Barbara Stanwyck and her nerdy professors in Howard Hawks' irresistible "Ball of Fire" (1942)On the surface, Chuck Lorre's darling of a sitcom, "The Big Bang Theory," would appear to be the heir apparant to Paul Feig's "Freaks and Geeks," the short-lived 1999 sitcom on which Judd Apatow famously worked as a writer. But, actually, Lorre's show comes from a much-sturdier pedigree.
Consider it an updated take on Howard Hawks' eminently playful 1942 comedy, "Ball of Fire" (from an original screenplay credited to Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, who borrowed from the "Snow White and Seven Dwarfs" fable), which offerd up a brassy Barbara Stanwyck as Sugarpuss O'Shea, a burlesque dancer who falls in with eight bookish professors assembling a dictionary of slang. (One of them is Gary Cooper, younger and more attractive, but no less proper and nerdy; the other seven are played by studio stalwarts Richard Haydn, O.Z. Whitehead, S.Z. Sakall, Tully Marshall, Oscar Homolka, Leonid Kinskey and Aubrey Mather.)
"The Big Bang Theory" casts the talented comedienne Kaley Cuoco (formerly of "8 Simple Rules... for Dating My Teenage Daughter") as Penny, a starving actress/waitress whose walk-up apartment is across from one shared by two brilliant but socially retarded physicists, played by Jim Parsons (an Emmy nominee this year) and Johnny Galecki. (There are two more endearing nerds on hand - Simon Helberg, hilarious as a would-be Jewish womanizer, and Kunal Nayyar, plus Sara Gilbert as an acidic colleague; alas, there is no Gary Cooper equivalent here.)
Both shows, each brilliantly written, are about game women tying to get uptight men to loosen up, and "The Big Bang Theory" is every bit as literate, sophisticated and genuinely funny as "Ball of Fire." Luckily, it has found more success than "Freaks and Geeks": "The Big Bang Theory," aired every Monday at 9:30 p.m. (est) on CBS, is now in its third season.
Kaley Cuoco and her nerdy professors in Chuck Lorre's irresistible "The Big Bang Theory" (2009)