I've noticed a very troubling trend in television lately, and it absolutely ruins many a show for me. The writers and creators are far too willing to give audiences exactly what they want (instant gratification, in a sense), and have forgotten what it's like to tease an idea, string it out for years to make the eventual (and obvious) cave-in that much more enjoyable and meaningful. What would it have been like if 'Friends' ended season one with the three guys and three gals all dating each other? What if Niles and Daphne hooked up and had a torrid affair in the early goings of 'Frasier?' Heck, what if we found out who the mother really was in the first episode of 'How I Met Your Mother,' and had to root against other relationships between the eventual parents?
Easily the smartest show since the aforementioned 'Frasier' left the air, CBS's 'The Big Bang Theory' didn't quite show patience in its first run of episodes. Perhaps the original season's tag line ("Smart is the new sexy") is an indicator that we're to just shut up and accept the fact that the four main male characters on the show have drawing power despite their utter lack of social skills. The show's premise, that a group of four uber-nerds learn social skills by way of their beautiful new neighbor, is nothing more than a set up to have an entire season of teasing that one of the characters is in love with the foxy femme, despite her obvious tendencies to date bigger, stronger guys. Unrequited love doesn't stand a chance, and within half a season we already see a kiss. Patience is not a virtue these days.
This first run of seventeen episodes in 'The Big Bang Theory' establish what we're to expect from the show, and we see leaps and bounds in the format of the program as this set progresses. Many of the foibles and show cliches that fans are accustomed to weren't in place when the show first began, so it's interesting to see what caught on, and what didn't...and, yes, DC comics reigns supreme in the eyes of the show, as not a single Marvel property is even mentioned in this particular nerd sect. Penny (Kaley Cuoco)'s appearance changes to make her seem like more of an every-woman, rather than a particular niche of hotness. Sheldon (Emmy winner Jim Parsons)'s extensive roommate clause and rapid-fire knocking while calling someone's name tick hasn't set in. Raj (Kunal Nayyar)'s inability to talk to women is in place, but for the majority of this season, we don't know that alcohol is the cure to said ailment. Howard (Simon Helberg)'s mother is oft-referred to, rarely heard, and his perverse nature is in overdrive here, with some slight toning down as the show progresses. The only constant from the show at its origin to now is Leonard (Johnny Galecki), as his nature and personality have stayed true throughout.
In season one, the social awkwardness of Sheldon and Leonard is at its peak. Sheldon, while still riddled with random signs of Asperger's, doesn't quite grasp social construct, with Penny being his introduction to how to even speak to a person...a skill he openly rejects, while Leonard is so much more in doubt of himself, it makes the entire construct of the show a little more believable. While later seasons were borderline obsessed with making sure each character had a mate of some kind, here it isn't afraid to give characters alone time to grow, for us to get to know them outside of defining them by who they're with.
The 'Roseanne' reunion of the show (see: Galecki, Sara Gilbert, Laurie Metcalf) is in play early, and the references and teases to said relationships can be a great in-joke. Funnily enough, there's even a prophetic gag, with the IQ of future cast member Mayim Bialik mentioned as a suitable partner to a particular brainchild. There are great abandoned jokes, as well, such as Sheldon's label maker markings on each and every item in the house, or the way the others try to convince Sheldon that he's a robot through use of Isaac Asimov's three rules.
The humor in this first run isn't as refined or deep as it gets in later seasons, but that can be explained by the need to establish characters, whereas later seasons would have all the setup done, allowing for the extreme gags and stretches that may seem too far to believe with a group of nerds still somewhat unknown to viewers. That said, though, the true nerdliness of the cast is at its peak here, with the arguing over superhero semantics, the video game obsessions and get-togethers, and the complete and utter lack of comprehension to the female sex shining through every line of dialogue. This run is hardly bad, even if it isn't as refined as the series would get in later years, and proves to be one of the better first seasons out there. The outline for a mega-hit is laid here, and newcomers to the show will appreciate the earnest growth found in this set.
The Disc: Vital Stats
This five disc set comes in a fatter Blu-ray case, hidden inside a five-sided slip-sleeve similar to other seasons of the show. The first two discs in the set are BD50, Region Free Blu-rays, while the latter three are recycled DVD discs from years ago. WB did not do as HBO does and put the DVDs on double sided discs for space/cost savings. Warner's new menu navigation is featured on this release, and as long as one remembers that the grey selection is the one that happens (on two option screens, it is easy to forget), then working this release is a breeze. This set includes a quasi-intelligent season-play mode, but ejecting the disc does cause it to forget where you were. Lame.
The first season of 'The Big Bang Theory' isn't a very even visual experience on Blu-ray. While the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4, 1.78:1 frame specs don't change from episode to episode, the picture quality does bounce around a tad. The pilot episode is a story in and of itself, with an extremely strong grain level visible in every shot, with no picture depth, minor noire and aliasing, floating stubble, edge exaggerations, dirt and scratches, scratchy/fuzzy looking reds, soft shots, artifacting, you name it, it's there. The rest of the episodes are an improvement, though there are random issues that pop in and out. Picture depth is very inconsistent, with some nice, deep looking episodes, and other, routinely flat ones. Noise pops up occasionally, and there are moments where hairs don't leap like they do in the majority of shots, while skin tones do vary greatly scene to scene. The majority of the show, though, has solid, unwavering colors, fantastic edges and leaping stray hairs. Detail levels are mostly consistent from the second episode on, and while they're not top tier by any means, fans will appreciate the improvement over the DVD editions. No matter what, though, the atom scene transition "eyecatchers" are bad, bad, bad in terms of visual quality, no matter where in the show they're found.
The audio on the first season of 'The Big Bang Theory' is passable, presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 on each and every episode. Dialogue is almost always intelligible, with only a few random lines being a bit difficult to discern, and while some static is picked up and occasionally a mic is thumped, for the most part there's a solid presentation of the noises the characters make, with very warm, in-your-face dialogue from start to finish. There is a little bit of sub use, particularly in the Halloween episode, but for the most part bass is not frequently utilized. Rear channels get some minor activity, from the heinous laugh track that sometimes finds all angles, and sometimes doesn't, though little else finds its way to said speakers. Dialogue can be a little brunt at times, and the few instances this season of Howard yelling at his oft-heard but ne'er seen mother are hollow and blaring.
The best extras on this release are the bonus DVD copies of this season. At this price point, that makes for one hell of a bargain, especially since one can loan out the show to friends and family and still have a superior copy on hand. The Blu-ray extras show up on the menu for the first disc, but selecting them forces a prompt asking you to insert the second disc. Annoying.
'The Big Bang Theory' had to start somewhere, and this first season does a solid job in introducing the characters and themes of the beloved program. Yes, it's a little rough at first, and there is some major toning down to be done, but the real heart of the show is apparent from the very beginning, which makes watching these early episodes still pretty darned fun. This Blu-ray release comes with two other ways to watch the show, and for the price, makes for one hell of a bargain. That said, fans should not enter this season with high hopes on the technical side.