Bazinga !

After the end of The Sopranos, The Wire, Wire in the Blood, House, Men of a Certain Age, Luck, and Outsourced, for the longest time ever I couldn’t find anything on TV to love. I needed to be in a long term relationship with a good TV show, while waiting for Boardwalk Empire’s new season (in September, hopefully). Our hundreds of TV channels had basically nothing for me.  I just couldn’t give my heart to any of the shows currently playing. Every now and then PBS (Masterpieces) aired an episode of UK-made Sherlock (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/sherlock/), which is excellent, but too inconstant to follow: sometimes weeks go by before I can watch a new episode. So that my hopes were dwindling and I had already accepted there would be nothing for me on TV between now and the fall.

Until   Dr. Sheldon Lee  Cooper (he is a theoretical physicist, possessing a Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, Master of Arts, a PhD, an ScD, and an IQ of 187), and his friends, having lunch at the university canteen, saved me. 

My sister told me she found Sheldon very weird – for those old enough to remember, she thought he looked and sounded like Mr. Smith in the Jurassic TV series Lost in Space. We used to watch it together in Brazil, in the afternoons after school, in Portuguese. And those were already the reruns… She is right. There is something of Mr. Smith in Dr. Sheldon although he is a much brighter and better human being.  He may be even brighter than Dr. House and his observations about human behavior and life in general are priceless.

Sheldon does not understand sarcasm and is a bit slow to grasp rhetoric questions. He is like a computer, all logic and no sixth sense for subtleties. Why would one waste time with those silly things after all? According to another character in the show, Sheldon is irony-impaired…

Sheldon and his friends live in Pasadena, CA, and they all love super hero and sci-fi movies. Star Trek is their all time favorite but Indiana Jones and Dart Vader are not far from their hearts. So how could I not love The Big Bang Theory gang? (TBS, channel 32 via COMCAST – http://www.tbs.com/stories/story/0,,257491,00.html).

If you watch a couple of episodes, you will notice that Sheldon’s spot on the couch in front of their TV (forever decorated with a multi-color stripped pillow) belongs to him and him only. No one can sit on that spot and when Sheldon wants something badly he proposes the person a trade: whatever it is that he wants for his spot on the couch. Once at the university canteen, Raj,   their Indian friend (they are all super smart scientists, except that Howard, who is only a NASA engineer, has no PhD) was wondering how was it that Sheldon came into being their friend. Howard had the answer: he is Leonard’s roommate. We like Leonard

Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki) share an apartment across from which lives the blond waitress Penny, who moved to California from Nebraska hoping to become an actress. Penny (Kaley Cuoco) knows every street smart trick that is missing in Sheldon’s book. A conversation between Sheldon and Penny, usually in the building’s common laundry room, in the basement, is one the funniest things in the show. Both speak English and yet can’t communicate at all. Penny would be better off trying to talk with E.T. or one of the slimy aliens in Men in Black.  But every now and then Penny does the right thing like when she gave Sheldon, for Christmas, an autographed napkin used by actor Leonard Nimoy when he went to the restaurant where she works.  Mr. Spock is Sheldon’s hero, obviously, as Sheldon himself would have remarked. Sheldon’s reaction and the awkward hug he gave Penny to thank her for the unparallel present is one of the best things I’ve  seen on TV: Amy, this means I now own Leonard Nimoy’s DNA!!!

Between Penny and the guys’ apartments there is an elevator forever out of order, isolated with plastic tape, like those isolating crime scenes.  Leonard fell in love with Penny almost as soon as she moved in to their building. Sheldon almost passed out as soon as he entered her apartment for the first time. Penny is as sloppy and disorganized as Sheldon is neat and methodic.  One night, he managed to creep into Penny’s messy apartment (using Leonard’s spare key) and spent hours cleaning and organizing her stuff, while she slept. Needless to say, Penny broke up with Leonard the moment she found out what Sheldon had done.  As for Leonard, he is such a good person, nothing disturbs him that much. Only that type of personality can put up with Sheldon and his three level chess game or the roommate agreement Sheldon makes him sign, a two hundred page document Sheldon keeps rewriting and editing to accommodate all the rules necessary to his sharing of the apartment with Leonard and their friendship.

Leonard and Sheldon have two best friends, Raj (Kunal Nayyar) from India, and Howard (Simon Helberg), a thirty year old engineer that lives with his mother. In the beginning, Raj is so shy he can’t talk to women – including Penny – and always whispers his very inconvenient or completely naïve comments in Howard’s ear. Raj’s Apple laptop has several stickers on the top cover. I can’t see exactly what the stickers are about, but it looks like something my five year old nephew would do to his computer.  Raj’s laptop , equipped with a web cam, is his channel of communication with his parents in India, a middle aged couple constantly outraged  at Raj’s or his friends’  mishaps.

Bit by bit, as the series evolved, Raj loosened up (in more recent episodes, Raj’s sister Priya will be Leonard’s girlfriend as he breaks up with Penny again). One day, to convince Sheldon to go out with him to meet girls in a bar, Raj bribes Sheldon with his autographed  Hulk fists, which immediately prompts Sheldon  to talk about himself in the third person, Hulk says we go, etc. Sheldon’s expression, when Raj removes the giant green fists from a paper bag is hard to describe. He shivers, his hands tremble, he is moved and mesmerized at the vision of that most wished for object.

After a relatively solitary period, in Season 3 Sheldon was given a girlfriend. Well, a girlfriend of sorts. Their relationship, in Sheldon’s own words, is one of the minds.  The girl’s name is Amy (Mayim Bialik, a PhD in real life).  She is a brilliant neurobiologist.  Sheldon refers to her by reciting her entire name – I’m going to call Amy Farrah-Fowler. In one interview Bialik commented there is a lot of improvisation and the filming of one episode only may very well take a full week. I swear sometimes I think Leonard (Johnny Galecki) is just about to burst out laughing. I noticed his expression, like he is trying hard to keep a straight face, after Sheldon says something absolutely unexpected that was probably not in the script.

Poor Amy, the first time she purchases and wears a pair of high heels, in bright yellow color, she can barely walk… One day she tells Sheldon – astonished Sheldon – she wants to join the girls and read magazines in Penny’s apartment. Sheldon can’t believe she is giving up his company and whatever sci-fi show he is watching on TV with the guys to read silly fashion magazines. Sheldon, I’m a lady. You have to accept  that every now and then I have this urge to leaf through glossy pages of fashion magazines that make me hate my own body….Leonard rolls his eyes, Howard scratches his head, Sheldon is speechless, and Raj nods as if he understands her perfectly well!

Sheldon has some type of ADD that manifests in the constant need to sanitize his hands (there are bottles of hand sanitizer in every drawer in the apartment and in Leonard’s  car  – Dr. Sheldon Cooper does not drive – to calm down his anxiety fits if he touches something he considers contaminated).  He sprays Lysol on you if he suspects you have a cold and he wears a pair of extra pants over his pants to hop on a bus so not to catch other passengers’ germs. Or in a rental tuxedo shop, to insulate himself from garments worn by previous customers.  Speaking of clothing, Dr Sheldon Cooper’s favorite outfit is layered shirts – one long sleeve t-shirt topped with a short sleeved t –shirt.  Maybe  because he is so skinny, the layered  style  is an attempt to make it look like he has some meat on his bones.  But  it soon  became his signature looks as well. Leonard says Sheldon reminds him of a giant insect;  a giant praying-mantis!

Whether or not  Dr. Sheldon Cooper can  be turned into a reasonably normal boyfriend  remains to be seen by Amy Farrah-Fowler, whose social skills are, like Sheldon’s own, almost zero.  But his intelligence is very attractive to Amy so she has been trying to win his heart . As a neurobiologist Amy’s reduces the romantic process to a scientific experiment, associating pleasant  things Sheldon remembers from his childhood with her presence in his life. Like serving strawberry Nesquick and macaroni & cheese topped with hot dog bits for dinner– just like his mom used to make for him! And playing Sheldon’s favorite music, or rather sounds – the  rings and bells of his  old video games ! Despite her attraction to Sheldon,  Amy detests Star Trek and makes no secret of it.  She calls it cheap sci-fi movies,  which enrages Sheldon, in his own peculiar ways.

Sheldon gets depressed when the university contributors give more money to the Geology department – No, not the dirty people!!! Not them! – While he can’t have the resources  for the super-hyper-particle-accelerator- whatever millionaire gadget needed for his own research department. And Amy tortures him: Worse, Sheldon. I heard that the money may even go to –  the Liberal Arts department.

Once, when Sheldon was feeling anxious about some Amy-related reason (not involving any feelings of affection, obviously) he went to the bar in the restaurant where Penny works to   get drunkas it is customaryfor people to do when they are experiencing similar states of mind. But it never happens because he can’t swallow the drink and keeps spitting it back into the glass to Penny’s disgusted expression.

It is customary to offer a person in distress a hot beverage – you will see Sheldon saying that dozens of times, standing in the middle of the room, not knowing what to do. Once he offered a hot beverage to Howard because Howard was in distress due to something Sheldon himself caused – who else?  Howard seems touched by Sheldon’s kindness, momentarily, and asks what kind of tea he has. Sheldon turns from the kitchen, bemused . Tea? I was thinking of chicken bouillon. Those annoying little cubes were here when I moved in years ago and I just don’t know what to do with them…

Sheldon knocking at someone’s door is another special event. First the stands right at the door, with his nose almost touching it. Then he knocks three times in a row, quickly, repeating the name of the person he is looking for: Penny!Penny!Penny!

I read an interview on line, by the show’s director (Mark Cendrowski ) who commented on how Jim Parsons (Sheldon) has absolute control over his own body and facial expressions; how each of his movements is precise and how the rhythm and speed of his speech are just perfect.

One of Penny’s  boyfriends (between her break ups with Leonard)  is Zach.  Tall and muscular  but oh so dumb Zach. Only Penny understands the kind of intelligent geekish fun Sheldon and the guys  are making of Zach and she is upset. She tries to stop Zach form entering into conversation with the guys but it’s too late. Oh, they are scientists. I like scientists. I watch the Discovery channel, I can talk to them. I wish you could  have seen  the diabolical smiles on their faces!To compensate Penny and Zach for their scientific rudeness, they invite Zach to come with them to the comic books store down the road. They spent half of their lives in that store, and the owner has a crush on Penny.  At once Zach falls in love with the store, the comics and the gang,  and they end up inviting him to the New Year’s Costume Party because he is the only one who can be Superman – last year it was Leonard but he is so short he had to wear high heel boots, in red, and therefore they did not win the first prize for best group costume  as The American Super Hero League. Raj complains all the time that he would rather be Wonder Woman than the stupid Aqua Man.  He looked so unbearably funny as Aqua Man, with a blonde wig on!  Penny does not want to go; she has other plans for her New Year ’s Eve with Zach, but she ends up as Wonder Woman, with a dark curly hair wig on, and very mad at all of them.

Sheldon is the Flash. He runs back and forth in front of their couch, dressed like The Flash, in silence until  Leonard can’t take it anymore and asks him what he is doing.  I’m pacing in preoccupation for Penny may not agree to come with us to the party but since I’m The Flash, when I pace I run.

One day  the university receives a new genius student: fourteen year old Kim, born in Korea. Sheldon was the youngest person on the planet ever to win some type of ultra prestigious scientific award at the age of fifteen.  Now Kim won the same award at fourteen. Sheldon is depressed and spends a long time competing with the boy in the most hilarious  ways. After all,  Dr. Sheldon was a child prodigy,  got his first PhD when he was sixteen; started college at eleven ! Leonard tries to comfort him;  how can Sheldon expect his intelligence never to be surpassed. Don’t be silly Leonard. Of course my intelligence will be surpassed. Two  or three hundred years from now…

A genius he is  but you don’t want to be around Sheldon when he gets sick. Leonard and the guys spent one full Sunday hiding from him in a movie theater  when he got the flu. Poor Penny, not knowing how awful he is when he is ill, was the victim. She has to put him to bed, massage Vicks on his meager chest and sing a lullaby  while doing so, as his mom used to. And you wonder why things don’t go well between Penny and Leonard…

Sheldon’s mom’s is another remarkable character, played by actress Courtney Henggeler  who looks more like an older sister than his mother.  She remarks to Raj one day when they flew to Texas to apologize to Sheldon and bring him home: You must be Raj. I heard so much about you. You  let me know if you need a good minister to exorcise you and get rid of whatever third world demon is troubling you. To Howard, wearing a cowboy hat to please her, she curtly says, Howdy Howard; now lose the hat!

She is tough,  very religious (Christian) and  conservative. Sheldon calls her ma’am all the time and does not dare arguing with her, which is unheard of. As offended as Sheldon felt to fly all the way from California to Texas, he is relieved to see the guys in his mom’s living room begging  him to go back with them to Pasadena: It was about time, I thought  I’d  spend my entire life in Texas, teaching Evolution to Creationists…

Howard, the NASA engineer, has the worst possible taste in clothes – he outshines even Raj in his choice for colors and combinations. But his fiancée Bernadette does not seem to mind and she ends up working part-time in the same restaurant as Penny   and therefore often serves the table the guys come to – by the way, ALWAYS the same table, ALWAYS  the same menu choices, ALWAYS at the same time and week day! Actually, Sheldon panics when Penny orders Greek take out on their pizza evening.

Penny and Bernadette (Howard’s fiancée is played by actress Melissa Rauch ) went shopping for bridesmaid  dresses – without Amy. Amy was so hurt she disappeared for a while. Sheldon worried about her because Amy Farrah-Fawler is not responding  any of my electronic communications . He tried email, Twitter, Facebook, text messaging… Leonard asks him whether he tried to  call her. Ah, the telephone !, Sheldon exclaims delighted. But it only goes to her voice mail. Leonard, good caring guy he is, forces Sheldon to go see her.

As soon as Sheldon gets there, she wants to cuddle; she wants physical contact. And Sheldon is shocked… Amy, ours is a relationship of the minds!, he reminds her, outraged.  Anyway, after many proposals and counter proposals involving the available options to physical contact, they settled for a hug on the couch. Oh boy, he says, when Amy moves towards him. Next morning Sheldon goes to the cafeteria really mad  at Howard and Leonard. You guys get your women in line! Tell them to apologize to Amy because I had to change all my plans last night – I was planning to immerse myself in the string theory and then relax  building my Lego Death Star. I am a scientist; not someone’s cuddling bunny ! Get your women in line!

By the way, for Lego lovers, Sheldon is really building a Death Star prototype made of gray colored Lego pieces,  on his coffee table, in the living room.

When Howard and Bernadette decided to get married before Howard’s first   space trip (with Russian astronauts),  the entire gang went to City Hall for the ceremony – Amy in her bright red bridesmaid dress. Sheldon tries to get away from it: I think I’ll pass, Howard. It does not sound like something I will enjoy.  Long story short, they get at City Hall late,  the wedding cannot take place until Monday AM, but by then Howard will be in Russia, getting ready for his first flight.  So Penny suggests they all get ordained ministers (on line, after paying the $100 fee each  – remember, this is California) so they can perform the wedding themselves on Sunday morning. Raj is all emotional  again: if I were not an astrophysicist,  I would be a party planner, he says with teary eyes.  Sheldon agrees,  provided that he can perform the ceremony in… Klingon!!!

The night after Penny and Bernadette went shopping for bridesmaid dresses, after Sheldon begrudgingly comforted Amy  with a hug on her couch, Amy calls him and sounds drank.

Amy Farrah-Fawler is drank, sitting on the curb outside the  liquor store, Sheldon reports to Leonard, who had been trying to hear what the phone conversation was all about.  What should I do?

She is your friend, let’s go get her.

I don’t know how you guys can manage your women. They’re a handful – Sheldon comments, shaking his head.

But off they go together to rescue Amy in the middle of the night.

This is just an example like many others in the show of what they do for one another. Among  their mild fights,  arguments and tribulations,  their friendship always emerges as the strongest trait in the show.  Family is just a distant presence, or an angry voice, like Howard’s mom, always yelling at him from another room but whose face is actually never seen. Or family makes brief appearances like Sheldon’s mom from Texas and Bernadette’s and Penny’s dads; always as something secondary, not as strong as the friendship that binds them as a group. Maybe, subliminally,  and by design, this is what makes us enjoy the  show. Somehow it’s easy for us to develop an imaginary friendship with them because they are loyal and caring in their own friendship, very accepting of each other’s shortcomings and idiosyncrasies.  It fosters a sense of inclusion in the viewers and before we know – Bazinga! (Sheldon’s famous catchy phrase)  we love them all!

Ah, one more important piece of information: we can now purchase Big Bang Theory t-shirts on line. My favorite comes in  orange color stamped with:

PENNY!

PENNY!

PENNY!

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