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'Big Bang' collapses under weight of nerd jokes

Kaley Cuoco costars with Johnny Galecki (front right) and Jim Parsons in CBS's new sitcom 'The Big Bang Theory.' Kaley Cuoco costars with Johnny Galecki (front right) and Jim Parsons in CBS's new sitcom "The Big Bang Theory." (GREG GAYNE/WARNER BROS.)

These two guys are really nerdy. Really, really nerdy. They're so nerdy they play Klingon Boggle and obsess over "Battlestar Galactica" DVDs and sketch out math equations on chalkboards in their spare time. They're so nerdy their social lives don't extend much beyond MySpace and MMORPGs - you know, Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. They're so nerdy, they . . .

And so it goes on CBS's "The Big Bang Theory," which clubs us over the head with the same that's-how-nerdy-they-are jokes over and over again. The sitcom, which premieres tonight at 8:30 on Channel 4, deploys the "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" zingers relentlessly and gleefully, as if they aren't as old as, say, the big bang theory. It's one of those laugh-track sitcoms that has exactly one comedy routine and just keeps hammering it home until, at last, you shut down and run for cover.

Johnny Galecki from "Roseanne" stars as Leonard, and he signifies Leonard's extreme nebbishness with a pair of big black-rimmed glasses and a silly Poindexter voice. Jim Parsons co- stars as Sheldon, Leonard's more neurotic and fussy roommate, who is prone to having little cranky fits. Both physicists, Leonard and Sheldon have huge IQs and zero social skills. Instead of "Dumb and Dumber," they are "Smart and Smarter."

The guys' comfortably cerebral existence is shaken up when a pretty waitress, Penny (the bland Kaley Cuoco), moves into the apartment next door. Strangely, Penny doesn't much notice that her new friends are on another plane of existence, except to comment that they're " 'Beautiful Mind' genius guys." Meanwhile, Sheldon and Leonard bumble their way through their new friendship, finally trying to retrieve her TV from her macho ex-boyfriend. They wind up without their pants, and without Penny's TV.

Don't get me wrong: This isn't a hateful half-hour, one of those sitcoms that screams bad sex jokes at you and asks you to listen to endless bickering posing as wit. Created by Chuck Lorre (of "Two and a Half Men") and Bill Prady, the show might even have been engaging, if the one-liners came less frequently and the characters had a little more dimension. As it is, Sheldon and Leonard are merely laughable, if sweet, and they are even less fleshed out than the characters on "Two and a Half Men." They are stick figures, albeit with slide rules in their pockets.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog/.

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The Big Bang Theory

Starring: Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco

On: CBS, Channel 4

Time: Tonight, 8:30-9

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