Tag Archives: Raj

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.

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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.