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157 of 199 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Lot of Action, A Lot Less Direction, May 24, 2011
This review is from: The Big Bang Theory: Season 4 (DVD)

Season 4 of 'The Big Bang Theory' had just one thing that separated it from every other show about a group of friends in their late 20's/early 30's: Sheldon Cooper.
When the show first began, it was about a stereotypical Midwestern blonde girl who moves to California to make it big, and she happens to move across the hall from two Caltech geniuses who severely lack the social skills of the average human being. At the beginning of the series, Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Raj were absorbed by science. The humor was a product of their "experiments" and their inability to fit into the social environment. Here we are four seasons later, and that concept has become scarce as the story has progressed. Sheldon was the only facet of the show that gave it originality this season. I love the show, but it pains me to say that S4 of 'The Big Bang Theory' started to get away from what made it so great.

It baffles me why the show would decide to introduce so many new cast members in such a short period of time. As a guy, when I first watched the show, I didn't take to the 4:1 guys to girls ratio. However, that's one of the things made it unique (see: Seinfeld). Penny was able to hold up a level of femininity that most actresses couldn't. She was the perfect solo female star. Not only does evening the gender ratio make this show like every other comedy on television, but it reduces Penny's role on the show. She didn't need a "posse." The show spent much of Season 4 trying to balance seven main characters (eight once Priya became a regular) when the only ones who really are essential to its continued excellence are Sheldon and Penny.

My synopsis of our "new" characters:
*I'm sorry to say this, but Amy Farrah Fowler is a mess of a character. First, she was introduced as the lady Sheldon, someone who only communicated with Dr. Cooper through webcam and text message and had no interest in developing any real social relationships. Then the show decides that Amy should try to befriend Penny and Bernadette and the three of them would become their own girl group. Since that time, Amy has become a complete one-eighty of her former self, awkward and clueless but trying desperately to fit into the social scene. And I hate to say it, but it's nowhere near as funny as it should be. The strangest thing is that her relationship with Sheldon is essentially very little more than circumstantial now. Sheldon constantly asks, "what happened to you?", and here I'm wondering the same exact thing.

*Bernadette, I will admit I do like as a complimentary girl in the show. The only downfall with her is in dating Howard; I always liked the way Howard thought he was so much more suave and debonair with women than he actually was, and putting him in a relationship takes that element of his character away. Bernadette can stand on her own. She's a sweet, cute, sometimes airheaded but lovable character (and to be quite honest, I could listen to her voice all day). She didn't need to be one of the boys' love interests to find a role on the show. Either way, I think she'd work best in a recurring role, something akin to that of Leslie Winkle in the first couple seasons.

*It's kind of a paradox that I liked the idea of Leonard dating Raj's sister, but I don't like Raj's sister. The idea was good because of the dynamic it created between Leonard and Raj, Raj and Priya, Penny and Priya, so on and so forth. The problem is I didn't find that her character brought much of anything to the show. The fact that she was attractive and that threatened Penny was a clever twist because it made Penny re-think her decision to end things with Leonard (and ultimately, we find out that it's a decision she regretted). So I thought the situation they created by having Leonard date Priya was good, but Priya just doesn't seem to fit on the show. Now from what we learned in the season finale, her role on the show may be hanging in the balance. I'm not aching for her to leave the show, but I wouldn't miss her too much if she went that route.

The show suffered a minor slump when Kaley Cuoco broke her leg and had to be absent for two full episodes. Those episodes perfectly showcased how vital the character of Penny is to the show's success. In "The Desperation Emanation" (ep. 4.05), Leonard is set up by Bernadette with a girl named Joy. Her character was not only unfunny, she was downright repulsive. In a season with peaks and valleys, it didn't get any lower than Joy.

By no means am I saying this show has jumped the shark. It had many redeeming moments and a few classic episodes:

*"The Robotic Manipulation" (ep. 4.01) so perfectly personifies Howard Wolowitz.
*"The Love Car Displacement" (ep. 4.13) was a great episode top to bottom. Including a guest appearance from former NBA player Rick Fox, it is the best the writers got out of their extended cast. There was great balance, funny storylines and laugh out loud moments.
*"The Justice League Recombination" (ep. 4.11) re-introduces us to Zack, a hilariously dumb ex-boyfriend of Penny's. The New Year's Eve costume contest is classic 'Big Bang.'
*"The Herb Garden Germination" (4.20) is the high school rumor mill, 'Big Bang' style. I loved it (and it's probably Amy's best episode).
*When the group starts hanging out at Raj's apartment, Sheldon decides he'd rather just replace them with new friends in "The Toast Derivation." (ep. 4.17) Clever episode and very well executed.
*"The Zarnecki Incursion" (4.19) is a brilliant depiction of the gang looking to settle the score when Sheldon's World of Warcraft account gets hacked.
*"The Zazzy Substitution" (ep. 4.03) is the first time we see any sort of fallout from Sheldon's lack of social connection, and it results in a pretty hilarious new gig. I'm also a big fan of whenever Mrs. Cooper or Mrs. Hofstadter make an appearance.
*"The 21-Second Excitation" (ep. 4.08) proves that any episode can be made epic with an appearance from Sheldon's nemesis, Will Wheaton. ^Side note: (This episode is also the perfect example of why I don't like Amy; the humor associated with her character for most of the season is perfectly on display in this episode)

- Sheldon and Penny's back and forth at the Cheesecake Factory bar in "The Apology Insufficiency" (ep. 4.07) is incredible. It's astounding how funny those two actors can make simple conversation. Throughout the series, it's been most evident when they walk together up the three flights of stairs to their apartments.
- "Shelbot" was an inevitable story for a science fiction show to tell. "The Cruciferous Vegetable Amplification" (ep. 4.02)
- Raj's infatuation with Bernadette throughout the season makes for some great love triangle moments.

I didn't particularly love the season finale, but the way the stories all came together at the end was fantastic and should send the show into Season 5 with a head of steam. I loved the idea of having Penny get caught in a scandalous mistake. With Priya seemingly leaving the picture (at least for now), the possibilities are endless. Also worth asking: Will Howard be OK with Bernadette "wearing the pants" in the relationship, or will he finally pursue his PHD in Season 5? The questions are plentiful.

It was an uneven season. It was a season that did a lot of things but didn't really go anywhere definitive with it. I thought the emphasis was too much on developing social relationships and not enough on the science of the show.
- If you asked me what Leonard did in Season 4 other than date Priya, off the top of my head I couldn't tell you.
- Penny spent the entire season in denial over the fact that she wanted Leonard back. As a result, other than a brief stint with Zack and her drunken night with Raj, Penny was involved with no one in S4. Rather, the writers decided to develop her "posse", a decision you already know I wasn't a big fan of.
- Once Howard started dating Bernadette again, Howard stories became "Howard and Bernadette" stories. I'm kind of torn on this, because I think Howard is a better character when he's single, but I do like Bernadette for him. Either way, the writers need to find a way to channel vintage Wolowitz again.
- Sheldon Cooper is the anit-Fonz, and I think when all is said and done, he'll go down as one of the better characters in television history. He is a comedy pioneer for nerds, and he is THE redeeming quality when anything isn't working. Jim Parsons is well deserving of the Emmy he won in Season 3, and once again he demonstrates why he was the perfect choice for Sheldon.

A slight decline from its predecessors, but still as good a comedy as you'll find on television.

Grade: B+
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Showing 1-10 of 24 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 14, 2011, 6:49:25 AM PDT
Alec Bueller says:
I totally agree with this review. To be frank, Amy, Bernadette and Priya ARE good characters on their own, but not as additions to the cast. Their roles took more away than built the characters, with the exception of Raj. I also agree with the feedback that they're deviating too much from the "Science of the show." Make no mistake, this was a fun season, and worth the money. A lot of laughs brought about memorable moments and hilarious dialogue. But sadly, I REALLY, REALLY miss classic Wolowitz.

Posted on Aug 28, 2011, 3:11:42 AM PDT
What a fantastic overview of the 4th season. I agree with every point you made. Especially the ones about the expansion of the cast, and the show's general trend towards relationship comedy instead of nerd/science comedy. Thanks for writing this review.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 18, 2011, 11:53:39 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on May 16, 2013, 2:08:21 PM PDT]

Posted on Sep 18, 2011, 3:56:14 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 19, 2011, 9:42:12 AM PDT
rothsauce says:
Have to say, I don't agree with the idea that BBT is really shifting in perspective all that much. Yes, the show focuses in relationships a little bit more than in previous seasons, but the science, games, and movies are still there, as are the social situations that make them completely awkward yet completely entertaining.

The 'science' with some of the characters has shifted from factual formulas, applied science and numbers to social observations, experiments, and older theories that they never had a reason to ponder over before.

Penny still keeps the group grounded in the 'real world', where no other character could manage to do so. I don't think that she is becoming less of a 'role' on the show, just that her impact isn't as major since the other characters are a little more 'rounded' now than in the beginning of the show.

As it is, they introduced only two new cast members, the others had been somewhat established in the previous season and were simply revisited and expanded in S4.
This show is not one of the few or only shows to have a cast that has a much higher male to female ratio within the main cast, it's really not that unique at all. No clue where you get that idea from, unless the OP simply isn't aware of that many shows.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 20, 2011, 10:18:43 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 20, 2011, 10:23:56 AM PDT
I know it's subtle and seemingly meaningless, but one scene I always go back to is in Season 1 when Penny goes clubbing with her friends and brings them back to Leonard and Sheldon's apartment, proclaiming that she brought her friends to have sex with the guys. The guys were so invested in whatever video game they were playing that they didn't hear a thing.

That kind of social inadequacy is no longer there. Sure, the show is still science driven; it's built into the careers of the main characters. However, it has taken a back seat to the development of relationships. A perfect example of this is in 'The Love Car Displacement' when the group is supposed to speak at a conference but ends up implementing their own personal feelings towards each other into their thoughts, eventually getting completely off topic and forcing Penny to leave with Bernadette's ex-boyfriend. That is how the show has changed. It's a cause and effect. In Seasons 1 and 2 (and generally recurring throughout 3), the guys' devotion to science caused their social incompetence. Now, their desire to fit into the social scene has caused them to be more scientifically inept (and indifferent). It is inevitable that the characters' high intellect will continue to play a major part in the series [and that addresses your 'social observations'], but I felt like the career influenced stories were few and far between and as a result has changed our perception of the characters.

Like I said, this show hasn't jumped the shark. I gave it four stars, after all. There were moments of sheer brilliance. I just don't think the show will continue to be so successful if the writers continue to deviate (even if only slightly) from their original premise. I am aware that characters need to evolve, but it's a process that needs to be handled with care, without losing a tie to one's roots.

I don't plop myself in front of a television 4, 5, 6 hours a night, so maybe I don't know every show out there. But I'm pretty sure I know the ones that have had major commercial success, and in that class, Big Bang Theory is among the few comedies that chose to use such a ratio. They're not the ONLY, just among the FEW.

I appreciate your feedback; it's always nice to have a little debate.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 20, 2011, 2:58:57 PM PDT
meadowrue says:
Those are good examples to illustrate the changes in the show and the overall evolution of its style and emphasis. It happens to a lot of shows. One sees something we like in a program and then one day you realize it's just not there anymore for you. You stick on for a few episodes, slowly miss a few and then don't care if you do. As I said before, in RL people don't change even over a long period of their lives but this is TV and it evolves as the writers and actors get bored with the same old stuff. They are very creative people after all, not nerds. ;)

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 26, 2011, 11:52:08 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 26, 2011, 11:54:47 AM PDT
rothsauce says:
True, but in season one none of the boys thought they would really have a chance with a woman. Now some of them are a little bit more aware of their own appeal to the opposite sex and can actually interact with them as 'normal' people might, even if it's pretty brief.

Agreed that type of inadequacy is no longer there, but if that became even more of a main focal point in the show, I personally would get bored with it. Seeing them grow as characters, and discovering the social aspect of life, needed to happen eventually. With Penny as a member of their group, it would be rather odd if it didn't. Now that it has happened, and it's not as much of an oddity in their lives, I'd be willing to bet the show will try to balance itself around the science aspect of the show, and the new social aspect brought on by Penny and the girls. They are nerds, all of them, and no matter how hard one might try, it's not really that easy to flip sides. When one tries to deviate, the others will inevitably pull them back in.
We have more of an idea about their lives as a group and as individuals, and about relationships outside of one another. With those established and worked in, I think career influenced stories will probably make a comeback.

Slight deviations will be needed though. It allows for more options and more setups. It really just depends on how wide the writers decide to cast their net, and if they cast it in the right spot. Even if they hadn't deviated, who's to say the episodes would have turned out to be any more entertaining?

You don't have to know every show out there, or even watch much TV. I don't, as I don't have cable (huzzah for Rabbit Ears), but I still converse with people who indulge quite a bit and keep me informed. If there is something that I find interesting, research will be done, which is how I happened upon BBT. That's really all it is, and I also watch a lot of older shows so that does put the count a little higher.
I do enjoy the debate though. I guess I just don't mind if the show changes, since in a way, that's part of science. Perhaps the show is its own little experiment.

As for Meadowroue, people in 'RL' don't change for years if they don't want to change. It's kind of obvious that most of the main characters in BBT are not only open to change, but WANT to change certain aspects or parts of their lives.

Posted on Nov 2, 2011, 11:43:18 AM PDT
I agree. This season was not as funny as the first three. The writers introduced way too many new characters that took the focus out from the original four. Amy Fowler, as much as I like Mayim Bialik, is really a character that overstayed her welcome. The way she plays Amy isn't done very well. Amy should be as witty as Sheldon is if she were to be his real match. Mayim just doesn't come across that way. Bernadette is a character that CAN stand on her own and is a welcome addition to balance Penny's character in the show. Priya has to go. You cannot tie the lead hero (Leonard) of the show to one girl--unless she's Penny. Sheldon is a one-man force that doesn't need balancing. In truth, Jim Parson's genius in playing Sheldon is the one constant that gives this show its distinct flavor-- just like what Jaleel White did as 'Urkel'. Penny is believable as a hot girl-next-door who can date many guys because that's what hot girls in real life do (my buddy works at Cedar Sinai hospital and was appointed to take Kaley Cuoco's Xray of her broken leg from her accident. He mentioned that she is as cute in real life as she is on TV. Lucky bastard.) Raj could have been casted with a better actor. I'm not invested in Kunal Nayyar. Kumar from the White Castle movie would have been better. And PLEASE bring back the quintessential Howard Wolowitz! The guy was hilarious! Was....

Now with all this said, I just have one thing that's bugging me. These guys are nerds, right? Since when do short nerds get to sleep with HOT women like the ones in the show? Pleeeeeeeeease... give me a break. You wish! The writers should attend ComiCon to find out exactly what kind of women nerds really end up with. That is, if they're not a 40 year-old virgin.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 10, 2011, 9:52:45 PM PST
rothsauce says:
Sorry Joel,

But it's pretty obvious that you don't know many nerds. Not all of them are 'Leonards', so perhaps you should widen your circle?
They play to the stereotype, which in some cases is obviously true. But it isn't always.

Posted on Nov 26, 2011, 2:10:47 AM PST
I think this is a great review because it introduces a lot of ideas I hadn't thought of. But I have to say we really like the Amy character, and also the fact that she has attempted to change in order to be accepted socially. Knowing she is a neuroscientist in real life adds to the interest. It is easy for shows to run out of ideas after a few episodes, and I think the introduction of new characters like Pria and Amy has kept the show fresh and probably extended its life.
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