“Wine again? No, thank you. I like my grapes the old fashioned way. In a juice box.”
After nine seasons on the air as one of the biggest (if not the biggest) sitcom on TV, The Big Bang Theory is getting pretty long in the tooth. That’s to be expected after the run the series has had; hated by many a critic and anyone within the “geek” community while seemingly beloved by the average TV watcher, the show has managed to squeeze a surprising amount of juice from its once-simplistic premise: a group of nerds live next door to a hot girl and hilarity ensues. As far as said hilarity goes, your mileage may vary.
Season Nine continues to shake up the status quo and introduce a number of developments. (Spoilers for the season to follow; proceed accordingly.) For starters, geeky Leonard (Johnny Galecki, Bounce) finally gets married to Penny (Kaley Cuoco, The Wedding Ringer). Twice, in fact. Sheldon (Jim Parsons, Home) and Amy (Mayim Bialik) break up, sending Sheldon into a depression and Amy on a series of dates before the pair finally reunites and actually goes to bed together. Howard (Simon Helberg, We’ll Never Have Paris) and Raj (Kunal Kayyar, The Scribbler) start a band. Stuart (Kevin Sussman, Wet Hot American Summer) moves in with Howard and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch, The Bronze). Raj begins juggling two girlfriends. Bernadette and Howard expect their first child. Wil Wheaton returns. So does Stephen Hawking. The group goes to see The Force Awakens. The boys invent a new gyroscope with potential military applications, leading Howard to suspect he’s being hunted by the NSA.
Here are the episodes that make up The Big Bang Theory Season Nine:
“The Matrimonial Momentum”
“The Separation Oscillation”
“The Bachelor Party Corrosion”
“The 2003 Approximation”
“The Perspiration Implementation”
“The Helium Insufficiency”
“The Spock Resonance”
“The Mystery Date Observation”
“The Platonic Permutation”
“The Earworm Reverberation”
“The Opening Night Excitation”
“The Sales Call Sublimation”
“The Empathy Optimization”
“The Meemaw Materialization”
“The Valentino Submergence”
“The Positive Negative Reaction”
“The Celebration Experimentation”
“The Application Deterioration”
“The Solder Excursion Diversion”
“The Big Bear Precipitation”
“The Viewing Party Combustion”
“The Fermentation Bifurcation”
“The Line Substitution Solution”
“The Convergence Convergence”
There are a lot of bad choices made in Season Nine of The Big Bang Theory, likely the result of creative wheel-spinning after more than 200 episodes on the air. Most of the story lines that involve Howard and Raj, long the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the series, are non-starters. Despite getting married, moving into his later mother’s home and now expecting his first child, Howard remains incredibly static and unsympathetic; the man-child thing might have been funny for a few seasons, but after a while we want to see the guy grow up and behave less selfishly (not for nothing, but when he’s afforded the chance to do it — like in the wake of his mother’s passing — Simon Helberg always brings unexpected humanity to the character). Raj still exists to be the butt of every joke, perpetually pathetic and the target of xenophobia and gay panic gags. I can appreciate that the writers attempt to give his character more to do by putting him at the center of a love triangle in Season Nine, but once again it’s hard to really invest in a guy who’s behaving like such a douche. It’s yet another example of the misanthropic comedy of series producer/co-creator Chuck Lorre, the King Midas of sitcoms in the 2000s whose shows are often marked by characters who are constantly hostile towards one another, making jokes at each other’s expense and wallowing in a kind of pathetic unhappiness.
But it’s not all bad, and in many ways The Big Bang Theory should be applauded for its willingness to really develop some characters and let them grow — particularly Sheldon Cooper, who started out the series run as a one-note punchline about the Autism spectrum but who has, in the years since, become a much more fully realized human being. He’s the best character on the show, and Season Nine might be his best season yet thanks to the story of his breakup and subsequent reunion with his girlfriend Amy. Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik have done tremendous work in making their impossible relationship seem not just believable (as believable as anything can be on this show), but sweet and often moving. It’s unfortunate that their most interesting stuff makes up the first — and much stronger — half of the season, leaving the back half for Sheldon to go back to his old self for the most part. There are a few strong standalone episodes, but the early promise of growth gives way to a competent and mostly predictable season of The Big Bang Theory.
Warner Bros. Blu-ray set of Season Nine presents all 25 episodes in 1080p HD and in their 1.78:1 HD broadcast aspect ratio, spread out over two discs. Like their releases of the past eight seasons, Warners has done good work with the show, which is consistently bright and clean and colorful; while it’s not very visually compelling, it’s a sitcom that should be watched in high def. The lossless 5.1 audio track reserves most of the show’s audio for the front and center channels, saving the surrounding speakers for the laugh track, opening titles and interstitial transitions. Most of the bonus features are promotional featurettes: there’s a piece on the relationships in Season Nine, a piece about the recording of the show’s 200th episode, a piece on a scholarship program funded by the show (which, love the series or hate it, is very cool), the full 2015 Comic-Con panel, about 12 minutes of the cast answering Twitter questions and, best of all, a nine-minute gag reel that’s quite a bit of fun if only because of how well the ensemble works together by now. Everyone seems to be having a good time.
I’ve stuck with The Big Bang Theory this far because a) I have an unreasonable fondness for three-camera sitcoms and b) they really are a strong cast capable of doing good work, but for every step forward taken by Season Nine as far as character development and writing, there is an equal step back in the same categories. If you’ve been following the show to this point there’s no reason not to continue, but this isn’t the point at which any new fan should jump aboard. I’m kind of hoping Season 10 will be the sitcom’s last.
Probably time to start wrapping it up.