Winter 2021 quick hits: Big Bang Theory, The Undoing, Dexter

Big Bang Theory

I’ve struggled with comedy shows for the longest time. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. “I’m funny,” I would say. “Why would I want to watch other people be funny?” Except my viewing habits kept proving this wrong. I loved everything about Silicon Valley, devoured The Good Place with total enjoyment and stuck with Veep all the way to that weird ending.

So I tried more. I had a brief fling with Man With a Plan, but later realized the bond I felt from attending a taping was no bond at all. 30 Rock and I carried on a summer fling that grew stale when we tried to go steady. How I Met Your Mother gave me vibes before I ghosted it, though we may find our way back to each other in the someday. Insecure’s “broken pussy” had me rolling on the floor until that, too, grew stale. 

Now I have HBO Max (for Succession) and gave Big Bang Theory a shot. Like Insecure, the first episode was fantastic and earned legitimate laughs. Sheldon, the only character I really knew about going into it, was hilarious and wonderfully acted. It was evident why this became the biggest network sitcom since Friends. 

Except after watching the first 12 episodes I couldn’t stand it…because of Sheldon. His humor didn’t so much wear out as it transitioned to outright bullying his friends on every decision they make. He’s so loathsome I flat out hate him as a person and feel sorry for his friends for being his friends. Most of the time the show indulges in how awful he is, and there’s little enjoyment when it does.

That seemed to abate in season two, as if the writers realized this guy was literally the worst and had to soften him. I also enjoy how they haven’t made Penny into a stereotypical TV doofus. For her character to work—and in a way for this early version of the show to work—Penny has to be more intelligent than the men across the hall. 

Succession is over now, so I cancelled HBO. But I’ll pickup BBT again when I have it back. 

The Undoing

Have you ever felt like a TV series is cheating? That’s how I felt watching HBO’s The Undoing. Murder mysteries are supposed to come with rules about how key facts are revealed so viewers know we are watching a legitimate piece of storytelling. Good shows play into a shared set of rules, great shows establish their own. Bad shows run on showrunner’s whim. 

The Undoing is on showrunner’s whim. There was no mystery about who dunnit after the end of the first episode, but subsequent “reveals” seemed more like outright lies meant to make viewers think there was any actual mystery here. Nicole Kidman’s talents are mostly wasted. Hugh Grant is actually decent as a bad guy. Lily Rabe dominates every scene she’s in (like always). If you like marquee actors you’ll like The Undoing. But it’ll also piss you off. 

Dexter

I binged the first two seasons of Dexter a long time ago when that was all they had on Netflix. With it being on Amazon Prime now I figured I’d try reconciling. We really hit it off. Season two ended the Bay Harbor Butcher storyline, so I didn’t have to remember much besides Dexter is a serial killer and his sister hasn’t found out yet. That’s the show.

Season three’s self-contained storyline made good use of Jimmy Smits as Dexter’s first partner (in serial killing, not forensic analysis). I think that was a smart move at this point in the series because it opened a new avenue to explore its main character and sidestep the Criminal Minds “how many different ways are there to kill a guy?” Problem. It’s easy to imagine a version of Dexter that ran out of steam trying to re-run the same formula that succeeded in its first two seasons. Getting married and having a baby will bring the same fresh energy to his character in season four. I’ll get to that eventually. 

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