“The Big Bang Theory” doesn’t conjure up many big laughs, but its colliding elements do generate enough little ones to become another promising addition to CBS’ Monday sitcom lineup. Less “Revenge of the Nerds” than a grown-up “Malcolm in the Middle,” the series boasts appealing leads in Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons and actually builds jokes around the notion of being smart, albeit socially backward. Although CBS hasn’t set the world ablaze ratings-wise Mondays beyond “Two and a Half Men,” this “Two Men and a Hottie” should fit right in with the more middling successes in that four-stack.
As with “Men,” which also comes from producer Chuck Lorre, the premise here is hardly bone-rattling: Two big-brained science types share an apartment, only to have their pristine little world of chalkboards and quantum particles thrown into a tizzy when an attractive blond waitress named Penny (“8 Simple Rules'” Kaley Cuoco) moves in across the hall.
It’s hard not to root for a sitcom that employs a “science consultant” and whose heroes are named Sheldon (Parsons) and Leonard (Galecki), who watch the “Battlestar Galactica” DVD commentary, play “Klingon Boggle” and talk bluntly about “masturbating for money,” having just visited a sperm bank for high-IQ donors.
For newly single Penny, it’s like taking up residence next to “those ‘Beautiful Mind’ genius guys.” Leonard is instantly smitten, whereas Sheldon — a glass-half-empty type if there ever was one — can’t see a potential relationship ending any way but badly, were one to happen at all.
As directed by James Burrows, there’s a sweetness to Sheldon and Leonard’s awkwardness, and given a sampling of their friends, they might be the cool ones in the group.
That said, there are some qualms surrounding how long the producers can mine the Leonard-Penny aspect of the show, a shallow vein if there ever was one. More promising is the interaction among the key duo and their Mensa-worthy friends.
Fortunately, Lorre has exhibited an ability to keep unearthing funny bits on “Men” with little more than his cast and a couch– a welcome reminder that even in the troubled world of TV comedy, good writing and well-defined characters don’t require gimmicks or “very special episodes.”
As with “How I Met Your Mother,” “Big Bang” consciously populates its cast with younger characters, presumably the better to hit the lower half of the 18-49 demo, as CBS gradually tries to “youthify” its profile.
That sounds logical in theory (especially since “Dancing With the Stars” has tango-ed off with part of the older audience), but TV development traditionally adheres to a simpler equation — the one that states while elaborate formulas look good on paper, sitcom survival generally boils down to the basics of execution.