We left our higher-education guys last season with the relationship between physicist Leonard ("Roseanne" star Johnny Galecki) and struggling actress Penny (Kaley Cuoco) hanging in the balance -- pretty much exactly where it always stands. Only this time, they've gone through their first date and clumsily discovered that their differences are a little too great to make a relationship work. But, for some odd reason, there's still chemistry present between them, which continues as the driving force throughout the entire season.
The Big Bang Theory circles around a bumpier dance between the two of them this time around, with Leonard's roommate Sheldon (Jim Parsons, instantly recognizable as "the knight" from Garden State) and friends Rajesh (Kunal Nayyar) and Howard (Simon Helberg, a recognizable face from Old School) continuing their hangout sessions at the apartment for Chinese food, vintage gaming nights, and discussions on comic books and scientific theories. Rajesh still can't talk to the opposite sex (read: Penny) without alcohol in his bloodstream, Howard can't stop his perverse pandering on women (read: Penny) while working hard to be as bad to his Jewish religion as possible, and Sheldon simply can't break away from his oblivious book smarts long enough to grasp the subtleties of human interaction.
But Penny has gradually eased into the group as a friend instead of standing apart as just the "hot girl", which backs some of the tone off of the worship-like attention she's received -- and that's very welcome. Her friendship with Sheldon develops more than with anyone else this season, strangely enough, which has some clever effects on the group's dynamic. Oddly, Sheldon has gradually transformed into more of an asexual than an overly brainy male; remember, this is the same guy who joked about "masturbating for money" in the pilot. He's also become more and more out-of-reach knowledge-wise from the rest of the guys, though his slight fumbles with his knowledge was the brunt of many jokes in the premiere season.
Thankfully, the characters have moved comfortably into stereotypical corners, all while staying on-point with the snappy, witty dialogue that makes The Big Bang Theory such a fantastic show. One of its biggest strengths lies in its ability to pinpoint the funnier elements in each nerd-laden character, and then push those buttons profusely in a way that never grows stale. The fondness we've built for Sheldon forgives the moments where his uptight geek-outs feel forced, such as a tirade he starts about the Renaissance festival and the causality behind a grocery bag breaking. Much of the same can be said for Rejesh's arguments with his parents over webcam and Howard's throat-curdling yells at his mother in their house, though Howard does retreat a bit from showing glimmers of charm to merely being an unsuccessful hornball.
A few "obvious" targets for plot twists have been avoided in The Big Bang Theory to this point, but many of them come barreling into this second season. What happens if Penny were to find a guy both smarter and more attractive than Leonard, or if Penny calls Howard out on his much-fabled skills with the ladies? All these are questions that the series has cleverly avoided to this point, yet they take them on in a fashion that's not as obnoxious as you might think. Also, though we've seen Sheldon's mother once before in the first season (Laurie Metcalf, Jackie on "Roseanne"), we finally get the chance to meet a member of Leonard's family -- a visit that's lovingly compared to enduring an uncomfortable medical procedure. We also get a chance to dive into both Penny and Leonard's love life after "the date", which features Sara Gilbert reprising her role as fellow brainiac Leslie Winkler and Sara Rue arriving as a new interest, an unabashed doctor-Dr. named Stephanie.
Each episode of The Big Bang Theory's second season delivers something different, both humorous and dramatic, while the writers continue their riotous journeying through geek obsessions. That includes a rather funny episode on the addiction to on-line gaming, advanced "geeked up" versions of games like chess and Rock Paper Scissors, as well as an entire episode featuring the (woman-interested) guys fawning over "Firefly" and "Terminator: Sarah Conner" star Summer Glau. And, as always, you might just find yourself learning a thing or two through the blitzkrieg of brainy dialogue -- you know, if you can actually understand any of it. With the freshness that it offers over Season Two, its first full run (season one only contains seventeen (17) episodes), it's clear that The Big Bang Theory will be drudging up inventive geekiness in side-splitting fashion for quite some time.
Warner Bros. have presented the Second Season of The Big Bang Theory in very familiar packaging, with a few twists. A double-tray, overlapping clear keepcase houses all four of the discs, which slides in and out to the side of a part-glossy, part-matte slipcover. Inside an Episode Listing booklet features promotional photographs from the series, including a great shot of all the characters done up in their Renaissance garb. Three of the discs contain six (6) episodes, while the fourth disc contains five (5) plus the special features.
Video and Audio:
Though set up like a traditional sitcom, The Big Bang Theory actually sports some richly-detailed photography filled with blasts of color. Warner Bros' 1.78:1 transfers for all episodes preserve this quality extremely well, keeping minor details extremely crisp -- like the guys' sci-fi toys and neat stuff scattered around both apartment's coffee tables -- and contrast levels appropriately balanced. Where the transfer might go a little overboard is with color saturation, which really screams out with candy-coated loudness against clothing and, occasionally, with slightly reddish skin tones. The color scheme easily fits the mood of the series, but the palette occasionally bleeds outside of confined spaces. Outside of that minor complaint, along with a sport or two of mild aliasing, this is a fine arrangement of transfers for a very attractive series.
Audio defaults to a 2.0 English Stereo track, which sounds crisp and clean to the ear. It's enjoyable to have a sitcom that almost completely leans away from musical cues, aside from the Barenaked Ladies theme at the start of every show. That makes the dialogue come front and center, which is preserved spectacularly. Some mild sound effects ink into the picture, like the grinding of a rotary saw and the light rumble of an subwoofer experiment, and they're dynamic enough to add a little panache to the sound. But it's the scripting that matters, and everything is hunky-dory. A Portuguese language option is also available, along with English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, and Thai optional subtitles.
Big Bang Theory: Physicist to the Stars (10:09, 16x9):
If you've ever wondered whether the writers are hybrid science geniuses and comedy writers, you're your answer comes here. This featurette zones in on Dr. David Saltzberg, the "science consultant" on The Big Bang Theory. He's not just a fact-checker though, as we see his full-fledged contributions to the script itself in this featurette. Salzberg hops around to each of our guys and discusses some of the science used in the series, but in "overview" mode as to not confuse us lower minds. He's a vibrant, funny guy, and certainly one of the show's chief assets.
Testing the Infinite Hilarity Hypothesis ... (15:31, 16x9):
Shifting gears, this 15-minute featurette takes on a more general marketing rhythm. Each actor goes into how their characters have changed, along with how their changes have altered the dynamic in the show. Kaley Cuoco makes a great connection here that Penny acts kind of like Wendy to the Lost Boys in Peter Pan, which is actually pretty spot-on. Yep, it's a fluff piece, but a good one.
A Gag Reel (8:52, 16x9) has also been included, which will feature many of the scenes that you'd expect to be fumbled by the cast -- especially Rock Paper Scissors and the Sheldon Movie Theater equation.
The Big Bang Theory continues through its second season with an endless stream of clever nerd-based humor and great situational gags. Creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady know what works with every character, including the central give-and-take follies between Leonard and Penny. Though Sheldon and Howard's goofy reversions are teetering dangerously close to becoming caricatures of their characters, their antics are still irresistibly hilarious. Warner Brothers once again presents this series right -- though a little light on special features -- which makes Season Two of The Big Bang Theory a Highly Recommended purchase.