Tag Archives: Leonard

A Comic Lover’s Opinion on “The Bakersfield Expedition” [Last Night’s Episode of The Big Bang Theory]

I love comics. In no way should this be a surprise to anyone who’s given this blog more than a passing glance. I also love television a lot, and when the two happen to overlap you can be assured that you have my undivided attention.

Yesterday I wrote a little bit about Bleeding Cool’s response to The Big Bang Theory episode “The Bakersfield Expedition”, half of which revolved around the premise that the show’s female cast would be entering a place traditionally closed off to their gender. I was able to catch the show last night and have many thoughts, but my ultimate conclusion is this: It really wasn’t that bad.

The guys, Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, and Howard are all off to the Bakersfield Comic-Con, so the girls enjoy their weekend alone by having brunch [an idea celebrated by the character we all know is an alcoholic, Penny].  While sitting around and enjoying their croissants and mimosas, Amy states that she doesn’t get why the guys go to these conventions. To which Penny responds:

“The four of them work at a major university, they’re all super smart, how can they still be into something made for 12-year-olds?”

Which did not please me. Having given it a second viewing, however, I realize that it’s a believable response and the perspective many people still have on the medium today. Bernadette suggests that they try to become a part of their significant others’ lives by seeing what the big deal with comics is, and soon they’re all off to their LCS [local comic store].

As the promo advertised, the following does indeed happen:





But it’s a quick gag that thankfully doesn’t overstay its welcome. Owner of the store and new series-regular Stuart is quick to chastise his socially awkward clientele and is soon talking to the girls about comic book recommendations.

Amy’s direct approach of asking “Alright, well who’s the best super hero?” and Stuart’s haste to nip that line of questioning in the bud was fantastic. There isn’t really any media that’s cut and dry as far as what “the best” is, and his whispered “What do you want to do, start a riot?” communicated well that this is a pretty contentious topic in certain circles.

Stuart also does a great job in saying that there are many different kinds of comics, and a little later on that there are different types of super heroes as well. The character really shines when he recommends to the ladies the incredible Fables #1, about which he says:

“The artwork is sophisticated, it’s intelligently written and it doesn’t objectify or stereotype women.”

Unfortunately Penny ultimately chooses for the group when she looks over and sees an issue of Thor and notes that:

Back at the apartment Amy and Bernadette sit quietly as they wait for Penny to finish the twenty-or-so-page issue. The following exchange occurs:

Amy: “There was a lot of action, the story moved along at a brisk pace, it was overall, what’s the word I’m looking for?”

Penny: “Stupid”

Amy: “So stupid.”

This upset me when I first watched it, but upon finding out the title was Thor, God of Thunder #2, written by Jason Aaron and illustrated by Esad Ribic I was dumbfounded. The Big Bang Theory has always been really good about keeping their comics contemporary, and the stock in Stuart’s shop actively changes to keep up with what’s new on the stands, but this was something else entirely. Aaron’s new Marvel NOW! title follows the character as he grows from a young, brash god to the hero we all know today and then further on to his role as the future king of Asgard. It’s masterfully written, and features artwork like this jaw-dropping splash page [which also happens to be my current desktop wallpaper.

I’m willing to assume, probably correctly so, that the show was in no way actually referring to anything in the actual book [though it would not surprise me to have an entire page featuring the single word “Krakka-DOOM” in a Thor title].

Then, as the three gripe about the waste of time that is their boyfriends’ [and husband’s] pastime, Bernadette notes that “It’s crazy, they spend hours arguing about things that don’t even exist!” And then things get interesting. Penny mocks the idea of a “hammer so heavy that no one else can pick it up” and then before you know it the girls are deeply debating the fundamentals of who or what can wield Mjolnir.

A lot of good points are bandied back and forth, but the best is easily Penny’s observation that:

“If we were in outer space, anyone could pick up the hammer  because it would be floating around in a weightless environment that’s right the slow reader used science suck on that.”

Wonderful. I say that without a trace of sarcasm.

After a fairly unenjoyable pan back to whatever it is the guys are doing we return to see that the girls are in Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment, eating takeout with comics strewn all around them. They are still talking about Thor’s hammer. Then the following exchange happens [and this is my last quote, I promise]:

Bernadette: Red Hulk must be worthy.

Penny: How can Red Hulk be worthy?

Bernadette: You don’t know his life!

If there was any laugh-out-loud moment of this entire episode that was it.

Coming away from watching “The Bakersfield Expedition” for the second time [which I did to write this post] I have to say that I quite enjoyed exactly half of it. Absolutely no part of me was invested in the guys trekking [ah ha] around the desert as a Federation landing party. What I was interested in was watching three characters, formerly wholly unfamiliar with comic books, arguing intensely about a matter which, and I’ll be honest, is not important in most senses of the word.

While The Big Bang Theory has often taken the nerdier passions and portrayed them in a fairly mockable light, it was certainly not so in this episode. Yes, comic books were referred to as something for twelve-year-olds, but Stuart does a great job in telling both the girls and the audience that it’s a broad, diverse medium that has beautiful illustrations and excellent writing, as well as a little eye candy for the ladies.

Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool thinks they did a passable job at addressing comics, but continues to assert that it’s still The Television Show That Hates [Comic Book Fans]. The episode review over at The A.V. Club’s TV Club actually referenced the Bleeding Cool movement [which you again read about in yesterday’s Fame Day post] and similar to what I did focused mainly on the girls’ plot for this episode. The comments section of that review go over the age old conversation of how the show treats its subject material and its potential audience, but that is another post for another day.

All I have to say is that I was pleasantly surprised by the episode, and enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I also finally received the second volume of Mark Waid’s Daredevil, so this is not a day on which I can feel unhappy. Here’s another picture of Thor from Issue #4 of Aaron and Ribic’s title for all you lovely people.

The Dungeons and Dragons Episode

D&DTVLast night The Big Bang Theory aired its 122nd episode, entitled “The Santa Simulation.” News that its premise hit the internet and avid television watchers everywhere began to cry what may one day become a familiar saying, “Community did it first!” Every single one of them was wrong.

A full year before “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons,” [one of the best episodes of Community‘s second season, in my opinion] there was “Jen the Fredo,” the first episode of British sitcom The IT Crowd‘s fourth season. Both of these episodes were some of the best of their respective shows, so I was pretty excited for what TBBT had to offer.

The thing about the D&D-centric episode is how it’s been used as a plot device. As a role-playing game the players are able to reveal aspects about themselves that might not otherwise come out, and you can see this being done with various degrees of effectiveness  in each episode. Spoilers for all three episodes past this point.

The IT Crowd [S4E1]
“Jen the Fredo”

I realize that most of you have not seen, or maybe even heard of, The IT Crowd. Let me sum in up in that it is, in my ways, what The Big Bang Theory could be. It’s a show about two, well, nerds that work in the IT department of a large company and their boss, who knows nearly nothing about computers. One of the best aspects of the show is that it brings you into the nerdiness of Moss and Roy, and in watching you begin to feel like you really relate to them, becoming equally frustrated when people ask them for help with their computers.

“Jen the Fredo” is, if you’ve seen The Godfather films [which I haven’t], a clear reference to the character Fredo, whose job it was to take out of town businessman and “show them a good time.” Jen takes on the role of helping to entertain a few business partners, but ultimately fails when she takes them to see “The Vagina Monologues.”

Enter Dungeons and Dragons. Moss has been preparing to DM [Dungeon Master, can be used as a verb] and convinces Jen that it’s exactly what these gentlemen are looking for. The best part is, he succeeds [I had a great YouTube clip here but someone decided to make it private].

While the idea of entertaining [and riveting] a few rowdy businessmen with a little D&D is hilarious in and of itself, but there’s more to it than that. Moss uses the game to confront Roy about the latter’s painful breakup, something he’d been avoiding talking about for a while. The conclusion is tear-filled and, more importantly, immensely funny. You can catch it on Netflix, or here, though you didn’t hear that from me.

Community [S2E14]
“Advanced Dungeons and Dragons”

This episode has easily the most actual gameplay of the three, since essentially the entire episode consists of the Greendale Seven playing D&D in the library. It also treats the source material the most lovingly, complete with a voice over and fantastically appropriate score.

The game is set up due to Jeff wanting to help out “Fat Neil,” a young man planning to end his life [understated by the narration] due to his new nickname. Once everything is set up, with Abed as the DM, things really get going.

Each member of the study group essentially plays a version of themselves, with the voice over near the beginning describing them as “Troy the Obtuse,” and “Britta the Needlessly Defiant.” They react to the situations within the game as they normally would, with Jeff impatient and unwilling to put up with nonsense as usual. The best parts, however, are when you discover a little something about the character you thought you knew, well-illustrated in the following scene with Annie:

In this episode Pierce owns his most [as far as I’m concerned] unpopular role: The Villain. Incensed at being excluded from the game he steals Fat Neil’s magical sword and runs away, later using D&D manuals to cheat and garner immense power to himself.

Everything ends, as usual, with a fairly warm and fuzzy conclusion. Pierce is defeated, mostly through his friends forgiving him for his dickishness [hence his title, “Pierce the Dickish]. Neil’s spirits are lifted and he finds the motivation to keep on living.

The Big Bang Theory [S6E11]
“The Santa Situation”

A “guys’ night” is happening and the activity of choice is Dungeons and Dragons, which is territory you’d have expected these characters to have explored in-depth quite a few seasons back. Heck, as far as I can recall they spent more time playing Settlers of Catan than throwing around a 12-sided dice.

The game begins and Leonard, the DM, lets it drop that their quest is to rescue Santa Claus. Queue Sheldon’s disappointed face due to the fact that he a) loves D&D and b) hates Christmas. Also Raj gets shot in the face with a cannon in the first few minutes of the game, highlighting the fragility of life in a world that values perception checks.

Oh, and they ditch their respective girlfriends to play, which led to this scene, the last line of which was delivered excellently:

This was originally a series of four gifs, but I didn't want to embed each one in this order, so I just took a screenshot instead. I think it still works.

Using the structure of the game Leonard gets Sheldon to sing [all five verses of] “Good King Wenceslas”  and all three remaining players to play “Jingle Bells” using, the obvious instrument of choice, bells.

Upon finding Jolly Old St. Nick in chains they move forward to rescue him, only to have Sheldon cast a paralyzing spell on his companions. He then confronts Santa [or Leonard, in this case] and tells the heartbreaking story of how he asked Father Christmas for only one thing as a child, to have his grandfather back. He then walks out, leaving the old many to die.

In Conclusion

As far as really exploring well-established characters, Community probably succeeds the most, by virtue that it only has the one central plot that revolves around a single game of D&D. While it does feature Pierce continuing on his course to become more cartoonishly evil, Britta’s response to the beleaguered gnomes is a perfect example of how her character will react both in and out of the real world.

The IT Crowd and The Big Bang Theory tread the very similar ground. Moss uses the game to force Roy to come to terms with the love he lost, something that would have been impossible otherwise. Sheldon’s childhood experience with Santa Claus never would have come about without Leonard guiding him to that place where he could talk to the man who disappointed him.

My hope is that there will be a continuation of this trend, with there having being one D&D episode per year from 2010-2012. As the current DM of an ongoing gothic horror campaign I am well-aware of the storytelling capabilities of the game as well as how enjoyable it is to know people you know well deal when presented with fantastical situations. Although 2/3 of the above shows do feature “nerds” I’m sure that this could still appear in the more bizarre sitcoms, such as New Girl and Happy Endings.

How Community Could Be Better

Cue gasps of disbelief, wide-eyed incredulity, readers swooning in their seats. You read that right, this is a post that has the audacity to imply that there are aspects of the show Community that could be improved.

Before I begin, I sincerely hope that there are at least a few die-hard fans reading this. I realize that the show not being slotted for next year definitely has you in more sensitive a state than you normally would be, especially when shows of lesser quality (we’re all looking at you, Big Bang Theory) continue to stay on the air. I believe, however, that just because Community is a good show does not mean that it couldn’t be better (Dan Harmon forgive me).

A friend and I have been discussing the present season (which we are enjoying), and the news that NBC has announced about the show’s future has gotten us talking about what could make a good show even better. The list is as follows:

1) Bring Them Back to School

Let me be the first to say that I loved “Remedial Chaos Theory,” the episode with the seven alternate timelines. That being said, it also served as the third season’s segue to bring the study group out of Greendale.

Since then the episodes have been, at most, only loosely set at the college. “Horror Fiction In Seven Spooky Steps” had them telling tales à la The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror, the episode taking place more in their stories than in the study room they were actually in. “Advanced Gay” did a better job with Troy in the cafeteria and later in the bathroom with Jerry, the plumber, as well as having Pierce’s “Gay Bash” take place in the auditorium. “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux” is the Dean’s story,  so while it took place in the college, it wasn’t ultimately about the group.

Of the nine episodes I’ve seen so far (being posted this morning, I haven’t yet seen tonight’s) a third of them take place largely outside of Greendale. Of the other six, there’s surprisingly little time devoted to actual schoolwork, which leads me to my next point:

2) Have a Little Class

As a college student I may have a slight bias towards the show to begin with. The show taking place in a college, and having its cast deal with assignments and projects and so on creates a lot of relatability which I’ve really appreciated in the past. “Remedial Chaos Theory” may have been my favourite episode, but by taking the study group out of the college it lost of of that familiarity I had with their lives.

Season 1 of Community is notable for Spanish 101, and the mystery and inscrutability of its Chinese professor, Señor Chang. Season 2 brought in Betty White as the Anthropology 101 professor (name on the show not included since no one remembers/cares). Both seasons had the characters being active within their respective classes well the halfway mark.

Season 3 didn’t beat around the bush and got right to it with “Biology 101,” introducing Michael K. Williams as Professor Marshall Kane. His being an ex-convict makes him a teacher who don’t take none, and  it means Biology is a big contrast to classes the group has taken in the past.

Also, he’s really, really funny.

Ever since “Competitive Ecology,” the second episode of the season, we haven’t seen him, or his class again. If Community wants to introduce a new character (and one that has so much potential) it would be great to see them appear past the first two episodes.

3) Have Mercy on Ben Chang

For the majority of season 2 Community floundered with what exactly to do with Ben, no longer “señor,” Chang. He had sex with Shirley, squatted at Jeff’s apartment for a little while, and eventually began living at the college. Oh, and he was trying so, so hard to join the study group.

This season has him acting as a college security guard and, well, that’s about it. “Geography of Global Conflict” and “Competitive Ecology” are where we see him own his role as security enforcer, but after the second and third seasons he’s been making courtesy appearances at most.

I don’t know whether the show has gotten to the point where they can’t afford Ken Jeong any more, since he was in a few movies this year and maybe his pay rate rose a little. The fact is that he went from “What’s the show doing with him?” to “Where is he?” this season, and I think most Community members think back and miss the time when he was in a position of power above the group, and the ways he abused that power.

4) Where Are We Going?

Season 1 was about Jeff. He was the ex-lawyer and the tenuous glue of the group and we all knew him and Britta were going to shack up eventually. Season 2 had a pregnant Shirley and a strangely Bond-villainous Pierce.

Season 3, thus far, is about them moving out (and, consequently, on). Troy and Abed’s apartment has taken up two solid episodes (and a half) of this season, and while we all knew that if Community passed Season 4 that would be it for Greendale, I personally didn’t think this transition period would be so quick in coming. Dan Harmon has plans for the show post-college, but he’s moving his characters out a little too quickly. It would be nice if they could slow down a little, and explore the dark recesses of their campus before escaping into the real world.

Beyond that, I’m not really sure what this season is going for. There hasn’t really been a focus on any one character (though Troy’s plot between the forces of plumbing and air conditioner repair is riveting, to say the least). I love that the study group spends time together both in and out of campus, but we’re lacking that conflict that seemed pretty apparent in the past couple of seasons.

5) We Should See Other People

There’s a bit of overlap here with my first and second points, but here goes. The show has given us characters like Fat Neil, Vicky, Quendra, Leonard, Britta’s boyfriend with the tiny nipples, and, of course, Starburns. While they’ve been relegated to the backseat of the show for the most part, they’re a familiar cast in their own right and always a treat when given a bit of screentime.

The study group is what’s endeared us to Community, but their supporting cast is what’s added that extra dose of absurdity to their world, adding that surrealism that’s so characteristic of the show.

Closing Points

Community is a fantastic show, and easily one of my favourites on TV, NBC or otherwise. My worry is that the show is moving too quickly out of the college when there’s so much, still, that could be done. I’m as afraid of it not getting to its fourth season as anyone, but I don’t think that means it should be treating this season like its last.

Keep calm and carry on, is what I’d tell the writers. We’re all in it for the long haul, even if most of America isn’t. Give us the Season 3 you’d planned and live in the moment. I’d rather the perfect third season than one that steps around awkwardly, unsure if and when it’s getting pulled off the air.