“The Spaghetti Catalyst”
May 3rd, 2010
I was complaining earlier tonight that How I Met Your Mother never properly played out the post-relationship awkwardness for Barney and Robin, so it feels strange to be commending The Big Bang Theory for not trying to elide the consequences of Leonard and Penny’s breakup in the last original episode (which seems like it was forever ago).
However, I shouldn’t be surprised: the show loves awkwardness, especially when it is at the expense of its geeky characters, so of course they’re going to revel in Leonard’s self-pity for a while. However, the show ended their relationship because they were tired of it, so it’s no big surprise that “The Spaghetti Catalyst” isn’t actually an episode about Leonard or Penny. Instead, it becomes a Sheldon episode, giving Jim Parsons some solid material as he finds himself trapped between his best friend and someone who he has put too much effort accommodating into his life for him to stop being friends with her.
The result, eventually, is a return to the pre-relationship status quo, an eventuality that I’m okay with in the end but which I thought required one shortcut too many at the expense of the character who made the episode so watchable.
I totally get where the show was going in its final scenes: by positioning Sheldon as a child and Leonard and Penny as divorced parents, the show gives them something in common that justifies them remaining friends and working things out. However, I’m never a fan of stories which actually infantalize Sheldon, which try to argue that he is actually some form of child, so that final scene bugged me: it’s one thing to make it seem as if Sheldon’s high-maintenance qualities are something that Penny and Leonard can still have in common in a non-romantic capacity, and it’s quite another to have the character act so juvenile after his trip to Disneyland. It’s one thing for Sheldon to be traumatized by Goofy, and it’s quite another for him to actually speak like a child. It went from being a metaphor to being some sort of dream sequence, a line that the show needn’t have come so close to crossing.
The rest of the episode was sort of fun in that it was actually about Sheldon trying to find a way to remain comfortable trapped between his two friends, and I liked that the show didn’t try to suggest that one was more of a friend than the other. Sure, making it about food doesn’t really get to the heart of Sheldon and Penny’s kinship, nor does it really speak to why Sheldon and Leonard are friends, but Jim Parsons is so funny when he’s in these situations that it all works. Getting chased by a dog with the hot dogs wasn’t rocket science or anything, but the episode relied so heavily on Parsons in the early parts of the episode that it was in pretty safe territory, comically speaking. I felt some of this was lost when the “Sheldon as Child” metaphor came into play, but it doesn’t take away from Parsons’ performance.
I thought, though, that they could have made the other half of the episode somewhat less unpleasant. The show has so neglected Raj as of late that I didn’t really empathize with his own lack of a date, and combining a surly and depressed Leonard with a celebrity pornography-addicted Raj was just never, you know, funny. The show was obviously relying on the A-Story to keep things moving before Leonard would be welcomed into it, but it seems like they could have done something better to give Leonard’s post-breakup situation a little bit more engaging. The studio audience was laughing at a lot of the lines, but even when you play it as a dead-end of conversation topics a discussion of Elastigirl’s need for a diaphragm is just stupid, not funny.
This is going to be the only time that the show deals with this particular area of interest, outside of an eventual return to their relationship, so anyone (Bueller?) who was really invested in Leonard and Penny is likely to be disappointed. As someone who wanted the relationship to be over, I think the show did its due diligence: they showed how the two characters moved on, they showed how it created strain in the group (or, because it was the safest to place it in Jim Parsons’ hand, created strain for Sheldon), and they eventually reconcile it in a way which returns things to what things were like in Season Two. They rushed the ending, which does bug me, but the Sheldon side of things was strong enough that I’d consider this a pleasant end note on the relationship, even if it throws in the towel in regards to whether it was worth the show’s time to begin with.
- I like Simon Hedberg, but I think I’m reaching the point where I’m willing to suggest that they replace Howard with Bernadette in the main cast – without her the character is entirely lifeless, so I think they should switch places and Howard should just show up every few episodes or so.
- The one-liners in the group scenes at Leonard/Sheldon’s felt particularly flat tonight, but I thought the repartee between Sheldon and Penny in the cold open as they climbed the stairs was really well handled (and no, I’m not coitussing with you).
- I often rephrase things to avoid offending the hoes, so I see where Sheldon was coming from.