“The Einstein Approximation”
February 1st, 2010
Jim Parsons does not need catchphrases, nor does he need running jokes. Over three seasons, Jim Parsons has consistently demonstrated comic timing and abilities that define this character in ways beyond “gags,” and which have made the character endearing when some of his actions could be seen as insufferable.
And so I don’t entirely understand why the writers seem to believe that Sheldon can best be defined by such shallow humour, as it makes what might have otherwise been a great episode (in that it focused entirely on Sheldon) into a frustrating one. The episode teetered on the edge of taking Sheldon into some potentially compromising places in terms of how the show treats the character, but it also showed a lot of great qualities of Sheldon when at his most obsessively one-minded. However, by occasionally falling back on his “catchphrases,” it ended up rubbing me the wrong way even if some of the content involved was hitting the mark.
Bazinga. Even uttering the word makes me shiver. I was discussing it with Kath during the episode, and she called me on being particularly joyless tonight (not an unfair observation, to be honest). And, like I said to her, I find joy in Sheldon, I find joy in Jim Parsons, but I just can’t find the joy in Bazinga. It’s not like with the whole “Knock Knock” thing, where I once had joy but that joy has since left me due to it being ludicrously overused as of late (frankly, once Penny immediately knocked back, the joke should have died). I have never seen what, precisely, makes Bazinga so funny. If the show had kept it as a catchphrase that Sheldon attempted to have catch on, that he believed to be funny, then perhaps the meta-joke would work. However, now the show (and Sheldon) are using it as a legitimate punchline, and any of its meta-potential is long gone. It’s just a word that Sheldon says which the audience is supposed to laugh at, which is lazy and entirely unnecessary.
I imagine a version of the Ball pit sequence where, instead of saying Bazinga every time he popped up, Sheldon simply gave a strange look, and frankly it’s the exact same scene, with the exact same laughs so long as we trust Parsons to find the right facial expressions. This doesn’t mean that there is never a place for Bazinga, or that Bazinga can never be funny. However, you can’t simply throw it into a scene with would otherwise be funny and pretend that Bazinga, in itself, is humorous, or else you risk getting scenes where Sheldon isn’t actually that funy, but Bazinga gets a laugh despite that. TV catchphrases are always driven into the ground, I understand that, but Parsons is doing the type of work that should defy traditional sitcom logic on catchphrases, and they’re just not letting the man do his job.
Overall, the episode featured some great moments from Parsons, although a few times the show stepped over the line in terms of depicting Sheldon as either mentally handicapped or a small child (which are not funny characterizations in the least) and in terms of depicting Sheldon as inconsistently self-aware. In the former category, the stuff at the ball pit ended in some nice physical comedy, and I was pleased to see Leonard actually ask if Sheldon was okay on the phone as opposed to something akin to “what has he done now,” but the security officer presuming he was “special” seemed off to me. Yes, the thesis of the episode was that Sheldon gets so obsessive that he ignores everything around him, such as locked doors and people’s feelings, but the show could have stuck with crazy as opposed to leaning towards a learning disability. As for the latter concern, Sheldon was certainly disrespectful to a lot of characters here, suggesting that he was so focused on one goal that he ignored any other social conventions, but yet he was entirely self-aware of Leonard mocking him during his stint at the Cheesecake Factory by being overly picky, or he corrects Leonard’s attempts to mock him in the cold open. He is self-aware when the writers want him to turn the joke around, but other times he is vicious without any sense of his actions, and that inconsistency paints a less enjoyable image of the character.
Along the way, the episode had some great moments: Sheldon tossing the white board out the window, Bernadette turning his lack of sleep into a science problem to make him gram some REMs, Sheldon flabbergasted that Howard would think he could ever use corn in addition to peas and Lima Beans, the existence of something called the Toad of Truth, Leonard and Howard’s roller skating outfits, etc. However, a lot of those moments where original or novel, and to me there was enough of them that Sheldon could have gone an episode without knocking on the wall behind Penny and Leonard’s bed, and he could have gone without saying Bazinga, and everything would have been just as joyful as it was without making me into a doombringer.
- Yeardley Smith is perhaps the most active as an actress amongst the female Simpsons voice actors, which is always interesting since she also has the most distinctive voice that can’t be associated from her character. She is what Lisa Simpson would sound like at her age, which is fine by me since I find Smith to be quite funny in any of her guest work (like here, or on Sports Night).
- I like the power shift of Bernadette being in control and an active character, but I dislike how it’s resulted in Howard now being cooler and more in control than Raj.
- A lot of physical comedy from Sheldon in this one: while it didn’t make the list above since the white board gag won out, his attempts to engage with his peripheral vision were a master class from Parsons.
- I’m willing to extend disbelief, but I refuse to believe that there wasn’t a single person at the Cheesecake factory who wouldn’t have thrown Sheldon out on his ass. What kind of open door policy does their kitchen have, precisely? I know they wanted to save money to keep from hiring someone to play a manager, but jeesh.