“The Monopolar Expedition”
May 11th, 2009
Okay, so, admittedly I don’t actually watch The Big Bang Theory recently, but this is the second episode I’ve stopped in on after really enjoying their PaleyFest panel, and it’s the second episode where I feel like there’s something missing. That something, believe it or not, is an ounce of ingenuity in the series’ broader storylines: these characters stand out on their own, and when doing things that only they would do, but this episode was such a bland sitcom episode at its very core that I don’t really think that it ever elevated itself beyond cute.
This, of course, isn’t a cardinal sin: there’s plenty of room on television for a cute sitcom that, when it’s at its best, can actually be quite funny. But what bothers me about Big Bang Theory is that it often feels like one show is trapped within the other, that characters are being held hostage by a show that doesn’t allow them to branch out of their accepted roles to be actually liked, appreciated, or understood outside of “very special episodes” that only happen ever so often.
The result is a finale that lacked that special something that made it distinct from, well, any other episode of the series, but that went through the motions of a sitcom finale so blandly that I couldn’t help but feel bored by, if not the jokes themselves, then the plot unfolding.
I’ve gotten in trouble before for wanting too much storyline or drama out of my comedies (Note to self: don’t interact with fervent Entourage apologists), but I don’t feel that I’m reaching that far with Big Bang Theory: the show loves to drag Leonard and Penny’s relationship out of the basement and dust it off every now and then, so it’s clear that they want there to be some element of drama and storyline on occasion. However, the show’s lack of commitment to this on a long term basis means that this more or less comes out nowhere: yes, the series drudged it up again last week, but the episode did almost nothing to explain why anything had changed between now and then other than “Arctic?! That changes everything!”
It’s lazy writing, plain and simple, and it’s frustrating because (like last week) we never got Penny’s perspective except for a single line where she admits that she’ll miss Leonard, but not to his face. I feel like Penny needs a friend, or a confidante, with whom she could actually share her feelings so that this relationship doesn’t just seem like Penny randomly deciding the guy across the hall is important to her whenever the writers think they need a jolt of drama in the proceedings. And although I haven’t been watching all along, it’s not like this was actually continuous with anything: it was just your usual sitcom “will they, won’t they” but with little to no build up and, thus, absolutely no suspense. The show has every ability to come back next season and pretend as if that conversation never happened, and I don’t expect the show will really adapt very much in the process.
Of course, I don’t buy that relationship or its value to the show to begin with, so perhaps I’m a bit biased: however, at the same time, I love Sheldon to death and thought that the way the plot (but not the jokes) handled him was just kind of mean. I know that Sheldon is difficult to deal with, but the way that Wolowitz so hated the idea of even spending a second with him seemed a bit harsh. One of the things that bugged me about the show early on (and kept me from watching it for a long time) was that it felt like the show was making fun of these characters more than celebrating them, but in this episode Sheldon was attacked too often for my liking. I don’t need the other characters to love him as much as we do, as they have to live with him, but after they were all so tight during the PaleyFest panel to see everyone turning on Sheldon seems wrong and forced in order to create drama that the show isn’t actually good at dealing with anyways.
That being said, I thought Sheldon was on fire all episode: if “season finale” means “let Sheldon loose,” then I certainly don’t mind. Jim Parsons is a true comic talent, and the take on the “Knock Knock Knock” gag with Penny knocking back at the door (while happening a bit too soon: what, was she standing directly behind the door as soon as he knocked?) was quite genius. I just wish that his storyline didn’t take me out of the show so much: if this was supposed to be a big moment for him as a character, why wasn’t it? We didn’t get a sense that he was particularly proud of this, and unless I’m mistaken it didn’t seem like it was a recurring storyline (please, correct me if I’m wrong). Similarly, while I understand the value of telling and not showing when you have Sheldon’s unique perspective reconstructing the events of his visit to the President’s house, part of me wanted to just follow the entirety of Sheldon’s story instead of everything else we were focusing on.
It’s clear at this point that the show won’t be changing anytime soon, and part of that is charming: I like Wolowitz’s mother (the Outback Steakhouse line was fun stuff), who I learned about at Comic Con, I like the consistent interaction between them all, and I enjoy the fact that there are four nerdy scientists who end up on an arctic expedition and who sit down to watch a double feature of horror movies set in frozen climates. My issue is that, when the show stops being a celebration of their friendship and starts being either a dramatic investigation or some sort of divisive force within their group, the show loses its footing. And while NOT being dramatic might seem like a solution to that problem, the show has characters that lend themselves to personal growth and advancement, and denying that is just as problematic.
“The Monopolar Expedition” was another sign that this show isn’t going to be something I’ll blog about on a regular basis, as I just end up saying the same things over and over again – however, since I’ve got no other comedies to catch up on over the summer, will probably dig into the first and second seasons further, and will tweet my thoughts as they come.
- I enjoyed Sheldon’s idea of “pranking” Leonard, especially when he critiqued his work despite it being entirely correct: that stuff is just plain fun.
- The episode really didn’t do itself any favours by drawing comparisons to 30 Rock with its use of the concept of the blanket with sleeves.