The Big Bang Theory – “The Classified Materials Turbulence”


“The Classified Materials Turbulence”

May 4th, 2009

I’ve been writing about sitcoms as part of my thesis work, and in doing so I’ve had to define the traditional sitcom in its more basic terms for an academic audience that won’t have quite my obsession with television. So I figured now would be another time to stop by with my new friends at The Big Bang Theory, a series that fits into the mold of actually being able to just “stop by” so to speak. I haven’t yet started catching up on the series, so I’ve still got thirty odd episode episodes to dig into.

This one, admittedly, didn’t do much for me outside of the elements that I find most engaging in the series; it’s clear to me that I’m going to have to spend a number of episodes wishing that the show is spending more time with Sheldon than Leonard, and that I’m going to expect more out of some of the storylines than the show is willing to offer.

First and foremost, I found Sheldon’s cerebral analysis of the fact that the poop jokes were not subject to diminishing returns funny, but not convincing: I know that this is a sitcom, but Bill Prady could only do so much with Chuck Lorre’s enormously tired poop jokes. The dynamic of the cast meant that the jokes were funnier than they were written, don’t get me wrong, but after a while I wanted Wolowitz’ space toilet to be resolved and allow them to move onto something else.

It didn’t help that the other plot in the episode was one of the elements of the series that, in my brief exposure to it, I just don’t buy: Leonard and Penny as a couple just doesn’t ring true for me, and treating it like your signature “fated romance” feels false in a show where romance should be far more unique and distinctive. I also, admittedly, don’t actually like Leonard that much, as his jokes don’t seem to hit as hard and I just find his position in between geek and normal human beings odd in the show’s dynamic.

The result of this focus was that Sheldon was in the background, but Jim Parsons remains hysterical. After last week’s episode (which screened at PaleyFest) and this one, it’s clear that he elevates all characters that he works with: when Penny interacts more with Leonard she seems far less of a character than when she is interacting with Sheldon, and Sheldon pulls the best material out of Leonard. Parsons particularly nailed the great conversation where he discussed the social contract of leaving a message, which was really charming and made me think of the kinds of scenarios that Prady discussed during the PaleyFest panel.

I think my frustration with the series can best be felt in the final scene at the space station, which had one key problem: it wasn’t funny. The opportunity to show what happened with the toilet had all sorts of options, whether to surprise the audience or to tie together a joke or two in the episode, but it was only the logical result of their failure: poop goes everywhere, and the astronauts want to get out of there. I don’t just want this show to put forward highly stereotypical sitcom ideas, put them in the hands of characters who are (for the most part) compelling, and then put them to their logical but unimaginative conclusions.

In other words, I don’t want Bill Prady and the cast having to make up for Chuck Lorre’s boring ideas only to have the boring ideas be each episode’s end point. In the mean time, though, give me more Sheldon.

Cultural Observations

  • Seriously, where was Penny in this episode? I find it problematic that, in an episode where her romantic escapades were a major plot point, we saw no part of the date and very little of the aftermath. Was Kaley Cuoco too busy NOT filming her Grey’s Anatomy cameo for them to film the scene where she blurted out Leonard’s name? Give the poor girl a scene, people!
  • I did enjoy Sheldon’s speech on the idea of, being told something is mind-blowing, of having your mind pre-blown – his “try putting them back on” during his revenge was particularly clever and enjoyable.


Filed under The Big Bang Theory

3 responses to “The Big Bang Theory – “The Classified Materials Turbulence”

  1. Tom Hanks

    True, but what of the dramatic interest seeded from the Penny/Leonard romance? Does this not have academic merit?

  2. I like Sheldon as well, but there have been plenty of Sheldon-driven episodes this season. I think it’s good that he’s not the main focus every week, and this way, he doesn’t end up like Urkel.

    I know in the past, when watching some Sheldon-driven episodes back to back, I get tired of it, and just wish people would tell him to get over himself.

    I like the Penny/Leonard romance angle, but it took a wrong turn this season. After their first date last year, this year, they just seemed to go through the motions (after the first couple of episodes, there was no mention of their romance until recently). Even their reactions weren’t normal (no awkwardness at seeing each other, Penny not being jealous when Leonard started seeing someone else, etc.). Hopefully, they’ll get back on track now.

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