When it was originally on: 2007-2019
Original network: CBS
Where you can stream it now: HBO Max
Had I seen it before: Yes! I’ve seen this pilot and plenty of other episodes of The Big Bang Theory off and on as it was one of my parents’ favorites.
What IMDb says: A woman who moves into an apartment across the hall from two brilliant but socially awkward physicists shows them how little they know about life outside of the laboratory.
Why I picked it: The Big Bang Theory is a popular enough show that it started to feel weird I hadn’t gotten to it already. It’s also an interesting one in that this pilot was made in 2007, when our television ecosphere still felt relatively normal, and the networks were still top dog particularly in the comedy realm. Yet The Big Bang Theory was able to last all the way until 2019 and maintain its sizable audience throughout all the changes that the ’10s brought to the TV landscape. Sure, that’s partially due to changes made later that weren’t in this initial pilot, but the pilot still established that foundation for subsequent seasons to build on.
What I liked: Leonard and Sheldon actually have some pretty good comedic patter happening. The writers managed to come up with jokes that convey that they’re nerds but aren’t going too far over the heads of the audience except when they’re supposed to. You get a sense for how these two guys are friends but maybe not best friends; they live together, they understand each other, but perhaps would choose other friends if their options weren’t so limited.
There’s also a lot of great comedy-by-inference happening. Rather than telling us what happened, the show sets up a joke, then just cuts to the end result and lets us figure out what happened. The shocking transition is part of the humor. For example, rather than actually seeing Penny’s ex take Leonard and Sheldons’ pants, we just cut to them sheepishly leaving the building without any pants. Rather than having Penny actually ask Leonard to go retrieve her TV from her ex, we set up the ask as though Penny’s going to ask Leonard for some kind of sexual favor (or at least we know that’s what Leonard is hoping for). Then we immediately cut to Leonard and Sheldon in a car discussing the favor and Sheldon pointing how ludicrous this sequence of events is. When more and more comedy pilots are a full half or longer, I think it’s interesting how skipping over dialog for efficiency’s sake actually made this more funny.
What I didn’t like: At this point, Penny still feels like an object meant to spur Leonard and Sheldon’s plot along rather than a fully realized human in her own right. I guess theoretically the point of the show is Leonard having to learn to see Penny as a person and maybe starting this first episode this way could serve a larger arc… but we don’t really see even a glimmer of that arc happening. I think if that’s the plan, it would be nice to see a little more reassurance that that’s the plan.
I also think that while Leonard and Sheldon are great together and have a good comedic rhythm there’s not THAT much separating one from the other at this point. They feel more like duplicates of the same character with the only real difference being that Leonard wants to pursue Penny and Sheldon doesn’t.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: If I were just coming to this show for the first time, I would probably give it at least a few more episodes before I gave up on it. Depending on how long it takes for Penny to become a real person, I could stick with it even longer.