The Big Bang Theory – “The Plimpton Stimulation”

“The Plimpton Stimulation”

May 10th, 2010

For a few weeks, there has been plenty to talk about as it relates to the Big Bang Theory: with the dissolution of Leonard and Penny’s relationship, the show has been very concerned with ongoing storylines and character development, and as someone who values these qualities of the show more than the writers themselves this has made for some episodes rife for analysis.

However, “The Plimpton Stimulation” has no such lofty goal: rather, it takes the show’s characters and lets them loose, bringing a sexually charged physicist into the picture and just sort of letting it play out. They theoretically create conflict between characters, but it never really crystallizes into anything beyond a few laughs, and while there’s a brief mention of the awkwardness surrounding Leonard behaving in this fashion so soon after his breakup it doesn’t really make any sort of statement about, well, anything.

I would have been perfectly fine with this, but the show had to drop in one single element which annoyed me so much that this “review” will end up more of a rant than I had anticipated – I call it “The Bernadette Injustice.”

The idea that Howard and Bernadette broke up off-screen is the most frustrating thing to happen on this show in a very long time, and I’m including Leonard and Penny getting together in this. I may complain about the way the show failed to really provide an understanding for why the two characters were together, but there was at least some comic potential for them to be together, and I don’t blame them for trying to see if they could make it work. However, Bernadette was a breath of fresh air earlier this season, someone who added something to the dynamic and elevated Howard’s character beyond the role of sidekick. I was just saying last week that I’d rather Howard get bumped to recurring and Bernadette return full-time, if only because then Penny could have someone she could hang out with. So to hear that the show not only broke up Howard and Bernadette but didn’t even have the decency to give the story a conclusion feels like sitcom malpractice.

It’s one thing when a story like the one in this week’s has no ramifications: we may never meet Judy Greer’s Elizabeth Plimpton ever again (and hopefully not considering the series’ struggles with diminishing returns with recurring guests), so there’s no expectation that Penny will always hold this against Leonard or that Raj will always fantasize about their time together. However, Bernadette was an actual character who recurred in multiple episodes and made an impression on Howard, and the show has a responsibility to the viewer for that to reach some form of payoff. For it to be tossed aside in a nonchalant fashion for the sake of a joke regarding a threesome is the sort of thing that demonstrates this show at its worst, turning against character development for the sake of a cheap gag. The oversexualization of the episode is a bit strange but not necessarily problematic if this is a standalone story, but for that to be used as an excuse to end a recurring storyline without cause seems incredibly bizarre to me.

On television shows like this one, we always sort of wonder what kind of life the characters are living when they’re not part of the show’s storylines, but with Howard I’m struggling to understand why his breakup didn’t create a change in behaviour. I guess I can accept that he’d be so ashamed that he would avoid telling them in order to maintain his reputation, but unlike a show like How I Met Your Mother we didn’t see any subtle differences in his character or anything to indicate that something was changing. There is just no consistency with how the show uses Raj and Howard, as this season has seen them get even less stories than in seasons past (where the two would at least branch off on their own on occasion). I know that this isn’t a show like HIMYM, and this episode was a fine example for that, but that just makes it more frustrating when the show creates something which brushes against that kind of potential and then writes it off like it never happened despite it having recurred in a number of episodes.

I liked that we got to see Sheldon’s neuroses funneled through his role as host for Plimpton, and Judy Greer is very funny even when playing with some less than stellar (though occasionally interstellar) material, so it’s not like the episode is a total waste. However, rather than just letting us enjoy the jokes and the characters in a mode where they are unburdened (or largely unburdened) by the long-term storylines ongoing, that decision to undercut Howard and Bernadette takes me out of that mode and frustrates me all over again. I actually think they did a nice job of handling Penny’s logical and non-dramatic reaction to Leonard turning into a manwhore, and I quite liked the tone set in the coda (where Penny judges him harshly without shutting him out of her life or anything like that), but that was so overwhelmed by everything else that it’s hard to give them too much credit.

If the show were to bring back Bernadette at a later point, having the two reconnect, then you could argue this would all be forgiven. However, it would still mean that the show sacrificed their relationship for the sake of a cheap joke, and the show would have still completely ignored a key moment in his relationship that we should have seen. It’s one thing to be vague in regards to Howard’s relationship with his mother, leaving us out of various stages and elements of their relationship, but we saw his relationship with Bernadette from the beginning, and to not show its end (or an important turning point should the show bring her back into the equation) is the sort of thing which keeps me from sitting back and enjoying episodes like this one.

I’m fine when they don’t bother creating any sort of serialization, but I have some issues when they implicitly (or explicitly) work against it for unjustified reasons.

Cultural Observations

  • Nitpick: how is it that we can hear Sheldon perfectly as he performs his odd urination ritual, and yet Sheldon’s yelling regarding Leonard sleeping with Plimpton is not overheard by Elizabeth in the same bathroom? Or maybe it was overheard and it just made her even more hot and bothered, considering her actions later in the episode.
  • I was pleased to see some self-awareness regarding Bazinga early in the episode – it still bugs me when Sheldon uses it as a finely tuned “catch phrase,” but as a punchline to his attempts at sarcasm it is much more successful.
  • Pleased that Raj now has one more circumstance in which he can speak to women, but can we get rid of that silly bit and just let the character grow a little? The show so rarely uses the “whisper” joke that whatever returns it gets are not worth the leap of logic necessary to believe the silly story.
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7 Comments

Filed under The Big Bang Theory

7 responses to “The Big Bang Theory – “The Plimpton Stimulation”

  1. lisa

    I’m far more irritated and concerned by the understanding in this show’s universe that women have no place except as mothers or lovers. At least with Bernadette we got to see her for more than a single episode, even if they never gave her the chance to grow out of her role as the latter. (And honestly, Melissa Rauch deserves better than the material this show delivers. Excited to see how her show turns out next season!)

  2. James

    I was really hoping that they were saving Bernadette for the season finale and give Howard a really good moment. I’m unsure why the creators would introduce a reoccurring female character (1 of 2 since Sarah Gilbert’s character also vanished into the ether) and give her some very good and meaty episodes and then squander the opportunity to bring her into the continuity. Seeing this episode made me realize just how much I was looking forward to seeing Bernadette again. There must be a hooking up with Howard leads to mysterious off screen disappearance thing with BBT.

  3. On the point of Bernadette’s departure, Melissa Rauch both has a recurring role on True Blood’s third season and a pilot (ABC’s Wright vs. Wrong, which stars Debra Messing, Carrie Fisher and Cheryl Hines), so there’s reasons why she might not have been available to return either for a one-off or for the long term.

    However, while Bernadette not appearing in order to initiate the breakup is one thing, not even allowing the breakup to register for Howard as a character is quite another. The character needs as much development as the show can spare right now, and watching him go through a breakup (while perhaps problematically close to Leonard’s breakup with Penny) would have been a nice step in that direction.

    I’m sad to lose Bernadette, but even considering the extenuating circumstances they could have done much more.

    • belle

      I cannot agree with you more on The Bernadette Injustice. She is one of the few great recurring characters in the show (and one of the few who fits in with the entire main cast, as evidenced by her participating in one of their dinners at the apt – Heck, I would have loved to see her added to the show as a main cast member) and it bugs me to no end just how swiftly and randomly they cut her out of the show in one throwaway line for a can’t get anymore mediocre than that joke they tried to set up in this episode (the guys being asked to be in a fourway).

      ugh.

  4. Evamarie

    Bernadette and Howard had more chemistry than Penny and Leonard.

    I did like that the show had Leonard “move on” first in a way, instead of Penny immediately having a new boyfriend and he can sit around and pout like he always has.

    This is yet another episode this season that felt like the story needed more than 20 minutes. What about Sheldon’s reaction? A goodbye to her? Why no pass at Sheldon? Is his asexuality that obvious or was it something else? Lately all the episodes seem to stop in the middle and I’m left going “But… what? that’s it?”

    I can’t even start on Bernadette.

  5. Someone

    Has it occurred to people that Howard might just have said that out of desperation to get something done with Plimpton?

    Could be that.

  6. JJ

    I also thought that Howard might be lying, or something, just to get in on the three/four-way. I’d rather not think that the show really did just write Bernadette off in such a cavalier way.

    And I enjoyed the episode — and I thought it was funny — and I liked how it got more and more sexual — and yet, the whole time, all I could think was, Why isn’t that Amy Acker?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

    (Sorry, Myles, you invited the Whedonites in, now you have to live with us.)

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