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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.
And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
BIG BANG THEORY (CBS)
(Mondays at 8:30/7:30c this fall)
The network's description: "THE BIG BANG THEORY is a comedy from the Emmy Award nominated Co-Creator and Executive Producer of "Two and a Half Men" Chuck Lorre, about brainy best friends Leonard (Johnny Galecki, "Roseanne") and Sheldon (Jim Parsons "Judging Amy"), who can tell you anything you want to know about quantum physics, but when it comes to dealing with everyday life here on earth they're lost in the cosmos. Neither fully understands that scientific principles don't always apply in matters of the heart - until they meet their sexy new neighbor Penny (Kaley Cuoco, "8 Simple Rules..."), a friendly screenwriter/waitress from the midwest who also happens to be newly single. She quickly makes an impression on the other members of Leonard and Sheldon's geek squad - Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip"), who portrays himself as the Casanova of Cal Tech, and fellow whiz kid Rajesh Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar, "NCIS"), who is rendered speechless around anyone unprepared to converse about the Theory of Relativity or other scientific jargon. The chemistry between this gaggle of geniuses and a delightful damsel is about to undergo a stimulating series of inter-personal experiments. Multiple Emmy Award winner James Burrows ("Will & Grace") directed the pilot. Lorre and Bill Prady ("Gilmore Girls," "Dharma & Greg") are executive producers for Warner Bros. Television."
What did they leave out: This is actually the second incarnation of "Theory." The original pilot featured "Sons & Daughters" co-star Amanda Walsh in the Penny-esque role, while Iris Bahr played her best friend (a role which was subsequently written out). And if that wasn't enough trivia for you: Jodi Lynn O'Keefe was actually the first person cast as the female lead but went on to be replaced by Walsh after the first table read.
The plot in a nutshell: We meet our physicist heroes - the nebbish Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and his best friend/roommate, the neurotic Sheldon (a very funny Jim Parsons) - as they attempt to make some extra cash (to increase their internet bandwidth) by making a deposit at a high-end sperm bank. This leads to the first of many neurotic freak-outs by Sheldon, who feels like he's ripping them off as technically extreme intelligence is a random mutation, not something that can be artificially created. (Proof positive: his sister is a hostess at Fuddruckers.) Their adventure short lived, the pair return home to their apartment where they happen to meet the recently moved in Penny (Kaley Cuoco) - a massive improvement over the 200-pound transvestite with a skin condition that used to live there, Sheldon notes. Sure enough, Leonard is smitten ("our babies will be smart and beautiful") and opt out of watching season two of "Battlestar Galactica" (with commentary) to ask her over for lunch. And as you'd expect it's a clash of worlds - she's a aspiring screenwriter/waitress at the Cheesecake Factory while they're, well... big nerds. (Among their regular social plans - Klingon Boggle and watching speeches by Stephen Hawking prior to him developing Lou Gehrig's disease ) Despite their awkwardness, the trio develop an unlikely bond, forcing Leonard and Sheldon to emerge from their comfort zone. Their first task: helping Penny get back her TV from her ex-boyfriend, which unfortunately ends with them in the skivvies. Along the way we also meet the rest of the cast, including the ladies-man-in-his-own-mind Howard (Simon Helberg) and the physically-unable-to-speak-to-women Raj (Kunal Nayyar).
What works: Longtime readers know I'm a sucker for any remotely well done multi-camera show, and "Theory" absolutely clears that bar and then some. It's very much in the mold of Lorre's "Two and a Half Men" in that it's just jokes for jokes' sake where every line of dialogue is simply a joke or a setup for the next joke. Those expecting any sort of "Friends"-in-the-later-years schmaltziness will find none here as the premise is simply an excuse for an endless string of nerd jokes, which surprisingly hit more often than miss. Leonard and Sheldon are essentially written as "Frasier and Niles: The Early Years" and it works, particularly in Sheldon's case as his dry, passive-aggressive rants are among the show's funniest moments. The producers also wisely steer clear of the "let's rip on each other for 22 minutes" trap that many sitcoms fall into, making moments like the above's get-the-TV-from-the-boyfriend sequence all the more refreshing. Overall, it's just funny - and nowadays that's all we can ask.
What doesn't: A lot of the geek humor feels a bit dated (Darth Vader No-More-Tears Shampoo and Klingon Boggle, really?), like it was written to sound like geeks, rather than by actual geeks. That being said, there's a few gems - such as Howard explaining to Penny what MMORPGs are or little touches like him wearing a NES controller as a belt buckle. Your own level of geekiness will no doubt dictate how annoyed or forgiving you are about it. But as usual, this is just me filling column inches, the show's definitely not can't miss status, but it is...
The bottom line: ...a lot of fun.