The Big Bang Theory – “The Vengeance Formulation”

“The Vengeance Formulation”

November 23rd, 2009

Last week, the show chose to split its story between something that works (Sheldon and Penny) and something that doesn’t (Leonard, Wolowitz and Raj on their own), resulting in an episode that was a mixed bag (although perhaps a bit better than I gave it credit for, as my distaste for the latter perhaps overshadowed the strength of the former).

This week, however, the show returns to more of an ensemble structure, and while nothing reaches the heights of adhesive ducks it’s a solid episode as a whole because it manages a reasonably emotional Wolowitz storyline with a cheap but not ineffective Sheldon storyline. There was every chance for these two elements to go off the rails (based on both the show’s tradition of misusing Wolowitz and the presence of Kripke), so the fact that they stayed moderately in orbit makes this a victory, if not exactly an overwhelming success.

When it comes to Wolowitz, I strongly believe that less is more, unless the show decides to do what they did here and turn Wolowitz from obnoxious to introspective. While interacting with a fantasy version of Katee Sackhoff isn’t genius or anything, it allows Wolowitz to stop acting like he runs the joint and actually come to terms with his delusions. The naked bathtub fantasy version of Katee Sackhoff spoke the truth, and while there were signs of the old Wolowitz (feeling more slighted by the fact that Sackhoff’s date was tall as opposed to handsome, since he actually believes he is handsome) for the most part he was honest with himself. Sure, he messes up his romantic overtures to Bernadette, but he was legitimately charming during his tone deaf wailing at episode’s end, and the fact that Howard was given any continuity at all in terms of a relationship is such a huge step forward that I think it’s commendable.

It also shows how even Howard, who to this point one couldn’t imagine in a relationship, is effectively getting the relationship stories that Leonard has been given in the past, except ones that are actually funny. While Sheldon in a relationship might be too ludicrous, and Raj in a relationship has been made impossible by the alcohol gimmick, Howard and Leonard are both effectively eligible, but the show has always resisted treating Howard seriously (by having his actual skills be so outmatched by his capability), sending him off to gothic night clubs and moving him away from legitimate couplings. However, while Leonard’s relationships tended to be neurotic and sort of dull, Howard’s relationship is (to use his own word) quirky in a way that adds a fun dynamic to the show. Sure, I’m not a huge fan of his relationship with his shrill mother, and I could have used less talk about what he was doing in the tub, but for once the show didn’t actually treat him like a horny 15-year old, and for this I was most grateful and certainly entertained.

As for the other half of the episode, it really comes down to how funny you find someone talking in a high-pitched voice and how you feel about Eric Kripke. Twitter user SnowDan mentioned that he likes Kripke because it’s ironic that the university bully has a lisp (which would, outside of that world, make him subject to bullying), but I’ve always felt like that joke has been long ago used up in favour of dialogue that calls attention to the lisp unnecessarily. The idea of Sheldon having a nemesis is funny on its own, which is why Leslie Winkle was more interesting to me (especially because the gender politics of it all wreaked havoc with Sheldon’s already problematic ability to respond in kind) than someone both more dully mean-spirited and less witty. Beyond the broad irony, that for me was not clever enough to sustain the character beyond a first appearance, the character is a normal guy who has a lisp, and most of the humour derived from the character has been through how he says it rather than what he says.

But I thought that this week’s story was less let down by Kripke (who on only a few occasions fell into traps like “Wiot”) and more by a single decision. I like the general principle of the storyline, with Sheldon’s big moment turning into an embarrassment and his attempt at vengeance going horribly, horribly wrong. There’s something very solid about that, and even when I know that we’re never going to get to see the aftermath (since everything will, conveniently for Sheldon, reset next week) the uncontrollable chaos of the final sequence was even communicated through webcam. However, where the storyline suffered was that the joke of Sheldon and his high-pitched voice didn’t appear to actually be Jim Parsons with helium, nor Jim Parsons faking such a voice. Unless I’m mistaken, the voice was looped in during post-production, which if true is a huge disappointment, and took me out of the scene regardless.

There were a number of things in this episode that bugged me a bit, like how the other guys so quickly joined in on laughing at Sheldon on the radio (as it was national radio, after all), or how Raj was too busy making fun of Sheldon to help Leonard try to get him out of bed, or how Penny’s self-awareness about her relationship with Leonard didn’t extend to her realizing that they have no actual chemistry and that sitting in close proximity to each other does not a relationship make. But none of these elements felt like they were the point of their respective storylines: Sheldon’s embarrassment was necessary to get to his vengeance gone awry, and Penny needed to be aware of her own relationship so she could objectively view Wolowitz’s and be able to ward off Bernadette.

And those two storylines worked, coming to solid conclusions that were either narratively satisfying or humorously destructive. They didn’t offer any particular comic highs, but they didn’t offend any of my sensibilities either, so I can’t really complain.

Cultural Observations

  • Katee Sackhoff in the tub makes me realize that some part of me feels obligated to watch 24 this season with her being part of the cast.
  • It says something about the show’s conditioning to not bother remembering things from previous episodes that it took me a while to figure out if Bernadette was actually the person on whom Wolowitz went on a double date a while back. However, I’ll give them this: her trait of not getting Wolowitz’s jokes was memorable enough that I was at least 75% sure.
  • While some small moments bugged me, I thought Sheldon nailing the whoopie cushion gag on Leonard really did prove its comic validity.
  • And just in case we weren’t sure, apparently Raj is delicious caramel.
  • If Sepinwall writes a review, I think “as soon as I play Cylon and Colonist” seems like the obvious “after the jump” line. We’ll see if I’m right.


Filed under The Big Bang Theory

2 responses to “The Big Bang Theory – “The Vengeance Formulation”

  1. First off, I want to apologize here — in case you don’t see it on the comm — about generalizing any response you might have to my opinion.

    With that said, we do disagree here. I loved last week — while the boys in the desert was cliche, I still laughed myself silly at the delivery, and Sheldon/Penny were gold. This week I was pretty much disappointed overall. There were a few funny moments, but overall? It was just meh.

    However, I do agree very much with this: how Penny’s self-awareness about her relationship with Leonard didn’t extend to her realizing that they have no actual chemistry and that sitting in close proximity to each other does not a relationship make.

    I’m still hoping that the way the “relationship” — they are so not boyfriend/girlfriend, but rather monogamous friends with benefits — is being portrayed will turn out to provide character growth for both Leonard and Penny when they break up. (Which I’m predicting happens in episode 12 or 13.)

  2. Bethany

    I think you mean Barry Kripke – Eric Kripke is the creator of Supernatural. This character is named Barry, probably because the name “Bawwy Kwipke” was just to “hilarious” to pass up.

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