Old Show, New Season: “The Big Bang Theory” / “How I Met Your Mother”

Monday night TV sucks.

No, wait, hear me out: it sucks because there are now officially too many good shows being broadcast on Mondays.

Haaaaaaaave you checked out the schedule for 8 PM? Starting next week (Sept. 29), the following shows will be competing against each other: “The Big Bang Theory” and “How I Met Your Mother” on CBS, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” on Fox, “Chuck” on NBC, and “Gossip Girl” on The CW. Even if I had a splitter for my TiVo – note to self: get a splitter for my TiVo – I’d still be out of luck, since it’s not like my system is capable of recording four shows at the same time…and, geez, it’s not like there are enough hours in the day to keep up with this much programming, anyway!

Good thing, then, that CBS was kind enough to give me the hook-up on the premieres of “The Big Bang Theory” and “How I Met Your Mother,” so I could scope them out and give you a bit of a preview without fear of missing tonight’s episodes of “Sarah Connor” or “Gossip Girl.” Mind you, I still don’t know what I’m going to do next week, when “Chuck” premieres, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it…

I don’t think I could’ve been more pleased with the Season 2 premiere of “The Big Bang Theory.” It was one of my favorite new series last year, but given the way it ended, with Penny (Kaley Cuoco) sharing a moment with Leonard (Johnny Galecki), you couldn’t help but worry that things were moving a bit too fast between the unlikely couple. Sweet or not, it’s just really hard to imagine a relationship between a physicist and a Cheesecake Factory waitress working out for the long haul…and, fortunately, Penny has the same concerns at the conclusion of their first date.

Unfortunately, however, she makes the mistake of sharing those concerns with Sheldon (Jim Parsons), who reacts about as well to her suggestion that he not tell Leonard about her worries as he reacts to everything else.

In short, he freaks out.

For all the season premieres I’ve caught thus far, there aren’t many which can compete with this one. Anyone who was concerned that “The Big Bang Theory” might suffer from the dreaded sophomore slump can put those fears right back upon the shelf.

The dialogue amongst the fab four – Sheldon, Leonard, Howard (Simon Helberg), and Rajesh (Kunal Nayyar) – continues to snap, crackle, and pop, though as a comic geek, there’s one line that made me laugh harder than any other: Sheldon’s rationalization that, although circumstances might prevent him from becoming Green Lantern in the real world, he could damned sure be Batman. Just as important to the success of the episode, however, is the way it manages to effortlessly incorporate all of the show’s characters into the plot by having Sheldon decide that the only way he can successfully keep Penny’s secret from Leonard is to move out. If you’ve seen even one episode of the show since its premiere (particularly if that episode was the one where Sheldon was sick), then you can probably imagine why, by episode’s end, Leonard’s roommate is back where he belongs.

In the case of “How I Met Your Mother,” the results are perhaps a little less impressive than its lead-in. I’m not trying to be blasphemous, you understand. Actually, the reality of the matter is that I was more excited about the return of “HIMYM” than I was “Big Bang,” just because I have a longer history with the former than the latter. Certainly, it was great to see Ted, Robin, Marshall, Lily, and Barney again, and the prospect of finally seeing Ted closing in on finding the mother of his children is one which will keep me coming back week after week ’til the series’ final episode, but the suggestion that Barney might dismiss the life of a Lothario in favor of making an honest woman out of his beloved Scherbatsky sounded like a textbook “jump the shark” moment waiting to happen.

Unsurprisingly, show creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas enjoy having their fun and taking viewers all the way to the precipice and letting things teeter there throughout the course of the episode, letting Barney trying to work out his feelings for Robin and how they’ll affect his lifestyle (when Lily suggests that he can’t be in love with Robin while still sleeping with random women, he responds, “That’s like saying, ‘How can an ant carry twenty times its body weight but root beer floats are still delicious?’ Are the two even related, really?”), but will it spend the season all wibbly-wobbly? Probably not, given how much fun they still had this episode with Barney’s usual modus operandi (a particular highlight involved his description of how much easier booty calls get as the evening progresses), but the way events play out, it’s fair to say that this plot line has not reared its head for the last time.

I’m also now less certain about whether or not Stella (Sarah Chalke) will indeed prove to be the mother of Ted’s kids. Why? Because, as you’ll see, there’s one very major issue standing between them…and it proves conclusively that, even with the best of chemistry, love can only truly exist when a couple’s pop culture interests mesh. Things may end on a note that will cause you optimists out there to ask, “Why so skeptical, Mr. Grumpapotamus?” But to the experienced sitcom viewer, it’s a conclusion that says, “Oh, this is so going to come back to bite them in the ass…”

Basically, “Big Bang” had the advantage here. I was more invested in the characters on “HIMYM” and, therefore, I was less on the lookout for jokes and more on a quest to find out how the gang was going to be progressing this year…and while I got all the laughs I was expecting, I was left with uncertainty about the direction the characters are heading. Bays and Thomas haven’t let me down yet, and in my heart of hearts, I don’t want to believe that they will, but I’m just looking at the stats here, people, and many a good series has begun to find a loss of footing somewhere around Year 4. I’m hoping “How I Met Your Mother” will defy the odds, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic to have at least a few concerns.

  

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