The Big Bang Theory

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8:30-9 p.m. Monday, Sept. 24
CBS

Maybe the upside to the dearth of half-hour sitcoms is that, for at least several networks, the one that survives and makes it to the schedule is better than most of the ones that used to get on the air. That's certainly the case with "The Big Bang Theory," a nice combination of brains and belly laughs and a solid addition to the CBS comedy block on Monday nights.

The series could have been inspired by CW's "Beauty and the Geek." Although one is a reality show and the other a sitcom, both find endless humor in the social deficiencies of boy geniuses, albeit in a nice way. Be kind to geeks, they say, because they are nice people, just socially retarded. What's more, both shows demonstrate that all geeks are not alike, that there are varying degrees of geekiness.

In "Big Bang," Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki) share an apartment that screams "geek," right down to the shower curtain emblazoned with the periodic table of the elements. (And, yes, their names are an homage to the legendary TV producer and tough guy character actor.) They haven't soured on the opposite sex but, rather, have come to the conclusion that no woman in possession of all her senses would find them attractive.

Then they get a new neighbor, sweet and gorgeous Penny (Kaley Cuoco), who revives their interest in women, particularly Leonard's. Penny, a waitress, has just come off a four-year relationship that did not end well. She is of average intellect, at best, but practically has a doctorate in sizing up her new neighbors. She quickly grasps that underneath the MENSA minds, Leonard and Sheldon are good souls, just timid and inexperienced.

Leonard, who once dated a girl, isn't as awkward as Sheldon or their two good geeky friends, Howard (Simon Helberg), who fancies himself a ladies' man, and Rajesh (Kunal Nayyar), who is so afraid of women that he can't even speak around them.

In the premise pilot, Leonard and Sheldon, as a favor, attempt to retrieve Penny's TV set from her muscle-bound former boyfriend. It doesn't go well, but Penny appreciates the effort.

"Big Bang" is the work of Bill Prady and Chuck Lorre, the latter being the creator of "Two and a Half Men" and, earlier, "Dharma & Greg." When Lorre, in particular, gets through punching up a script, the next laugh is never more than a few seconds away. "Big Bang" is loaded with great lines and humor that is nearly as smart as the characters. Getting stellar sitcom director James Burrows to helm the pilot didn't hurt, either.

The four geeks are played with pride and a touch of vulnerability, which adds heart to the humor. Cuoco's Penny is faintly aware of the impact she has on these geeks, but she doesn't flaunt it. That combination of empathy and restraint makes Penny hard to resist. Same with the show, for that matter.

THE BIG BANG THEORY
CBS
Warner Bros. Television
Credits:
Executive producers/creators/teleplay: Chuck Lorre, Bill Prady
Producer: Michael Collier
Co-producers: Joe Bella, Mary T. Quigley
Director: James Burrows
Director of photography: Steven Silver
Production designer: John Shaffner
Editor: Peter Chakos
Set designer: Ann Shea
Casting: Nikki Valco, Ken Miller
Cast:
Leonard: Johnny Galecki
Sheldon: Jim Parsons
Penny: Kaley Cuoco
Howard Wolowitz: Simon Helberg
Rajesh Koothrappali: Kunal Nayyar
Althea: Vernee Watson
Kurt: Brian Patrick Wade
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