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Interchangeable subplots?

The Big Bang Theory is one of my guilty pleasures. Usually, I demand more from a TV show: great writing, careful storytelling, stellar performances. For Big Bang, I make an exception. Sometimes, you just need a mindless chuckle.

Still, if I’m honest, Big Bang Theory is not an innovative or well-written show. It overuses a stale “setup-setup-punchline” recipe for laughs. And when the jokes fall flat, it fills the silence with an aggressive laugh track—a broadcast trick that should have died decades ago.

I can overlook these faults; almost every other sitcom leans on these genre standards, too. Harder to forgive? The Big Bang Theory’s lazy, haphazardly-written plot lines. Too often, Big Bang’s ‘A’ storyline and ‘B’ storyline have literally nothing to do with one another.

Consider one recent episode: October 2015’s “Helium Insufficiency.” Half the show deals with Sheldon and Leonard buying black-market helium to buoy their scientific research. Meanwhile, the other characters help Amy navigate the world of online dating.

The episode cuts back and forth between the two storylines, but never lets them intersect or even overlap. The separate narratives just plod along, the characters oblivious of what’s happening in the other thread. And then, the episode abruptly ends—or really, ends twice (once for each subplot). For contrast, take Seinfeld, which specialized in cleverly interweaving multiple seemingly-unrelated stories.

I’d posit that you could combine almost any set of Big Bang subplots. Splice them together, and you’d end up with a serviceable episode. For all I know, that’s how the writers chart out each season: come up with a few dozen “hilarious” situations, toss them in a hat, and pull out two or three at a time to conjure up an episode.

That makes writing scripts easier, perhaps, but it hardly makes for legendary comedy.