“The Lunar Excitation”
May 24th, 2010
“What’s life without whimsy?”
In the age of Ausiello (a dark age if I’ve ever heard of one), there are no more surprises: we’ve known for months that Sheldon would be “getting a love interest” in the form of Mayim Bialik, so any of the sudden shock at the events of “The Lunar Excitation” never really materializes. We’ve had months to think about how the show was going to negotiate Sheldon experiencing something vaguely approaching a romantic connection after having made the argument that the character is “in love with science,” so it’s not like we didn’t know this was coming.
The question for me was just how they would maneuver Sheldon into this situation, and how they would either maneuver him out of it or transition into a new facet of his personality. Ultimately, the final two questions are going to have to wait until next season, but I quite liked “The Lunar Excitation” in terms of how it got Sheldon to the point of being willing to (sort of) put himself out there (quasi-)romantically. It’s not, perhaps, the complex investigation of Sheldon’s social interactions which speaks to his greater neuroses that some part of me desires, but when you consider what this storyline could have become I think we have to consider ourselves lucky: Jim Parsons remains funny, Sheldon’s character is never compromised, and the series resists “duping” Sheldon into becoming a part of the charade.
“The Lunar Excitation” actually does quite well with both of its storylines, delivering a nice parting note for Penny and Leonard which leaves their relationship in a more complicated place than I had imagined heading into the summer. The finale also had a certain energy to it, with the sense of whimsy which was absent in the show during some of its third season episodes restored. It’s a whimsy which bodes well for the fourth season, even if I do have some questions about just how this is all going to play out in September considering the events in the episode.
And frankly, I’m just glad that I’ve got something to chew on with the show, considering its propensity to tie things off in a neat bow.
“The Wheaton Recurrence”
April 12th, 2010
There are two things that the Big Bang Theory isn’t particularly good at, and they include handling serious dramatic situations within its comic tone and the integration of guest stars beyond their initial appearance. The show has always shied away from any sort of realistic emotional tensions in favour of a cheap joke, and characters like Christine Baranski’s Dr. Hofstadter were novel upon their first appearance and felt like a big ol’ sitcom cliche in their next.
“The Wheaton Recurrence” does little to change either of these facts, even if one could argue that there was positive momentum on the emotions front. There’s a difference, ultimately, between actually dealing with emotions and featuring emotions in a major storyline: while this episode forces Penny and Leonard to consider the state of their relationship, it’s something the show should have done a long time ago, and something that we should have seen some evidence of in earlier episodes. Nothing about their revelations feels particularly natural, and the lack of either a rising action or a proper denouement makes any sort of “event” in the episode seems like a wasted opportunity.
Which, I guess, is preferable to a waste of time.
“The Maternal Congruence”
December 14th, 2009
When running through the Big Bang Theory’s first and second seasons, there is no question that Christine Baranski’s appearance as Leonard’s mother was a highlight for me. I like Baranski in general, and I thought that the idea that Leonard grew up with this level of psycho-analysis was a nice bit of back story for his character, and seeing her interact with Leonard, Penny and perhaps more importantly Sheldon (who she clearly connects with more than her own son) was a lot of fun.
However, these kinds of characters don’t always work when you bring them back again. With the novelty factor gone, the jokes can become stale even if the actress is as good as Baranski (or as good as Elaine Stritch, whose Colleen Donaghy has seen diminishing returns on 30 Rock with every appearance). And parts of “The Maternal Congruence” act as if Beverly Hofstadter’s return is funny because it unearths the same jokes, like Penny’s father issues or Raj and Howard’s latent homosexual feelings, which is the sort of repetition that does the show no favours.
The episode seems smart, however, in how it plays up the ramifications of Sheldon and Beverly’s relationship, allowing it to evolve beyond a single observation (that Sheldon is more like Leonard’s Mother than Leonard) to its psychological impact, allowing Leonard to actually get angry rather than just annoyed with the way his mother treats him. But as opposed to stretching its characters to allow the ramifications of their relationship to really come to the surface, the episode goes down an entirely different path, getting everyone drunk and making fools of themselves to provide a raucous conclusion.
Like many good guest stars, Baranski elevates the material, but forgive me if I can’t help but have a case of Big Bang Theory Weltschmerz: I look at the ideal episode in my head, and then at what we’re actually given, and I can’t help but be a bit saddened (especially considering how the show ended its Christmas episode last year).
“The Gorilla Experiment” or “The Athens Recurrence”
December 7th, 2009
I wasn’t blogging about The Big Bang Theory when the show began, so I’ve never really commented on its titling structure. Each episode becomes a theory, which is totally logical and has resulted in some titles that make episodes seem momentous and potentially life-changing (even if they rarely are). Something like “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis,” though, really captures what makes that episode work, and especially captures Sheldon’s character and the value the show places on him.
That’s interesting with “The Athens Recurrence” (Edit: which apparently was a title that got changed to “The Gorilla Experiment,” which makes this paragraph either irrelevant OR potentially indicative of why it was changed) is that it simultaneously points out how recurrence is both an overwhelmingly positive thing in this universe (which is almost always improved when supporting characters recur and provide a sense of seriality) and a persistent problem (in that the same storylines keep recurring without any real sense that the show is changing). And while I’ve accepted that the former isn’t going to happen, and that the latter is inherent to the show’s setup, there are some times when the show pushes my button by teasing the former but ultimately accepting the latter.
If I had to place this episode within that paradigm, it’s ultimately a wash. I like that we’re seeing a recurring character like Bernadette sticking around, but at the same time the storyline ends up being distinctly unpleasant. And while I thought Sheldon and Penny’s storyline was as charming as their interactions always are, there was an inherent long-term question (basically, why Penny still feels insecure about her intelligence in her relationship with Leonard, and how it feels to have him so quickly latch onto Bernadette) that gets entirely glossed over. It made for an episode that’s great as a logline, but was actually more of a mixed bag than I would have expected.
“The Electric Can Opener Fluctuation”
September 21st, 2009
There are things about The Big Bang Theory that I would consider outstanding. Jim Parsons, without question, is one of them. And on occasion the nerd driven humour, when not operating in spite of the central nerds but rather celebrating them, is legitimately charming. But when the show ended last season, it was not even close to outstanding, settling for a solid “average” on a whole thanks to a mean streak that I honestly don’t understand. While the Television Critics’ Association quite illogically named it “Outstanding Comedy Series,” the show frustrated me even in its second season by turning on its star, Sheldon, in a split second. The finale, as everyone packed up to go to the Arctic, was filled with the other characters (who are supposed to be Sheldon’s friends) desiring to kill themselves as opposed to spending three months confined with Dr. Cooper.
And as it returns from the break, the show remains off course for my personal tastes, taking a step towards an ill-fated relationship between Leonard and Penny and (more dangerously) continuing to subject Sheldon to the kind of treatment usually reserved for lepers. The episode has Leonard, in particular, treat Sheldon in a reprehensible fashion and as a nuisance keeping him from hooking up with Penny, and while this results in some fun material for Jim Parsons and some always charming Penny/Sheldon scenes, it also brings out the worst in the show’s other characters and is resolved without once holding Leonard responsible for his terrible behaviour.
It’s just another example of why, for all my love for Jim Parsons and particular scenes featuring Jim Parsons, this is ultimately a show that in its focus for the future is out to anger me as much as humanly possible.