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Big Bang Theory: The Complete Fourth Season, The

Warner Bros. // Unrated // September 13, 2011
List Price: $54.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted September 23, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The whole universe was in a hot dense state
Then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started.

The Earth began to cool,
The autotrophs began to drool,
Neanderthals developed tools,
We built a wall
We built the pyramids!
Math, science, history, unraveling the mysteries,
That all started with the big bang!

A funny show with one of the catchiest theme songs of all time (even if part of it doesn't make sense autotrophs don't drool, many heterotrophs do however) returns for its fourth season and... it may have jumped the shark.  While there are some great episodes in this season, the show seems to have lost its bearing with some episodes being pointless and some of the foibles of minor characters taken to extremes so that they're just caricatures of real people.  Even with these flaws however the show has some very funny episodes and there wasn't a single installment that didn't crack me up at some point.
Dr. Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) and Dr. Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) are roommates who work as physicists at Cal Tech (experimental and theoretical respectively).   They are both brilliant (Leonard has an IQ of 173 and Sheldon was a child prodigy who graduated from college (undergrad) at the age of 14) and so are their friends:  Dr. Rajesh Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar) an astrophysicist, and Mr. Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) who only has a masters in engineering from MIT, a fact that Sheldon loves to remind him of.  The show started three years ago when Penny (Kaley Cuoco) moved in across the hall.  She's a friendly would-be actress from Nebraska with a lot of down-home charm, and incredibly attractive.  Leonard's instantly attracted to her, while the Sheldon, who lacks all sexual urges, is irritated by the amount of time it will take to train a new friend.  Penny, on the other hand usually dates hunky guys that she meets at the gym, including her last boyfriend a very muscular ape who she had lived with for four years.  ("That's as long as high school" Penny cries in the first episode.  To which Sheldon incredulously exclaims "It took you four years to finish high school!?!")

At the end of season 3, Raj and Howard registered the seemingly asexual Sheldon on a dating service.  They filled the forms out accurately describing all of their friend's foibles and were somewhat astounded when a match was found. They arranged a meeting on Sheldon's behalf and they tricked him into showing up.  The laugh was on them when Sheldon met Amy Farrah Folwer (Mayim Bialik) and she turned out to be a female version of Sheldon, condescending attitude and all.  As the season opens, Sheldon and Amy have known each other for four months and as Sheldon describes it (many, many times over the course of the season) "Amy is a girl, who is a friend, but is not a girlfriend."
If there is a theme this season, it's girlfriends.  Sheldon has Amy, which bugs the single Leonard to no end, and Howard gets back with his old girlfriend Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) and even Raj starts to become obsessed with a woman.  That's also the problem.  Amy comes across as a robot.  She's a female version of Sheldon, but without the loveable quirks that make Sheldon such a great character.  She doesn't like SF or comics or any of the geeky stuff that the rest of the gang enjoys, yet she's insufferable and has no concept of social etiquette or norms.  She's really missing a personality and that makes the episodes where she's the focus a bit of a drag, or worse they come across as just stupid.  For example in one episode she sees one of Penny's old hunky boyfriends and can't stop staring at his butt.  Her palms get clammy, her heart starts racing, and she involuntarily says "ooooh" when he bends over.  Yet she thinks she's coming down with the flu, not sexually excited.  Yeah.
The whole Howard/ Bernadette matchup is a bit ludicrous.  The short, intelligent, perky, blond, D-cup (at least) Bernadette would do much, much better than the geeky lives-with-his mom Howard.  Their whole relationship seems forced and again, brings the show down.

Character traits are taken to extremes this season too.  Sheldon becomes a parody of himself when he decides to lock himself into his room and interact with people through a computer monitor on a remote controlled base.  It's just stupid and not really funny.  On top of that the episode doesn't have a punch line.  It just ends.
In spite of those flaws, there are some good installments this season.  One of the highlights is when Penny start to date dim-witted Zach again and Howard and the boys start making fun of him because he's so stupid.  The jokes are funny but after remembering all of the times that they were picked on they all go and make up by allowing him to be Superman when they all dress up as the Justice League.  Penny, of course, is Wonder Woman, much to her chagrin.  It's a funny episode with a great ending.  There are also some great lines that will have geeks like me on the floor such as my favorite for this season:  "All I'm saying is, if they took all the money they spent trying to make a decent Hulk movie, they could probably make an actual Hulk." - Leonard.
The Blu-ray Discs:

The entire 24-episode season comes on two Blu-ray discs which are housed in a single-width case enclosed in a slipcase.  The slipcase (and the menus on the discs) have one of the most horrificly bad images ever used to sell a TV series.  Really guys, what were you thinking??
The 1.78:1 1080p widescreen image looks great.  The show was recorded (and broadcast) in HD so it's no surprise that the picture looks good.  The colors are solid and the level of detail is fine.  There's a little bit of digital noise in a few spots, but nothing really major.  Overall the show looks wonderful in HD.
At last fans of the show get a lossless audio track!  The previous season's Blu-ray release only had a DD 5.1 audio mix, but this time around we're treated with a DTS HD Master Audio track.  This mix works well, with a full, open front sound stage and sparse but effective use of the rears.  The sub gets moving during the opening song, but that's about the only time it's really used. 
There is a lot more bonus material on this set than was included in the third season release, but still not as much as I was hoping for.  On disc one there are three "Actor on Actor" interviews that run between 6 and 8 minutes each.  The first is with Simon, Melissa, and Kunal, the second with Jim and Mayim and the third with Kaley and Johnny.  In these the actors ask each other questions about the show but it doesn't feel like a real interview, more like a scripted promotional piece.  There were a few laughs, but not many.  There's also a ten minute gag reel that has some amusing parts.
Disc two has The Big Bang Theory Live, a 15 minute look at the taping of an episode, Barenaked Ladies on The Big Bang Theory where the band visits the set and shoots a video of the theme song, and finally the video itself.  Still no commentary tracks...
Final Thoughts:
I laughed a lot through this season, just not nearly as much as I did during the first three years.  The characters seem to be exaggerated even more than before, and the addition of Sheldon's robot-like female friend just accentuates how improbably the show really is.  Despite those critiques there are still a lot of laughs and the show is well worth watching... just lower your expectations a notch.  Recommended.
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