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'Big Bang Theory' recap: 2 geeks passing in the night

October 7, 2010 | 10:43 pm


What makes a great comedy? A former show runner, now a feature screenwriter, insisted to me the other night that neither “Glee” nor “The Big Bang Theory” were  great shows, in the same way “Cheers” and “MASH” were great shows. Of the current crop of comedies, only “Modern Family” is capable of rising to that level, he said.

OK, so maybe Bang doesn’t change the television landscape, like those others. But Thursday’s third episode of the year proved that it is a solid, smart and funny show. After two weeks of pouring concrete, Big Bang let loose with the best episode of the season.

Amy Farrah Fowler returned as Sheldon’s girlfriend, a solid though unspectacular turn by Mayim Bialik, as a neuro-biologist who is Sheldon’s equal when it comes to arcane references and misfit angst. In fact, she is so insufferable, Sheldon’s buddies take to hanging out in Penny’s apartment to avoid them.

            Leonard: “Amy is judgmental, sanctimonious and, frankly, just plain obnoxious.”

            Sheldon: “So?”

            Leonard: “That’s what we have you for.”

Nice to see Johnny Galecki get more carries this week. His Leonard character was in danger of being swept under the curtains. Galecki is the anchor in a show that threatens to go over-the-top nerdy at any moment. As Jim Parsons’ Sheldon is best in ensemble scenes, Galecki does best in one-on-one moments, as with Sheldon’s mom at the end.

This was a witty, well-crafted episode, with hardly a dead spot. Oddly, this fourth season has involved more off-color humor than ever before. In one episode, there was the masturbating mechanical hand. Last week, there were fart jokes. This can be the most sly  show on TV. Thursday, there was a running gag about toilets. Such stuff doesn’t quite undermine the show’s tone. It just seems sophomoric and unnecessary on a sitcom that is smarter and better than most.

Take, for example, the great tag, when Sheldon unloads the 25 cats he’s accumulated while recovering from a short breakup with Amy. “Cats $20.” the sign says. And with each cat Sheldon hands to a customer, he also hands the customer 20 bucks.

            Score. Bang is back.

--Chris Erskine

Photo: Penny and Sheldon air their dirty laundry in the Oct. 7 episode; Credit Warners Bros. Television.