December 12, 2011 12:00 PM

The Big Bang Theory

CBS, Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET/PT |

COMEDY

The chemistry of comedy may not be as complex as string theory, but my guess is it’s at least as challenging as rocket science. Which means that Chuck Lorre is close to a genius: The CBS lineup is dominated by his sitcoms Two and a Half Men, Mike & Molly and The Big Bang Theory, which is now in its fifth season and rules the Thursday-night ratings. Like other Lorre-coms, it’s bright and obvious as a cartoon, yet written with a clean, precise patter of jokes. It’s also very well cast. Here we have Jim Parsons, a two-time Emmy winner, as Sheldon Cooper, a physicist presiding over a group of brainiacs. Purse-lipped and thin as a test tube, Parsons suggests a more human Pee-wee Herman. He get laughs whether giving a line a rising note of panic or recoiling from a bird outside the window. The character occupies a middle ground between relatively normal pal Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and slightly disturbing sorta-girlfriend Amy Farrah Fowler (a glowering Mayim Bialik). But Parsons owns this cosmos.

Neverland

Syfy, Dec. 4 & 5, 9 p.m. ET/PT |

FANTASY

Every few years Syfy takes a children’s classic and puffs it up into a lavish alternate-reality miniseries. The results (like Tin Man, based on The Wizard of Oz) can be bloated nonsense. This Victorian-era prequel to Peter Pan works, mostly because Charlie Rowe plays Peter as a sort of ancestor to Harry Potter: a good-hearted, adventurous boy acquiring magic. And while it’s cumbersome to shoehorn in Tinker Bell’s backstory-did you know that fairies controlled Neverland’s mineral deposits? Now you do!-Keira Knightley’s voice gives her a silvery dignity.

Austin & Ally

Disney, Dec. 4, 8 p.m. ET/PT |

COMEDY

This latest Disney kid-pop package is about a shy but talented songwriter named Ally (Laura Marano) and her awkward new working partnership with Austin (Ross Lynch), a brashly unstoppable singer. What’s awkward is that they’re brought together only after Austin has ripped off Ally’s song and turned it into a viral sensation. Marano (sister of Switched at Birth’s Vanessa Marano) is at a disadvantage here-“demure” isn’t an easy thing to play in a Disney sitcom-but Lynch manages to make Austin more appealing than smarmy. And I liked the slapstick gag involving an old woman parted from her dentures.

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