Sunday, August 30, 2009

"Classic" Recap: The Big Bang Theory "The Middle Earth Paradigm"

"That’s right. You saw what you saw. That’s how we roll in the Shire!"

I’m taking a little time away from anticipating tonight’s penultimate episode of "True Blood" season 2 (stay tuned for an analysis of season 2 sometime in the week after the season finale) to talk a little bit about the show that got me watching sitcoms again- "The Big Bang Theory." In middle school, I was quite the sitcom junkie. I’d watch all the sitcoms I could get my hands on, both the modern and classic, Nick-at-Nite, varieties. When I really got back into watching TV a few years ago, it was the dawn of the era of the one hour drama. I got re-hooked on TV with shows like "CSI" and "Grey’s Anatomy." In the fall of 2007, however, my mom started asking me if I had seen "The Big Bang Theory." I dismissed it with a “I don’t watch sitcoms.” Then, during the TV doldrums of the Writers’ Strike, I actually sat down and watched a few episodes, and I was hooked on the nerd humor.

The episode “The Middle Earth Paradigm” is a fairly standard issue Halloween episode, but since it’s an episode of "The Big Bang Theory," it comes with plenty of delightfully nerdy twists. I think most series went for the Halloween episode that year because they figured the strike would prevent them from doing other holiday episodes. Some other great ones from 2007 were the "Pushing Daisies" episode “Girth” and the "Grey’s Anatomy" episode “Haunt You Every Day.” I do love Halloween episodes in general. I think that costume choice is an excellent way to show character. What do costumes say about the person wearing them?

In “The Middle Earth Paradigm,” our gang first enters Leonard and Sheldon’s apartment all dressed as “The Flash” for Penny’s Halloween party. The fact that they all chose the same comic book character for their costume could be interpreted in one of two ways. The first is that they are extremely in synch with each other. Second, this could just be a stereotype about nerds that the writer of the episode is exploiting. I tend to think that the first interpretation is probably what was intended. The writers of "The Big Bang Theory" have dipped into that particular well multiple times. One of those other times comes at the end of this scene, when the guys decide they need to choose new costumes and Leonard immediately calls Frodo. The other guys all sigh, leading the viewer to believe that they would have all chosen Frodo next, too. Another instance is the “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock” sequence in the season 2 episode “The Lizard-Spock Expansion,” where all the guys keep throwing down Spock. Because of the frequency of this type of joke on the show, I choose to believe that it is meant to show that these guys are such close friends that they really do think alike. No matter the correct interpretation of the scene, however, it does contain one of my favorite Big Bang Theory jokes. Before concluding that they have to re-costume, Raj says “Or, we could walk right behind each other all night and look like one person going really fast.”

We can really get more into an analysis of the costumes in this episode once the guys have all abandoned their “The Flash” costumes. Leonard is Frodo. I would imagine Leonard chose to be Frodo because he thinks of himself as Hobbit-like. Not in the liking to farm sense, but in the sense that he’s short and has brown curly hair. I’ve been known to, on occasion, think of myself as Hobbit-like for the same reasons! Leonard’s costume choice is more directly addressed later in the episode when Penny’s ex-boyfriend Curt is trying to figure out what Leonard is supposed to be. Once the difference between a Hobbit and an elf is explained to him, Curt asks Leonard why he’d want to be a Hobbit. Sheldon replies on Leonard’s behalf that it is because Leonard “is neither tall nor immortal.” I guess that pretty much confirms my theory!

Speaking of Sheldon, he decides to be the Doppler Effect. His costume is white and black vertical stripes of undoubtedly precise widths with a dot in the center. I think Sheldon chose this costume because, big surprise, he likes to feel intellectually superior to everyone around him, and being dressed as an “illustration of a scientific principle” allows him to do just that. He acts exasperated when the other party guests don’t understand his costume, but I think that, deep down, he really enjoys it.

Raj decides to be Thor, “not the Marvel Comics Thor, [but] the original Norse god.” I think that this costume choice continues Raj’s established dislike of certain aspects of Indian culture and being stereotyped because of his Indian heritage. It’s well established that Raj doesn’t like Indian food, for instance. When the other guys express surprise at Raj’s costume choice, Raj goes on a bit of a rant about how the Indian guy shouldn’t have to be an Indian god, and he can be a Norse god if he wants to.

Finally, Wolowitz claims to be dressed as Robin Hood, but everyone thinks he looks like Peter Pan. This appears to be yet another case of Wolowitz completely misreading what others are going to think of his behavior. I’m reminded of the time when he wore an eye patch to a bar, thinking it would make him stand out to women. You could also say that Wolowitz (and all the guys, really) have a bit of a Peter Pan complex, continuing to love things that others might consider childish. I don't think that's a bad thing at all (I write a TV blog after all), but it's there.

I hope you enjoyed this look at what costumes say about our favorite characters. When it gets closer to Halloween, I may have to revisit this concept, because there are many other great Halloween episodes out there besides "The Middle Earth Paradigm" and the others I have already mentioned. Happy (very, very, very early) Halloween!

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