November 16th, 2009
I’ve not been remiss in noticing that the Sheldon/Penny shipping community has taken an interest in these reviews, and I want to make sure they know that I always appreciate the comments. And, because I’ve been following along with the group, alarm bells went off when this week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory separated Sheldon and Penny from the rest of the group. In some ways, the episode’s opening scenes actually played out like fan fiction, and we were reminded that, as usual, this sort of pairing is when the show is at its best (even if I feel as if the show will never, ever, take this relationship to anything beyond a tenuous mutual tolerance).
However, unfortunately for this episode, something about the storyline never quite lived up to its full potential, and more problematically the other half of the episode was the epitome of half-baked (yeah, I went there). While the Sheldon and Penny storyline was enjoyable in the way that Sheldon stories always are, and Jim Parsons is as hilarious as ever, it lacked (until the end) the heart of their more enjoyable plots. And since the show’s two most interesting characters in terms of creating different dynamics were on their own, this left the rest of the guys to fend for themselves.
And while Sheldon and Penny might be a good combination for the show’s comic potential, nothing can give me back the time spent on the other half of this episode.
By the time Sheldon and Penny got to the end of their storyline, the heart was there: “Soft Kitty” tends to bring out the best in these two to begin with, and playing into the legacy of their past interactions (like when Sheldon was sick and the “Soft Kitty” story was first originated) is a good way to tie everything together, and the scene was legitimately very funny. However, the storyline as a whole felt like a number of scenes that either went too broad (like Sheldon touching her in an inappropriate place while she was naked) or felt laboured (I don’t see why Sheldon wouldn’t have been able to call a taxi considering they had all of the time to wait for it while she was slowly getting dressed, making it just an excuse to put Sheldon behind the wheel). While there’s a lot of comic potential in this pairing, the show didn’t really stretch its boundaries at all when it came to their interactions. I thought the scene in the Hospital waiting room had some fun lines, but to be honest there was something disturbing about Sheldon being so quick to diagnose Penny with various disorders considering the eccentricity of his own behaviour.
There’s a point where Sheldon’s lack of social awareness is fun and clever, like when he writes the cause of the fall as “a lack of adhesive ducks.” There are other moments, though, where he’s legitimately offensive and mean to her, and while I understand that this is part of the character (judging Penny as overly emotional pretty much at all times) I don’t find it particularly humorous. I’m not suggesting that the two need to get along like gangbusters, but there’s something somewhat artificial about the fact that they can only tolerate one another when one of them is deathly ill or hopped up on painkillers. It’s like the running gag with Raj being unable to speak without alcohol: it was a funny gag once, but over time it becomes a hindrance to telling any new stories, as all interactions default to the same basic mode when certain characters are involved. If this was the first time we had seen a Penny/Sheldon story like this, I would have probably enjoyed it more, but it fell into a pattern that sort of took me out of it.
It was still leagues better than the subplot, however, which has is Leonard, Raj and Howard all getting high in the desert waiting for the Leonid Meteor Shower to start (it’s actually starting tonight, hence the storyline). The problem with this storyline is that these three characters together have no actual context of interaction: this was literally just Leonard, Raj and Howard getting stoned, with no underlying character theme or even some sort of hidden motivation. With other characters, these three can on occasion be quite funny, but individually and without anything to work with they’re pretty lifeless. I thought Raj’s bunny empire was moderately clever at points, but the incent storyline from Howard was downright bizarre, especially when they chose it as the main joke of the coda – I wasn’t aware that sleeping with your cousin was laugh out loud hilarious.
I thought that Galecki, Nayyar and Hedberg all did an admirable job with absolutely no material (all had some fun performance beats even if the lines were terrible), but the problem was that it never bothered to actually do anything with the fact that they were high. None of the characters had to interact with someone in a tense situation, no one had to operate some kind of machinery, and as a result there was no comic tension. It was literally like an improv skit about people being high in the desert, first beginning with some light hallucinations before extending into some deep thinking before eventually reverting to the munchies. While I complain about Sheldon and Penny’s storyline being rote in the sense that the show has tread on the same solid ground before, this was the show using the same gags that have been omnipresent in any depiction of being stoned on the face of the planet, and for the show to rely on them almost exclusively with characters who brought very little original to the table was a zero sum game.
It doesn’t help that I just watched “Chokin and Tokin’,” the episode of Freaks and Geeks which most directly deals with what marijuana can do to you. In that case, the character chooses to take marijuana, and is forced to babysit while under the influence and thus creating some sense of tension within her life. The fact that this was done with cookies makes it a terrible TV trope to begin with, but the fact that all of them got high, leaving no one to react to the fact that they were in fact tripping, made this a fundamental failure of a storyline.
I know that I usually argue that Sheldon and Penny should be paired more option, but this (like “The Vegas Renormalization” before it) suffers as an episode overall because of what’s left behind when those two characters separate from the pack.
- Jim Parsons again did get to knock one scene out of the park: his comforting of Penny was honestly terrifying to watch, to the point where I don’t know if I can even go watch it again with cringe-laughing myself to death. Just really creepy and wonderful, and I just wish he’d get an episode full of those moments to submit for the Emmys.
- I thought I was over the “Knock Knock Knock Penny” bit, but I will admit that Penny’s interruption of his attempt to perform the ritual at her bathroom door was quite fun.
- I usually complain about scenes where the rest of the group celebrates Sheldon being absent, so I was a little bit frustrated to see the writers have Sheldon justify such behaviour by admitting that he wants nothing to do with human companionship either. It simplifies their relationship to a dangerous point for me, but it was at least funny so that’s something at least.
- I think Sheldon’s lowest moment in this episode was his racist comments to the Sian Palace, and in fact the whole conversation was problematic: Sheldon’s smart enough to do his own math, and while asking for a quarter of an appetizer selection is anal asking for half of two orders of something is downright ignorant and totally inconsistent.
- I hope Penny’s reading of Wall-E was just the drugs talking, because Wall-E was about 500% more personable than Sheldon from the moment we met him in that movie.