The triumph of The Big Bang Theory is that everyone is written with genuine affection; what could have been a lifeless parade of stereotypes--Two Nerds and a Hot Chick--becomes instead a charming collision of cultures. The familiar stuff (computer games, comic books, social incompetence) has the grit of specificity; the show understands the difference between Halo and Halo 3, knows what the Bottle City of Kandor is, and grasps the infinite variety of ways in which a conversation can go terribly awry. (Penny gets less nuance, but Cuoco still gives her a distinctive personality.) Kudos as well to supporting players Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar, who bring their own variations on geekiness to the table, and to great appearances by some of Galecki's former cohorts on Roseanne--Sara Gilbert as geekette Leslie and Laurie Metcalf as Sheldon's fundamentalist mother. All in all, one of the most winning sitcoms in years. --Bret Fetzer
The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Second Season
Early in the second season of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon (Emmy nominee Jim Parsons) asks Penny (Kaley Cuoco), "When did we become friends?" For a smart guy, Sheldon misses a lot. But for the record, season 1 answered the question of whether or not an adorkable group of geniuses can become friends with the hot girl next door (yes!). Season 2 shows us what that friendship looks like, and it's awesome, especially when it includes a rousing game of "Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock." Sheldon's roommate Leonard (Johnny Galecki) wants to be more than friends with Penny, but the richest relationship of the show is that of Penny and Sheldon. He uses the "covenant of friendship" to get Penny to give him rides, he engages in an over-caffeinated business venture with her, and in the excellent Christmas episode, they exchange gifts and share a surprisingly touching moment. (Sheldon's midseason efforts to befriend a colleague can't compare.) Penny is forever changed by the guys, even telling a date about Schrodinger's cat and delving into online gaming. The extras, including a gag reel and interviews with the cast and crew, reveal the stars to be as appealing and connected to each other as their characters. --Stephanie Reid-Simons
The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Third Season
The third season of the wonderfully smart and silly comedy The Big Bang Theory is even better than the first two. When Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, and Raj--the show's quartet of supreme geeks--return from their research expedition in the Arctic, Leonard and his adorable neighbor Penny fall into each other's arms. In most TV shows, losing that sexual tension would deflate the entire series, but the writers and performers of The Big Bang Theory navigate these treacherous waters with aplomb; after a weak couple of episodes, the show regains its bearings with faux tattoos, sneaky behavior modification, lessons in football, a dislocated shoulder, a trip to Switzerland, pot brownies, and the one true Ring. Guest appearances by comic book legend Stan Lee, Katee Sackhoff from Battlestar Galactica, and former Star Trek boy genius Will Wheaton as themselves are used to remarkably good effect, and Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar, as Howard and Raj, get better story lines than ever before.
But make no mistake: Jim Parsons, as Sheldon, drives the show. With Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco) grappling with fairly conventional relationship issues, it falls to Sheldon to turn every potential cliché into an opportunity for unexpected lunacy. His combination of ruthless rationality, profound narcissism, and yawning neediness make Sheldon a remarkable comic creation, and Parsons plays him to the hilt. Even funnier than his relentless analytical approach to emotions is when he tries to be more human; his attempts to comfort Penny when she's injured are hilariously unnerving. Watching Sheldon "grow" over the course of The Big Bang Theory's progress is one of the show's greatest pleasures. --Bret Fetzer
The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Fourth Season
The superb sitcom The Big Bang Theory launches into its fourth season with an expanded cast and a whole new set of social dynamics to go with it. It's a little unsteady at first: Sheldon (the ever-inspired Jim Parsons) denies having a girlfriend in the similarly intellectual Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik, a long way away from Blossom), which leads to several Sheldon-dominated episodes--and as marvelous a character as Sheldon is, he can be too much of a good thing. Fortunately, things soon take a clever turn: Penny (Kaley Cuoco), Howard's girlfriend Bernadette (Melissa Rauch), and Amy become, ever so awkwardly, friends, providing an ingenious counterpoint to the socially hapless quartet of Sheldon, Leonard (Johnny Galecki), Howard (Simon Helberg), and Raj (Kunal Nayyar). Amy's emotional disconnection but fervent curiosity provides a delicious variation on Sheldon (without in any way replacing him) that gooses the show up to a new level. But episodes without her are still enjoyable--this is one of the best-written and -acted comedies on television. Though there is an odd increase in bodily function humor (perhaps the writers are trying to counter the jokes about comic books and theoretical physics), inventive stories abound: Sheldon becoming obsessed with cats; Amy's complete bafflement at becoming aroused by one of Penny's ex-boyfriends; grappling with Wil Wheaton over 21 extra seconds of Raiders of the Lost Ark; the plundering of Sheldon's World of Warcraft account; Leonard getting involved with Raj's sister Priya (Aarti Mann), much to Raj's discomfort; and much, much more. The balance of the ensemble grows increasingly skillful over the episode, giving everyone a chance to shine. --Bret Fetzer