“The Bozeman Reaction”
January 18th, 2010
When thieves break into Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment, the pair immediately observe upon their return that their television and their laptops are gone. Sheldon, immediately, gasps and rushes to the bedrooms while Leonard gets on the phone with 911. The audience is completely silent during this entire scene, and then Sheldon returns: he announces that everything is okay, because his comic book collection has not been stolen, and the audience breaks into uproarious laughter.
And thus begins an unfortunate storyline where the audience treats entirely rational and even vulnerable behaviour from Sheldon as if it is a joke. By the end of the episode, Sheldon’s neuroses surrounding the break in do become an actual punchline, and he does overreact to the situation at hand. However, the episode presents a legitimately traumatic situation and yet never once stops to consider the actual consequences for Sheldon as a character, and as a result the episode belittles as opposed to celebrating his character. Jim Parsons delivers some fine moments of comedy in this single-narrative half-hour, but it so actively evaded a far more interesting episode that I just can’t possibly consider it a success.
Calvin and Hobbes is not a fair pop cultural barometer for just about anything (due to its awesomeness), but they did a similar story once (In April/May 1989, to be exact – you can view the entire series by clicking here and then going forward, although it might lock you out eventually) where Calvin and his parents returned from a trip to a wedding to discover that their house had been broken into. Calvin had forgotten Hobbes at home before the trip, and when he realized the house had been broken into his first thought is that Hobbes has been stolen along with their belongings. And while the strip makes a joke or two about it (Calvin rebuffing his mother’s attempts to argue that thieves wouldn’t steal a stuffed tiger by arguing that Hobbes is “so trusting”), the strip stops to make you realize that Calvin loves Hobbes, and that the idea of him being stolen was more terrifying to him than anything else. Eventually, once the strip discusses the feeling of loss and vulnerability it goes back to being funny: Calvin complains about the lack of a television (“Here I am, not being entertained!”), and the comedy returns.
And frankly, I think we needed to see more of that balance here. I’m not suggesting that there isn’t comic material to mine within Sheldon being robbed: Parsons nailed listing off the various video game systems and video games to the policeman, and the idea of Sheldon having prepared in advance for CSI’s arrival was a nice touch that was certainly over the top but in a way that was charming and Sheldon-esque. However, in the period directly after, Sheldon was anxious to the point of feeling as if he couldn’t be alone in the apartment, and yet the show continued to treat the story as if it was funny. Maybe it’s only me, but I don’t find there to be anything funny about the fear of having your home broken into, with your private space being violated. In fact, it’s a subject that I think is actually downright terrifying, and I’m lucky to have never had to experience it myself.
At that point in the story, what could potentially be seen as a funny story should have been taken seriously: instead, the show kept laughing at Sheldon, and small moments like Penny noticing something was “weirder than normal” were hushed in favour of Leonard complaining about Sheldon ruining the mood. Yes, eventually, the show took the storyline to a more broadly comic place, introducing the tricked out security system and delivering on its promise by electrocuting Sheldon like a tuna, but there was a point where they should have at least stopped and acknowledged that Sheldon was acting like a personally normal human being as opposed to a complete and total freak. When the episode finally gets to Sheldon’s overreaction and his attempted move to Bozeman, Montana, there’s some fun stuff (like his goodbye video), but that middle section so bothered me that I couldn’t get on board.
I don’t know if we should blame the writers or the studio audience for this, to be honest. Jaime Weinman tweeted about the version of the show floating around without a laugh track, and I would tend to agree that usually the show uses the rhythm of the audience quite well. Here, though, I wanted the show to be able to do as How I Met Your Mother does, and stop the laughter to be able to focus in on more of the characters’ emotions, but the audience was having none of it. However, the writers also didn’t write that into the script beyond a few brief moments, so it’s their own fault if they intended on making that point more clear but just didn’t write it into the script effectively enough.
And to be honest, I don’t have much more to say about it: some funny moments (which I’ll get to below), but criminally damaged by its refusal to take Sheldon’s anxiety seriously.
- Cold open’s various jokes were a really old school comic rhythm, with some really quite awful jokes, only some of which were treated as awful.
- “My new computer came with Windows 7. It is much more user-friendly. I don’t like that” was a great line, and I’m curious to know whether it was actual product placement or not. I’m hoping not.
- Sheldon’s Journal proves that journals are inherently funny: he and Jane Lynch should start a web series where all they do is read what they’re writing down, and making fantastic body movements/facial expressions in the process.
- Enjoyed the twist of Howard being the Acquaintance, if only because I knew how much the Paradox folk would enjoy the idea that Penny is one of his closest friends. Plus I don’t like Howard. So win win!