the pilot aired, but I'm going to blame it on them not liking anime more than not liking Supernatural. Regardless, it's not going to have a future.
Alcatraz is the newest Bad Robot production, which makes it worth its weight in gold to most people. In 1963, Alcatraz officially closed and the inmates were relocated to other prisons. We find out that wasn't what happened, as every inmate and officer on the island disappeared in the middle of the night, which is why it was closed under false pretenses. In the pilot, we meet the first of the "63s", returnee by the name of Jack Sylvane, who has not aged in the 50 years of his absence. He appears out of nowhere during a tour and manages to walk out without anyone asking where he came from (not that they would recognize him, but notice that he wasn't part of the tour group). Whatever force took and returned him provides cash and a locker key, contacting him by pay phone and apparently giving him post-hypnotic suggestions to kill. As someone who doesn't exist anymore, ruthless criminals that are supposedly dead would make great mercenaries. A SFPD officer with family ties into the prison teams up with a comedic historian (Jorge Garcia) and the always mysteriously rich and powerful Sam Neil to discover how/why 300 people disappeared and returned without aging. Essentially, it's Prison Break meets The 4400, themselves being great series that are worth watching. This amalgamation, however, can definitely be skipped. The room appeared to love it, but with weak dialogue, poor editing and a beyond unbelievable premise in an otherwise grounded reality, this supposed mid-season replacement for the 11-12 season ought to be gone before the end of its first season.
The last series we saw was the CW's newest teen drama, based on a young adult book series, The Secret Circle. A young girl's mother is secretly murdered, leaving her now orphaned daughter to move in with her grandma back in the family's original hometown, one of those "everyone knows everyone" towns. As she arrives and adjusts to her life at a new school, strange events occur and it turns out her family is one of six witch families that have been part of a "secret circle" since the 1600s. At some point in her mother and grandmother's past, their abuse of witchcraft (referred to as "practicing") resulted in an incident and made a promise never to use it again, nor tell their children about their powers. Apparently, the secret got out and the new generation is using it for all sorts of sexy trickery, but the addition of our protagonist completes the circle and amplifies their power, which is going to make it harder to hide. Meanwhile, the parents of two of the kids are hatching a scheme for the kids to not only form their circle, but follow through on some plan that has been in the works for some time. As sexist as it may sound, it really seems like there is a strong trend in TV series that star girls who are unique and hold the key to saving the world or fighting off some type of evil, while all the boys fight for her affection. There's nothing wrong with it, but True Blood really seems to be giving network studios the impression that the theme is going to generate a lot of revenue, assuming their target demographic of lonely teenage girls is going to start spending more time staying in to watch TV and sacrifice going shopping, seeing movies and other girl things (okay, that's sexist [not really], but let's get real about the money making business). It's basically The Craft, Being Human, and True Blood rolled into one.
Now that I've made it to the milestone age of 25, I often contemplate what life would be like if I could go back and do it all again, knowing what I know now. Looking back, I was an idiot. To be fair, all kids are idiots, and I wasn't that bad. I didn't fall into a particular group, which gave me a unique perspective while observing all the cliques and groups in the highschool environment. I floated back and forth between "cool kids" and nerds, with no one really thinking twice about my involvement in the other side.
Having the TV library that I do, I stumbled upon Judd Apatow's (yes, that Judd Apatow) breakthrough series Freaks and Geeks. It was the predecessor of the other short-lived series Undeclared, but while college is more about the parties and awkward situations you get into, highschool is a more definitive period in one's life, which makes Freaks and Geeks more compelling. The series views high school life from two clique perspectives - the Freaks, who are stoner deadbeats who skip class and will likely drop out of school, and the Geeks, who are the typical nerds who stay in to watch sci-fi and play D&D. I can relate to many of the situations the Geeks find themselves in, but not to the same extremes. There were certainly groups like the Freaks seen in this series, but I'll admit to not fitting in with them.
While the series mainly focuses on the lives of Sam and Lindsay Weir (Lindsay being a Geek-turned-Freak) and their family, the later episodes delve into the lives of the Freaks, mainly Daniel and Nick, who see opportunities to reform and improve their lives. Of all the regular cast, the only character to not have his life explored was Ken (Seth Rogen), which begs the question of how he utilized this role to continue his career (he later appeared in Undeclared before hitting movies). While at first glance, the show may seem like an excuse to laugh at all those awkward highschool moments (first kiss, truth or dare, getting locked out of the locker room naked), there are definitely some real moments of drama here. The most important is Neil realizing that his father is a serial adulterer - and this his mother accepts it. It's one of those things that you never think will happen to you, but it's definitely possible that someone you know went through it. These serious events are much more impacting to a young person than someone who finds out much later in life. When you're old, you're jaded and cynical, and have a much better understanding of why your family may have problems. To children and teenagers, this is earth-shattering, and watching it happen to someone you've connected to is equally as powerful.
This series served in no small part as the launchpad for many, very successful actors. Seth Rogen and James Franco have skyrocketed to fame, often channeling their characters from this very show. Others have found similar fame, with John Francis Daley, Linda Carellini and Jason Segel finding regular TV/film work. It's really a shame that Freaks and Geeks ended where it did. It was able to end on a happy note, but so many series involving kids have succeeded and were able to show them grow up and experience young adulthood. It could be a while until the next Wonder Years/Boy Meets World/Freaks and Geeks, the other shows starring the Savage brothers being part of my childhood and influenced my life (for better or worse).
If you enjoy any other Judd Apatow work, I strongly recommend checking out this series. It's easily digestible over a weekend and can help you relive some of those special teen moments.
"Things are different now. There are no nig**** anymore, no dumb as sh** inbred white trash fools either, only dark meat and white meat."
Now that The Walking Dead has reached the end of its first season, let's have words, shall we? Is it a worthy complement to the graphic novel series by Robert Kirkman? Or is like True Blood, a spin-off independent of its source material?
Our protagonist, the surrogate that introduces us to the world of zombies, is Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes. He's shot in the line of duty and falls into a coma. When we wakes up in the hospital, the world he knew is gone. The dead have come back to life as mindless... shall we say, zombies. Some have been killed (again). Some are locked up. Most are roaming the streets. The walking dead. Survivors are scattered, hiding in secure buildings or out in the country.
A conversation on Slashfilm got me thinking. Strangely enough, no one ever says the word "zombie". For as much as this is trying to reflect the real world, no one has ever seemed to heard of zombies. There's no prerequisite knowledge about the rules of zombies as per literature and cinema. Infection is caused by bites into living victims, which transforms them into walkers. Survivors realize on their own that the only way to kill walkers is to destroy the brain (headshot). Severing the head leaves the body disabled, but the head survives, still trying to bite. Only towards the end, when the survivors encounter a scientist at the CDC, that the infection begins to be explained. I think that's what a lot of people want to know: where did the infection come from? No telling what's going to happen with the series, especially since there are rumors that executive producer Frank Darabont fired the writing staff.
Sadly, those hoping for a Romero-style zombie hunt might be disappointed. For a series with so much zombie head explosions, it's mostly just talking heads. People surviving and talking about surviving. It's an emphasis on the human condition post-apocalypse. What happens to you when you're separated from friends and family, when there are no laws of civilization, what happens when your fellow survivors become infected. It's really nothing new to zombie cinema, except this is the first mainstream zombie TV series.
The Walking Dead recently completed its 6 episode first season and has been renewed for a 13 episode second season. It has gained the strongest ratings AMC has ever seen.
For anyone looking to compare the TV series to the books, I highly recommend The Walking Dead: Compendium One, the first 48 issues for about $36. Talk about a great stocking stuffer.