The Blind Side

Some reviewers have discussed The Blind Side in terms of a 'sports movie' (, an 'Oscar movie' or 'race-relations movie' (, or a 'female-as-lead-actor movie' ( This article is not a general overview and evaluation of the film and I will not be focusing on how the film sizes up to a conceptual model. This is an article about four scenes from the film. I will examine closely what is seen and heard and intersperse my own commentary throughout. I have put the scenes under the headings opening, midpoint, end of act two and climax to indicate their place in the plot. These are just general indications, broadly consistent with a range of common ways of describing plots, such as Syd Field's approach or Blake Snyder's approach ( The midpoint could easily be considered the scene following the one I have included, the end of act two could easily be considered either of two scenes following the one I have included, and the climax could easily be considered the scene before the one I have included; or each could be considered to involve several scenes together. I have deliberately not covered the full length of the film because I want to emphasise the 'micro aspects' of the film - not attribute a 'macro structure' for people to take away and treat as "the structure of the film."

Below is the trailer for The Blind Side:


The Blind Side starts with a blank (black) screen. A voice over begins:

“There’s a moment of orderly silence before a football play begins.”
Visuals come up - television coverage of football players on the field preparing for a play, as the voiceover continues.

The moment of ‘visual silence’ provided by the blank screen resonates with the moment of orderly silence described in the voiceover and the visuals onscreen.

“The players are in position. Linemen are frozen. And anything is possible.”
The ref blows the whistle.
“Then, like a traffic accident, stuff begins to randomly collide. From the snap of the ball to the snap of the first bone is closer to four seconds than five.”

This conveys that football can be a tough and dangerous game.

The play starts and the players are piled on the ground in seconds. The visuals rewind, with an accompanying rewind-whirl sound.
The play begins again, this time pausing a number of times for commentary to be provided.
“One Mississippi. Joe Theismann, the Redskins quarterback, takes a snap and hands off to his running back.”
“Two Mississippi. It’s a trick play. A flea flicker. Running back tosses the ball back to the quarterback.”
“Three Mississippi. Up to now, the play’s been defined by what the quarterback sees. It’s about to be defined by what he doesn’t.”
“Four Mississippi. March Taylor is the best defensive player in the NFL, and has been since he stepped onto the field as a rookie. He will also change the game of football as we know it.”

If you play the game skillfully, you can out-manouver opposition to your goals.

Joe Theissman gets taken down by a tackle from behind.

But it can be difficult to do it on your own without someone having your back.

“Joe Theissman will never play another game of football. Now, y’all ‘d guess that the highest paid player on an NFL team would be the quarterback, and you’d be right. But what you probably don’t know is that more often than not the second highest paid player, thanks to March Taylor is the left tackle. Because, as every housewife knows, the first checque you write is for the mortgage but the second is for the insurance. And the left tackle’s job is to protect the quarterback from what he can’t see coming; to protect his blind side.”

This sets up a major theme of the film, in which the game of football is a metaphor for ‘the game of life.’ The mood set up by this beginning is one of striving to overcome obstacles and working together to give people the chance to reach their potential.

Like a left tackle, Leigh Anne is tough and, by watching Michael’s back and allowing him to become part of her family, she and her family stop Michael from being taken out of the game of life by falling victim to the dangers of his environment. Reciprocally, Michael does the same for Leigh Anne by protecting her, to an extent, from the dangers she poses to her own happiness and full engagement in life.


Around the midpoint of the film, Michael proves himself to be an unusually good football player. What follows below is from the scene in which Michael proves his ability.

A player kicks Michael's helmeted head, while he lays on the ground after a play, and says "You black piece of crap."
Sean replies, "Ref! Are you gonna do something about this? He just kicked my boy in the head. And he cussed him."
The ref throws a yellow cloth in the air (indicating a penalty).
"Thank you!"
The ref calls the penalty as unsportsman-like conduct against Sean, to which he replies,"This young man plays for my team! My team! And I will defend him like he's my own son, against you or any other redneck son of a bitch!"
Midway through his last sentence, Michael restrains him from physically confronting the ref.
Michael says, "Don't worry coach. I got your back." He takes the yellow cloth, hands it politely to the ref and heads to center-field for the next play.

This indicates that Sean considers Michael to be on his team; in football and in life. Sean accepts him and tries to protect him in a way that his own parents had not. In return, Michael protects Sean from getting himself into trouble. Michael realises that it's not about whether the football game, or life, is fair. It's how you play the game, and live life, considering the situation you're faced with.


In order to get a football scholarship Michael has to achieve a certain academic grade, but he needs a good mark on a specific final essay to do that. He has a tutor, Miss Sue, who has been helping him with his studies.

Miss Sue says, "Why don't you write about Great Expectations? You're a lot like Pip! I mean, he was poor, he was an orphan and someone kind of found him. You should be able to relate to that."
Michael shrugs, uninterested.

Michael is not interested in a take on his life which tries to categorise him as a person into a pre-conceived character-type living out a pre-conceived story-type.

Miss Sue tells him that he has to pick one of the stories on the list to analyse for his final essay, and begins reading out titles. Sean calls from the couch in the adjoining room about Charge of the Light Brigade, which he says he loves. Feeling her authority to be challenged, Miss Sue asks rhetorically if Sean would like to do her job. Sean gives it a shot.
"All in the valley of death rode the 600. They named LSU stadium Death Valley because of this story. Alfred Lord Tennyson was writing about LSU Ole Miss (a football team)."
"You're kidding," Michael replies.
"No. It's a great story."
Miss Sue interjects, annoyed: "It's a poem!"

Miss Sue tries to undermine Sean's discussion of the poem's story by attempting to assert her expertise.

He continues, "Forward the light brigade. It's like the offense. Charge for the guns he said. It's the end zone. Into the valley of death rode the 600. Forward the light brigade. Was there a man dismayed? Not - though the soldiers knew someone had blundered."
"Someone made a mistake?"
"Yep. Their leader. Their coach."
"But why would they go ahead if they knew he messed up?"
"There's not to make reply. There's not to reason why. There's but to do and die. To the valley of death rode the 600."
Michael contemplates this for a moment.
"They're all gonna die, aren't they?"
"That's really, really sad."
"I think you just found something to write about Michael."

Sean continues, undeterred by Miss Sue's comment, and has Michael's interest. Michael realises that it is not always wise to follow an authority figure. An unthinking deferral of a person's own judgment to another person because of their position can lead to bad results.


Leigh Anne's cell phone rings.
Leigh Anne pulls up at the laundromat in her car. Michael is sitting inside. He looks at her through the window. She looks back.

This is the kind of look a mother gives her son. The kind of look that says 'You've gotten into trouble but I'm glad you're safe.'

"You think the police are gonna come and get me?"
"I'd imagine the last thing they'd want in Herd Village is a bunch of cops snooping around. I swore I would never ask this, but how did you get out of there Michael?"

This gains its meaning in the context of previous scenes in which we see Michael's old neighbourhood and some of the people who live and hang out there.

"When I was little and something awful was happening my mama would tell me to close my eyes. She was trying to keep me from seeing her do drugs or other bad things. And when she was finished all the bad things were over she'd say "Now when I count to three you open your eyes. The past is gone. The world is a good place. And it's all gonna be okay."
"You closed your eyes" (sighs) "You know when I was driving all over Kingdom come looking for you I kept thinking about one thing. Ferdinand the Bull."
Michael smiles.

Ferdinand the Bull is a story about a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight in a bullfighting stadium, regardless of attempts to provoke him. Michael listened to Leigh Anne read the story to her son SJ in an earlier scene, enjoying an experience that he did not get from his own mother. Leigh Anne's dialogue alludes to both her commitment to Michael, who she treats as being like her own son, and her confidence that Michael would not set out to start trouble or be easily pressured into it.

"I know I should have asked you this a long time ago Michael. But do you even want to play football? I mean, do you even like it?"
"I'm pretty good at it."
"Yeah you are. Sean and I have been talking and, Michael, if you're gonna accept a football scholarship, we think it should be from Tennessee. And I promise that I will be at every game, cheering for you."
"Every game?"
"Every game."
"But I will not wear that gaudy orange. I will not. It is not in my colour wheel and I am not gonna wear it."
He smiles.

Leigh Anne considers that, although she and Sean have helped Michael out, they may have also exerted unitended pressure on him to do what they wanted him to do. She realises that it is not enough for someone to have choices presented to them, but that they must also have a choice about determining what choices they have. It's not a matter of whether he wants to play football for one University or another but also about whether he wants to play at all.

"So you want me to go to Tennessee?"
"I want you to do whatever you want. It is your decision Michael. It's your life."
"What if I wanted to flip burgers?"
She looks up as if to say 'God give me strength.'
"It's your decision Michael. It's your life."
"Okay what!?"
He smiles.

Regardless of what Leigh Anne thinks would be best for Michael, she confirms that she thinks Michael should make his own choices.

I'll leave you with Michael's words from the film:

"Courage is a hard thing to figure. You can have courage based on a dumb idea or a mistake but you're not supposed to question adults, or your coach, or your teacher, because they make the rules. Maybe they know best. But maybe they don't. It all depends on who you are; where you come from. [...] That's why courage is tricky. Should you always do what others tell you to do? Sometimes you might not even know why you're doing something. I mean, any fool can have courage. But honour, that's the real reason you either do something or you don't. It's who you are and maybe who you want to be. If you die trying for something important then you have both honour and courage. And that's pretty good. I think that's what the writer was saying; that you should hope for courage and try for honour. And maybe even pray that the people telling you what to do have some too."

The Human Condition

The Human Condition is an epic trilogy set against the backdrop of World War 2 Japan and China, directed by Masaki Kobayashi between 1959 and 1961, with each film over 3 hours long. The technical proficiency with which they were made, in my judgment, stands up today as quality cinematography. The story is both epic and personal in scale.

Short summaries and some commentary on the three films are available on Wikipedia, on The Auteurs, and on Reverse Shot; and reviews are available on The New York Times, on Film Forum and on Slant Magazine.

Below is a Japanese movie trailer for The Human Condition (with English subtitles):

I will focus on the first of the three films and provide an extended summary indicating a succession of sequences that make up the plot, followed by some comments on the main character and the conflict in the story of the film. In all plot summaries some details are emphasised and some are left out. I have focused on the personal story of Kaji who has a duty, imposed by others, to manage a work-group of captive Chinese labourers but also a duty, imposed by himself, to treat the Chinese people under his care with compassion and respect.

Plot Summary (each segment corresponds to a sequence around 15 minutes long)

Kaji is transferred to run a labour camp in Lo Hu Liong, Manchuria (as an alternative to being drafted into the Army) where he will oversee Chinese captives working as slave labourers for a mine. Kaji’s fiancee Michiko decides to go with him rather than be separated.

Kaji settles into town and meets with friction from the mine management and guards, except on guard named Okishima.

Kaji begins to experience the true extent of problems related to the treatment of the captive labourers.

Kaji tries to oppose the use of ‘comfort women’ to motivate the male labourers. He also tries to report the murder of a labourer by one of the guards, but ultimately feels pressured to follow orders on both issues.

One of the comfort women and a labourer named Kao plot an escape for Kao so they can go away and be together, and Chen, a young Chinese-born Japanese labour camp employee, who Kaji relates to, works on getting some flour for his mother despite rationing. Kao’s companion seduces Chen into shutting off the camp’s power supply to enable Kao’s escape.

Kaji deals with the aftermath of an escape and the Kempeitai (miltary police) will now hold him personally responsible for ensuring there are no more escapes.

Kaji wants to keep the labourers safe in the camp, as the likelihood of being killed by Japanese soldiers after escaping is high. They want to escape. Guards plan to allow an escape to be plotted so they can foil it, scaring the labourers into compliance and receiving credit from their superiors. Kaji wants to put more trust in the labourers than Okishima does, and Okishima resorts to cruel treatment of the labourers to keep them in line because he doesn’t want to be punished along with Kaji if there is an escape.

Relationships have been split. There is hope, but danger looms – for the three major parties; Kaji, Okishima, and the labourers – as an escape plot forms. Complete or partial success for one or two of the three means failure for one or two of the others.

Chen is supposed to cut off power to the camp’s electrified fence, as a double agent to the escaping labourers while really betraying them to the guards. He fails to shut off the power when he turns back in an effort to save the escaping labourers. But when he also fails to warn them in time, they die on the fence and he deliberately runs at the fence and takes his own life.

Kaji grieves in the aftermath of the deaths, blaming himself for reluctantly striking Chen when he stole some flour, before hearing that a new group of alleged escapees will be executed.

Kaji tries to do something about the executions; his first preference is to prevent them and his second option is to protest their deaths to those in positions of power in the Japanese administration.

Kaji suffers through the execution of several men, which he is made to watch, before leading a mass gesture of defiance that ends with the remaining executions being called off.

Kaji is beaten and relieved of his duties for treason but let go… to be drafted into the Japanese Army and sent to the front. This means Kaji and Michiko will be separated from one another.

Kaji – a character with principles and integrity

According to Ryan Niemiec and Danny Wedding (as featured in the Cinema and Fiction article on their book Positive Psychology at the Movies), integrity “relates to authenticity, wholeness, and honesty. People strong in integrity ground their behavior in personal values, abide by their convictions, and treat others with respect […] eschewing pretense, hypocrisy, and subterfuge.”

Kaji maintains his own personal integrity through extreme hardships and never turns his back on his principles for personal gain. Many times throughout the three films, Kaji places the welfare of others over his own. His personal hardships, as opposed to those of people around him, could have been avoided by going along with the status quo and ignoring the suffering of people around him. Kaji, however, stands up for them despite the heavy penalties for himself.

The story conflict - not just a simple case of protagonist and antagonist

Many people teach that good stories have a protagonist and an antagonist. However, The Human Condition does not have such a clear cut singular two way division as many fictional stories and films. By that I don’t mean the conflict was ambiguous – it was quite clear – but there was no singular two way conflict to attribute as the defining conflict of the plot.

A topical comparison to clarify this is James Cameron’s Avatar. While Avatar has been compared to many films since its release, it provides a good basis for comparing the main conflicts in The Human Condition. In The Human Condition there are two groups of people, with one group in a much stronger position than the other and whose leaders have a goal that will make the people in the other group suffer. Then a character unexpectedly finds themself an insider to both groups with primary loyalty to the stronger one. Over the course of the film, the character becomes more and more aligned with the other group. At the end of the film, the character betrays the first group and asserts their loyalty to the second. This also matches the plot of The Fast and the Furious (the 2001 street racing film; not the 1955 film of the same name produced by Roger Corman). While there is also a comparison of Avatar to Pocahontas going around the internet - like the comparisons of Harry Potter and Star Wars, Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz etc that have gone around - these comparisons are based on selected details and only pay attention to elements of each story to the extent that they match the comparison. These films are all very different in many ways. As with Avatar and The Fast and the Furious, if you wanted to attribute a simplified two way conflict between a protagonist and antagonist to The Human Condition you would have to choose whether the protagonist and antagonist are two sides of Kaji’s character, or Kaji is the protagonist and the rest of the Japanese are the ensemble antagonist, or the Chinese are the ensemble protagonist and the Japanese are the ensemble antagonist etc.

As in the Cinema and Fiction article about Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, by providing conflict situations focusing on more than two characters Kobayashi presents opportunities for viewers to consider a range of aspects to the situation, beyond just a two way opposition.

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THX1138, described by Steven Spielberg as "one of the greatest sci fi movies I have ever seen," was a commercial flop on release. This can be attributed both to its unusualness and the lack of enthusiam from Warner Brothers executives which lead to low marketing support for the film. However, it is an interesting piece of film history. Even for those who don't like the film, the director's cut DVD of THX1138 is a rich collection of material on the early years of George Lucas's filmmaking as well as the early years of Francis Ford Coppola's company American Zoetrope. It also has in depth discussion of the inner workings of the film and its making, and a sound-only track and masterclass on sound design with Walter Murch.

The DVD blurb reads:
A chilling exploration of the future is also a compelling examination of the present in George Lucas' THX1138, starring Robert Duvall as a man whose mind and body are controlled by the government. THX makes a harrowing attempt to escape from a world where thoughts are controlled, freedom is an impossibility and love is the ultimate crime.

George Lucas, in the DVD commentary, describes the film in terms of three distinct yet integrated sections with each section telling the same story in a different way. Act 1 tells the story in a "conventional" way, Act 2 tells it in an "abstract" way, and Act 3 tells it in an "action-oriented" way.


The "conventional" telling of "the enforcement of a social system to keep people in line," set in an artificial "bureaucratic emptiness."

We are introduced to characters in a setting in which each person's behaviour is heavily regulated and, as the characters are informed through the speaker system that reaches all, "for more enjoyment and greater efficiency consumption has been standardised." The characters are told to "increase production, prevent accidents and be happy." But two characters, THX and LUH are not entirely happy despite the common practice of regulating mood with medication served as part of each meal. When LUH illegally goes off her medication and secretly swaps the medication in THX's meal, they both become more aware of their dissatisfaction with their controlled environment and duties. Later, THX and LUH's unfocused performance of their work duties results in an industrial accident. LUH covers for THX and afterward they have an emotional connection and they express it physically, which is a breach of acceptable behaviour that gets them arrested.


The "abstract" telling of being "imprisoned within walls of the mind."

The second act can be considered the most 'unconventional' part of the film. It follows THX's imprisonment in a rather abstract minimalist white space with other prisoners who speak to one another as much about generalised philosophical themes as they do about their current situation. For viewers unfamiliar with the philosophical positions adopted by these characters and how they relate to one another, this section of the film can seem very strange and confusing. In the DVD commentary, George Lucas and Walter Murch have discussed how each of these prisoners correlates with a particular philosopher (or at least some of their main philosophical positions); they mention that SRT is Jean-Paul Sartre, NCH is Friedrich Nietzsche, and PTO is Plato (DWY seems to be John Dewey and CAM seems to be Albert Camus).

Some viewers interested in philosophy may consider this the most interesting section, but many others may consider this to be where the film falls apart. However, the final message of this section is fairly easily comprehended; as George Lucas puts it in the commentary, "if you believe something is true then it is; if you believe you're in a prison then you are." This point is driven home when THX and several other prisoners simply walk out of the abstract empty space they thought they were imprisoned in.

In Lucas's films following THX1138 he uses clearer plots with more evident character goals. His next film, American Graffiti, took up a similar plot and theme told in a different setting. It is about a character "trapped in a small town, wanting to leave but being afraid to leave." Similarly, in Star Wars, Luke wants to leave the desert environment of his home planet but stays out of a sense of duty to his uncle and aunt until their deaths serve as a catalyst for his decision to leave.

The philosophising aspect so prominent in the second act of THX1138 has been made more subtle in Lucas's later films, as character and plot are foregrounded. A filmmaker who, in my judgment, seems to have taken up a similar philosophising aspect (possibly with a strong direct influence from Lucas) and falls somewhere between THX1138 and Lucas's later films in this respect is Mamoru Oshii, who is most widely known for his 1995 animated film Ghost in the Shell.


The "action-oriented" telling of THX's physical escape from his controlled environment.

This is a chase sequence as THX makes his escape, on foot and by vehicle. He is pursued via a co-ordinated effort of those working to control the people in this environment, but ultimately he escape due to their underallocation of resources in an effort to catch him in the most efficient and therefore cost-effective way. The film ends as THX emerges from this controlled (and, as it turns out, underground) environment onto the surface, silhouetted in the sunlight he is experiencing for the first time.

As Lucas has put it: "The film is about a hero that lives in an anthill and dares to go outside; to do something different; to move away from the status quo."

(Comparison: Films like The Island (2002) and Logan's Run (1976) have a similar story of an escape from a controlled environment, however, both of these have a 'conventional' telling that spans the first and second act (or arguably all three acts) by adding the complication of the main character not only escaping but taking another character they care about with them. Like THX1138, the third act of each film has a strong chase or action-oriented focus.)

Sound in THX1138

Walter Murch, the sound designer of THX1138, has described on the commentary his process of designing the sound according as involving three discrete areas; dialogue, music, and sound effects.


Much of the dialogue used in THX1138 is the product of several techniques synthesised to create a integrated effect. For example: a particular line of dialogue may involve a reading of the line, the playing back of that line in a new environment which is recorded to capture the ambient echoing of that recording environment, and an electronic manipulation of that second recording.

(Comparison: A very similar sound process was used for the animated feature Monster House and covered on the DVD features)

As with the Star Wars films, some characters' dialogue was recorded on set and some, such as the police droids, had their dialogue overlaid later.


Music is not very prominent in THX1138, in favour of the musicality of carefully designed dialogue and sound effects.

Sound Effects

Walter Murch explains the sound effects in great detail on the DVD and points out that generally "you seem to accept them at face value as something that comes from the visuals and not something that filmmakers use to create an effect." Murch's approach to sound effects is an in depth optimisation of the whole sound experience to design a particular effect.

This level of attention to detail with sound has carried on with Lucas's Skywalker Sound and a good example of this can be found on the DVD extras of Mamoru Oshii's The Skycrawlers. Another Oshii film, Avalon, is a good example of highlighting the interplay of each of these sound components. In Avalon, Oshii uses spoken dialogue and vocals sung on the soundtrack in Polish (subtitled in a language the viewer understands, unless that viewer understands Polish or chooses to watch in Polish without subtitles), writing seen in the setting in English, and a sparse soundscape for much of the film with only specific sound effects heard - contrasted with a sequence in which the sound is a more 'conventional' recording of the setting.

(Further reading: has some very good content on film sound and also has a range of content featuring Ben Burtt, the sound designer for Star Wars and many other films.)

The Making of THX1138 and the Early Years of American Zoetrope

The DVD features separate documentaries on the making of the film and on the early years of American Zoetrope. I found these documentaries to be compelling viewing focused on several young filmmakers who wanted to make films and have them distributed without conforming to the standard employee arrangements of the major film companies. There are some major ups and downs but ultimately Lucas, Coppola, Murch and others managed to make films which they could commit to making or contributing to with genuine conviction and avoid the contrivance of serving the controlling interests of others.

Combined with the features on the Star Wars Trilogy box-set (episodes 4,5 and 6), the THX1138 DVD provides considerably detailed coverage of the rise of George Lucas (and some of the people around him) from film student to film giant.

The Big Bang Theory

I will provide some discussion of story/character development, character dynamics, the contribution of the plot format of episodes, what generates comedy, and summarise some specific episodes in terms of story.

Story/Character Development

Each season, a distinctive phase in the relationships of the characters is developed:

Leonard seeks a relationship with a woman (and slowly builds confidence in who he is).

Sheldon struggles to tolerate people he considers to be his intellectual inferiors (and slowly learns about getting along with others).

Penny develops a less superficial attitude and comes to consider a serious relationship with Leonard.

Leonard and Sheldon’s friends, Howard and Raj, each add their own personality but have little ongoing character development.

Character Dynamics

Screenwriting theorist John Truby has suggested that TV shows work well with a main character who has four major sources of ongoing conflict, each embodied in another character. While this is one particular way of thinking about the characters and conflict of The Big Bang Theory, it can fit well. I will treat Leonard as the main character, since he is the character that has the most significant character development over the course of the series.

Many no doubt consider another character like Sheldon or Howard to be their favourite, or the most funny or entertaining. It could be strongly argued that the main purpose of a comedy show is to be funny and that, if there is a main character, it is the funniest one. However, my emphasis here is on story/character development that coheres an ongoing series with a continuing narrative.

Understood in these terms, the major characters can be treated as:

Main Character

Main Support Characters
Minor Support Characters

Occasional characters
The show has a range of characters who appear in some episodes but not others. These include work colleagues, friends, family, and love interests of the major characters (such as Leslie Winkle, Dr Gablehauser, Sheldon’s mum, Penny’s ex-boyfriend, Howard’s mum, Raj’s parents via videocall on his laptop).

Episode Plot Format

The main characters and tone of the show are introduced in the opening scene of each episode, and hint at the story to follow.

Each episode has a self-contained story; that is, each episode makes sense on its own, even if a person hasn’t seen the episodes before or after it.

Each episode contributes to long term story/character development.

The plot form varies mildly from one episode to the next.

(Comparison: Inspector Gadget and CSI each have a consistent format for the plot of each episode with little variation of plot form, while Coupling and How I Met Your Mother each have wide variation in plot form among episodes.)

The final episode of each season has a cliffhanger ending involving unanswered questions about the future of Leonard and Penny’s relationship.


Comedy is developed using:


Each character has traits that can be contrasted with the traits of one or more characters; others and themselves. Take the following as a short example:

In Episode 6, Leonard, dressed as a Hobbit, is in a verbal confrontation with Penny’s towering ex-boyfriend, dressed as a caveman. Sheldon, dressed as the Doppler effect, says:
“Let me remind you: while my moral support is absolute, in a physical confrontation I will be less than useless.”
Leonard’s small physical stature is contrasted with Penny’s ex’s tall, muscular stature.
The symbolism of Frodo as a small character who stands up against big obstacles is also contrasted to a typical stereotype of a caveman as intellectually inferior.
Leonard’s compromise between nerd and popular appeal with his Hobbit costume is contrasted with Sheldon’s uncompromising attitude of dressing as the Doppler effect whether people at the party understand it or not.
Sheldon’s mighty intellectual ability is contrasted with his feeble physical ability.

Incongruence can also refer to contrast with the expectations of audience members, rather than things being directly contrasted with one another within the show.


Odd-coupling can be considered an aspect of incongruence, but it specifically refers to very different characters being brought together, providing the fuel for ongoing conflict over their differences.
(Comparison: The Odd Couple in which a neat guy and a messy guy share an apartment, Ned and Stacey in which a man and woman with little in common share an apartment while in a sham marriage.)

Compound Story Predicaments

(Comparison: Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm both feature plots in which a predicament leads to more and more complications, gathering layers of conflict in a ‘snowball effect’.)

An extreme example is Episode 10 in which Leonard and Sheldon hide in the lobby of their building when they hear Penny’s appalling singing coming from upstairs. Penny comes down and invites them to her singing recital, while they pretend to be throwing away the chicken they have just bought. Leonard lies to Penny about having a conference to go to when her recital is on. Later, Sheldon is uncomfortable with how easily he thinks Leonard’s lie might be uncovered… so he comes up with an elaborate lie that Leonard made up the conference to cover for Sheldon who needed Leonard as emotional support for a drug intervention for his troubled cousin. This snowballs to an outrageous situation in which an actor hired by Sheldon, with maverick ideas about how to play his role, is living with them indefinitely as Sheldon’s troubled cousin, and playing on Penny’s sympathy.

Episode 3 has mildly compounded story predicaments at all points throughout the story:
Leonard goes over to Penny’s apartment with mail he has taken as an excuse to talk to her.
Discovering Penny kissing another guy, Leonard is disillusioned and takes up Sheldon’s suggestion that he should ask out his work colleague, Leslie Winkle.
After trying an experimental kiss, Leslie gives a technical evaluating concluding that she has no romantic feelings for Leonard.
Leonard’s disappointment over Leslie’s lack of feelings for him encourages him to ask Penny to dinner. She mistakes Leonard’s invitation for a friendly invite to eat with his group of friends. Rather than clarify the misunderstanding Leonard tries to manipulate ‘dinner with friends’ into a dinner date.
Extremely nervous, Leonard suffers first through Sheldon’s sarcastic indifference to his problem then Sheldon’s farcical attempts to console him through a panic attack, before stumbling through his dinner ‘date.’
On arriving home, when Penny asks if their dinner was meant to be a date, Leonard gives a really awkward response, before blaming that response on a concussion sustained during the dinner.


(Comparison: Roger in American Dad is often involved in comedy based on pretending to be someone else due to his need to hide his identity from others; the main character in Psych fraudulently pretends to be a psychic and builds a career out of solving crimes ‘with his psychic abilities’)

Episode 10 (discussed above) is a prime example of pretense:
Penny walks in and meets what she thinks is Sheldon’s troubled cousin who refused to go to drug rehab. Penny greets him: “Hi Leo. How are you feeling?”
In a dramatic movement, he slow raises his head until his eyes meet hers.
“Let me ask you something Penny. Have you ever woken up in a fleabag motel covered in your own vomit next to a transsexual prostitute?”
“Then don’t you ask me how I’m feeling!”
Then he ‘hides his face in shame’.
This establishes a difficult scenario for Leonard and Sheldon who have to go along with it to avoid Penny discovering the deception.

Specific Episodes

The first episode is summed up concisely on “Brilliant physicist roommates Leonard and Sheldon meet their new neighbor Penny, who begins showing them that as much as they know about science, they know little about actual living”.;summary

Below I have provided a longer summary of the story for episodes 1-2, and shorter summaries for episodes 3-5, as well as the season finale, episode 17, to give an indication of howfar the story has progressed by the end of the season. Each episode is split into 2 acts (separated by a commercial break, when screened on TV).

Episode 1

1) Leonard and Sheldon abort an attempt to sell their semen to a genius sperm bank.

They discover that their new neighbor, Penny, has moved in across the hall and Leonard decides they need to “widen their circle” but Sheldon doesn’t understand why this would be desirable.

Leonard awkwardly invites Penny to have dinner with himself and Sheldon.

Penny comes over.
Sheldon is abrasively honest about revealing Leonard’s attempts to compensate for his embarrassment about his life, and his contempt for Penny’s beliefs.
Penny’s entry level customer service job, superstition and relationship troubles contrast with Leonard and Sheldon’s lives.
Leonard allows Penny to use their shower because hers is not working yet.

Howard and Raj drop by.
Howard is feebly over-confident with women.
Raj is feebly under-confident with women.

Penny asks Leonard for a favour, which he (too) readily agrees to.

2) Leonard and Sheldon head to Penny’s ex-boyfriend’s to collect a TV.

Penny learns that Raj “can’t talk to attractive women.”

Leonard and Sheldon approach Penny’s ex to get the TV, after being shown how to get in the building by girl scouts. They get pantsed and head home empty handed.

Penny gets hit on by Howard, and rejects his advances.

When Leonard and Sheldon walk in the door, Penny offers to buy them dinner to make up for the pantsing.

Sheldon confirms that Leonard is “not done with” Penny.

They all head out for dinner together.

Episode 2

1) Leonard agrees to sign for a package for Penny, in an attempt to please her.
Howard is overly forward with Penny.
Raj is overly backward with Penny.
Sheldon is overly pedantic with all of them.

When the package arrives, it is a large, heavy TV cabinet which Leonard and Sheldon struggle to move up the stairs of their building.

When they get it upstairs, Sheldon is concerned by how untidy Penny’s apartment is.

That night, Sheldon sneaks into Penny’s apartment and cleans it, reluctantly aided by Leonard.

2) Penny feels violated by their intrusion in her apartment and rebukes them.

Leonard makes Sheldon apologise to Penny.

Penny speaks to Raj about the problem, and she mistakes his inability to speak to her for good listening.

Raj tells the others of ‘his talk’ with Penny.

Leonard apologises to penny.

Penny accepts Leonard’s apology.

They all discuss putting together Penny’s TV cabinet, but the guys’ efforts get sidetracked into a plan for a revamped cabinet with a heat sink and airplane grade metal sheeting, while Penny simply puts the cabinet together according to the instructions (things are back to ‘normal’).

Episode 3

1) Discovering that Penny is seeing someone, Leonard asks out Leslie Winkle but when they experiment with a kiss, she has no feelings for Leonard.
2) Leonard asks Penny to dinner, but when she mistakes his invitation for a casual meal with friends he tries to secretly manipulate the situation into a date.

Episode 4

1) When Sheldon gets fired for offending his new boss, he explores what life outside the university has to offer, to the dismay of Leonard who has to put up with a string of Sheldon’s eccentric projects.
2) On Leonard’s request, Sheldon’s mum visits to get Sheldon back on track.

Episode 5

1) Worried that he and Penny will never get together, Leonard ends up getting together with Leslie Winkle.
2) Leonard, after sleeping with Leslie, expects their relationship to continue but she treats it as merely satisfying a fleeting biological need.
On the other hand, Leonard has inadvertently sparked a little interest from Penny when she had mixed feelings over him going out with Leslie.

Episode 17 (season 1 finale)

1) Penny is outraged that her boyfriend Mike has posted details of her sex life on a blog, and Leonard accidentally convinces her to make up with Mike.
2) When Penny’s attempt to make up with Mike goes wrong, Leonard consoles her, and asks her out. She accepts. They both seek Sheldon’s advice on whether they’ve made a good decision to go out.

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