To start - a recap of the series blatantly swiped from the review of the Season One Blu-ray set: Created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, The Big Bang Theory is based around the exploits of two roommates, Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) and Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons), who share an apartment together and work as physicists at the California Institute of Technology. Leonard and Sheldon are, to be blunt, geeks. They love computers and comic books and sci-fi movies and see Battlestar Galactica as an almost religious viewing experience. They're socially awkward but they tend to mean well and when the series begins, they meet their new neighbor, pretty blonde Penny (Kaley Cuoco). She's recently moved from Nebraska and works as a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory while maintaining her notions of someday making it as an actress. Leonard falls for her almost as soon as he meets her, much to the amusement of Sheldon, who is almost asexual in a sense. Rounding out the core group of characters are an engineer named Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) and an astrophysicist named Rajesh 'Raj' Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyer), both of whom work at the university and tend to hang out at Leonard and Sheldon's place a lot.
The first season did well enough that CBS brought it back for a second which ran from September 22, 2008 through May 11, 2009 and contained twenty-three episodes as compared to the first season's seventeen. The same interesting formula that made the first series do as well as it did is here again in spades, that being fun and quirky characters performed by a talented cast, bizarre situations, science references and loads of pop culture and geek culture references. Penny is once again the 'fish out of water' as her relationship with the four guys remains the backbone of the series, especially her relationship with Leonard specifically. It's safe to say, as clichéd as it might be, that if you enjoyed season one you'll enjoy season two - it's really more of the same, but this go round the writers open up the world of the core characters a little more and bring in some interesting outside interference to keep what could easily become a stale concept fairly fresh.
This two disc Blu-ray set from Warner Brothers contains all seventeen episodes of the first series spread out as follows:
The Big Bad Fish Paradigm / The Codpiece Topology / The Barbarian Sublimation / The Griffin Equivalency / The Euclid Alternative / The Cooper-Nowitzki Theorem / The Panty Piñata Polarization / The Lizard-Spock Explosion / The White Asparagus Triangulation / The Vartabedian Conundrum / The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis / The Killer Robot Instability
The Friendship Algorithm / The Financial Permeability / The Maternal Capacitance / The Cushion Saturation / The Terminator Decoupling / The Work Song Nanocluster / The Dead Hooker Juxtaposition / The Hofstadter Isotope / The Vegas Renormalization / The Classified Materials Turbulence / The Monopolar Expedition
When the first season left off, Leonard and Penny had kinda-sorta given up on making their relationship work, but as the second series moves along we quickly realize that they very obviously still have feelings for one another, Leonard especially. The other three guys remain more or less the same - Sheldon is still on his own planet and doing things only on his own terms with no regard to anyone beneath him; Raj still lacks the confidence to talk to any attractive women, though alcohol soon proves to be an aid there; Howard continues to play the seventies pimp nerd clad in retro hipster fashions that look ridiculous on him. All four still love comic books, still get together for Thai, Indian and Chinese takeout and still enjoy online video games. The chemistry between the four friends continues to work and Penny continues to be an interesting dynamic that pops up between them, though as this season moves on she becomes a closer knit member of the group.
Some interesting supporting players appear, like Raj's Indian parents who communicate with him via webcam chats, his mother encouraging him to stay away from American women and keep his eyes open for a nice Indian bride, his father encouraging instead to 'sew some oats' while he's overseas and have some fun instead. Leonard's mother pops up in a really interesting episode where we soon learn why Leonard is so self defeating and why he lacks the self confidence he should have. It's also interesting to see Leonard's mother interact with his friends, Sheldon in particular. As Leonard 'gets over' Penny and tries to move on, we see him interact once again with co-worker Leslie Winkler (Sara Gilbert again) and start dating a female doctor named Stephanie (Sara Rue) who sticks around for a few episodes and who quite quickly (and not surprisingly) gets Sheldon's fur up - not to mention finding herself in the midst of a love triangle involving Howard. Penny, on the other hand, also starts dating a few different guys - this keeps the relationship between she and Leonard at the forefront of the series even if it isn't always at the forefront of and individual episode's storyline. It's always there, and it always makes for tension between the two characters and can frequently be the source of some clever comedy too.
A few other highlights include the season opener in which Leonard and Penny go on a 'real date' (as opposed to the faux-date from season one). It doesn't go as they'd hoped and Penny tells Sheldon of all people to keep her secret: she likes Leonard but is afraid that she's not smart enough for him. To keep the secret, Sheldon moves in with Raj and Howard. Then there's an episode in which Raj, in what is basically his breakthrough episode, finds some unexpected and newfound fame thanks to some of his work. We get to see the previously reserved and shy character take an immediate liking to what his fame offers and do a complete turnaround - it's clever and it's funny and it gives Kunal Nayyer an opportunity to shine as an actor. Later in the season Sheldon tries to cheer Penny up by getting her into video games, and it's funny to watch Penny take it very seriously and go online to create her own character, much to the surprise of the guys. We also find out in this season what happens when Sheldon gets a girlfriend, or at least what passes as a girlfriend in his obviously superior mind, and what happens when Sheldon decides to use science to perfect the art of making a friend. Summer Glau of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles guest starts in one episode when the four guys meet her by coincidence on a train - you can kind of imagine their reaction to this and figure it out for yourself. There's also a very funny episode here where the guys get ridiculously competitive when trying to win a robotics competition and another stand out episode where Penny, now very comfortable with the four guys, gets jealous when a new pretty girl moves into the apartment upstairs and steals much of the attention she has become used to away from her.
By taking some (though obviously not all) of the emphasis off of what occurs between Leonard and Penny this season we wind up with a second batch of episodes that are a bit more rewarding than the first seventeen that comprised season one. Once again, it's the performances here and the character development that makes the show worth watching. The geek humor and science jokes are good and all and they fit the tone of the series but had this been performed by a less capable cast the series would have gotten old very quickly. Thankfully both the writing team and the lead actors gel so well that this doesn't happen, and the series would go on to be renewed for a third season (and remains on the air at the time of this writing).
The AVC encoded 1080p high definition 1.78.1 widescreen transfers that Warner have put together for this release make great use of the source material. While this won't always compete on the same level as a feature film in terms of detail, overall the picture quality is quite strong. Skin looks lifelike and natural, colors are well reproduced and look quite good and detail is solid overall. Black levels are pretty deep and texture is good if not reference quality. There are no issues with contrast boosting nor are there any problems with compression artifacts or any obvious edge enhancement or noise reduction. If you've seen the show broadcast in HD, you'll at least have a point of reference to compare these discs to but by and large the Blu-ray image is strong, more detailed and more consistent than the broadcast versions.
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is fine, and while it's isn't particularly bombastic or enveloping it does make good use of the front channels. Rear channel and surround activity is present but used more for the laugh track than much else. As this is a fairly dialogue-centric show, it makes sense that the audio would sound the way it does here. In regards to the quality, however, there's nothing to complain about. Dialogue is always very clear, there are no issues with the levels nor are there any problems with any hiss or distortion. The theme song sounds good, sound effects have the right amount of punch and for a TV sitcom, things sound just fine here. Optional Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks are provided in German and Spanish with subtitles available in English SDH, French, German SDH, Castillian Spanish and Latino Spanish.
Extras, like the first season release, are kind of slim here but there are a couple of featurettes worth checking out, the first of which is The Big Bang Theory: Physicist To The Stars which is a ten minute interview with Professor David Saltzberg, who works for UCLA as a physicist and who acts as a consultant for the show. It's both interesting and amusing and sheds some welcome light on the more 'scientific' aspects of the series. Also included here is the fifteen minute Testing the Infinite Hilarity Hypothesis In Relation To The Big Bang Theory featurette which is basically a making of segment that includes some light interviews with the key cast and crew members. A nine minute Gag Reel, menus and episode and chapter selection round out the supplements, all of which are presented in standard definition. As this is a combo pack release, there are four DVDs included here as well, sharing content that is identical to that found on the Blu-ray discs (though which is obviously in SD), and there are UltraViolet Digital Copies provided for each of the episodes as well.
The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Second Season does a good job of actually improving on the first by letting some of the supporting characters spread their wings a bit. As such, we get a second season that's a bit funnier and a bit more interesting than the one that came before it. On the technical side of things, the episodes look and sound very good and even if the extras are a bit on the light side, it's easy to recommend this set.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.