“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.
“The Psychic Vortex”
January 11th, 2010
On a night with the third episode of Chuck’s third season and How I Met Your Mother’s 100th episode, I won’t tell a lie: I forgot about the Big Bang Theory.
Admittedly, I have my ups and downs with the show, but there’s something about it that is more comfortable than eventful, so I got lost in the hype surrounding the night’s other episodes. But “The Psychic Vortex” was eventful in quite a few ways, and while it did nothing to change the current state of the series’ long-term storylines (and in fact did less than some episodes earlier this season to downplay its most problematic relationship) it managed to find some fun moments amidst two separate stories…even if it found 90% of them in the one involving Sheldon.
That’s one constant of the show I didn’t forget, and unfortunately the episode unearths a few other constant frustrations that have plagued my time with the show over the past few seasons. While this episode wasn’t criminally unfunny, it did do disservice to enough characters that I once again feel like the show is one giant missed opportunity saved by Jim Parsons – not a terrible premise for a show, but not one that lives up to its full potential.
“The Maternal Congruence”
December 14th, 2009
When running through the Big Bang Theory’s first and second seasons, there is no question that Christine Baranski’s appearance as Leonard’s mother was a highlight for me. I like Baranski in general, and I thought that the idea that Leonard grew up with this level of psycho-analysis was a nice bit of back story for his character, and seeing her interact with Leonard, Penny and perhaps more importantly Sheldon (who she clearly connects with more than her own son) was a lot of fun.
However, these kinds of characters don’t always work when you bring them back again. With the novelty factor gone, the jokes can become stale even if the actress is as good as Baranski (or as good as Elaine Stritch, whose Colleen Donaghy has seen diminishing returns on 30 Rock with every appearance). And parts of “The Maternal Congruence” act as if Beverly Hofstadter’s return is funny because it unearths the same jokes, like Penny’s father issues or Raj and Howard’s latent homosexual feelings, which is the sort of repetition that does the show no favours.
The episode seems smart, however, in how it plays up the ramifications of Sheldon and Beverly’s relationship, allowing it to evolve beyond a single observation (that Sheldon is more like Leonard’s Mother than Leonard) to its psychological impact, allowing Leonard to actually get angry rather than just annoyed with the way his mother treats him. But as opposed to stretching its characters to allow the ramifications of their relationship to really come to the surface, the episode goes down an entirely different path, getting everyone drunk and making fools of themselves to provide a raucous conclusion.
Like many good guest stars, Baranski elevates the material, but forgive me if I can’t help but have a case of Big Bang Theory Weltschmerz: I look at the ideal episode in my head, and then at what we’re actually given, and I can’t help but be a bit saddened (especially considering how the show ended its Christmas episode last year).
“The Gorilla Experiment” or “The Athens Recurrence”
December 7th, 2009
I wasn’t blogging about The Big Bang Theory when the show began, so I’ve never really commented on its titling structure. Each episode becomes a theory, which is totally logical and has resulted in some titles that make episodes seem momentous and potentially life-changing (even if they rarely are). Something like “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis,” though, really captures what makes that episode work, and especially captures Sheldon’s character and the value the show places on him.
That’s interesting with “The Athens Recurrence” (Edit: which apparently was a title that got changed to “The Gorilla Experiment,” which makes this paragraph either irrelevant OR potentially indicative of why it was changed) is that it simultaneously points out how recurrence is both an overwhelmingly positive thing in this universe (which is almost always improved when supporting characters recur and provide a sense of seriality) and a persistent problem (in that the same storylines keep recurring without any real sense that the show is changing). And while I’ve accepted that the former isn’t going to happen, and that the latter is inherent to the show’s setup, there are some times when the show pushes my button by teasing the former but ultimately accepting the latter.
If I had to place this episode within that paradigm, it’s ultimately a wash. I like that we’re seeing a recurring character like Bernadette sticking around, but at the same time the storyline ends up being distinctly unpleasant. And while I thought Sheldon and Penny’s storyline was as charming as their interactions always are, there was an inherent long-term question (basically, why Penny still feels insecure about her intelligence in her relationship with Leonard, and how it feels to have him so quickly latch onto Bernadette) that gets entirely glossed over. It made for an episode that’s great as a logline, but was actually more of a mixed bag than I would have expected.
“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.
“The Guitarist Amplication”
November 9th, 2009
I want to play devil’s advocate and imagine, for a moment, what actually works about Leonard and Penny’s relationship. See, I don’t think that there is a fundamental incompatibility between these two characters so much as there is a fundamental inconsistency within both characters which often collides in ways that are less than entertaining. When Penny is intelligent and charming, and when Leonard is nervous but earnest, the couple is entirely inoffensive, within the realm of belief if not really setting the televisual world on fire.
However, when their worst character traits are amplified, their relationship is the worst sort of chemical reaction. “The Guitarist Amplification” decides to depict the couple’s first fight, and thus runs into two key problems. The first is that in order to create the fight the show exaggerates Leonard’s worst qualities, making him equal parts clueless and massively insecure. The second is that the show, by never quite dialing in on the relationship enough to make the audience care about it, wants us to root for something that we’re likely not rooting for. The result is a fight that is more annoying than it is funny, and an episode where the writers are almost entirely aware that the only value the show is getting out of this fight is how Sheldon responds to it.
Which isn’t a terrible strategy for the show, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not going to convince me this relationship is going to work.
“The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary”
October 19th, 2009
In the cold open to this week’s episode, we get an interesting display of the show’s comic sensibilities. When the scene starts, Wolowitz and Raj are playing a game of Mystic Warlords of Ka’ah, a Magic the Gathering-like card game. The transition of jokes is like a crescendo. We start at the bottom with the audience laughing at a funny card name that wasn’t actually funny, but is funny because “they’re nerds, doing nerdy things!” Then, we find Penny playing the game and not knowing what to do, something that’s a bit more legitimate but still a bit straightforward. And then, we have Sheldon’s eidetic memory ruining the game for everyone by (simply through listening to the game) analyzing what’s left in the deck like a card counter. It’s only then that the humour feels particularly interesting, and that I’m finally really paying attention.
As the cold open, and the remainder of the episode, move on, it’s basically an instance of Sheldon driving the comedy, his eidetic memory rescuing uninteresting storylines revolving around Leonard, Penny and Wolowitz and serving as the foundation for a storyline of his own with Raj and Wil Wheaton. I actually thought the episode did a better job with one setup than I had expected, and not as much as it could have with the other, which made for an interesting if uneven episode that didn’t rile me up but didn’t really impress me either.
“The Pirate Solution”
October 12th, 2009
Usually, my reviews of The Big Bang Theory end up devolving into my frustration with the show’s treatment of Sheldon (a subject that many disagree with) and the ill-advised nature of Leonard and Penny’s relationship (which pretty much everyone agrees with, outside of a vocal minority), but “The Pirate Solution” is a rare occasion where I get to focus my analysis elsewhere.
I often feel that the show is held back by is adherence to the sitcom tradition of a fundamental lack of character development, focusing instead on character interaction. There are episodes where I totally buy into the value of this, accepting that although it holds the show back it nonetheless can result in some really fun comedy. However, there are episodes like “The Pirate Solution” which focus their attention on a character and in the process remind us that while some have turned into full-featured individuals others have, well, not.
Raj Koothrappali is a character who, like Penny, is a good foil for nearly every other character, but when you isolate him on his own things become starkly simple. Kunal Nayyar is an engaging actor, but the problem with Raj is that his lack of development is proving detrimental. When the show designates a Raj episode, it means the show recycles cliched India jokes and once again has Raj’s inability to speak to women prove detrimental. I won’t argue that this isn’t entertaining, as I think the Raj parts of this episode were charming; however, I think that there’s a point here where I wonder why Raj needs to be reduced to these stereotypes, and at what point his evolution would only improve the show’s dynamics.
“The Jiminy Conjecture”
September 28th, 2009
I know it’s unrealistic, but part of me wanted this episode to start with a moment of recognition from Leonard as to how he treated Sheldon last week, and for that matter a moment for Sheldon to reflect on his own behaviour. I know that this is a traditional sitcom, one where the storyline from the week before could well have never happened (to some degree) before this one, which meant that the show will pick up the next day in some ways but not in others, but part of me wanted them to admit that what happened in the season premiere was not just another incident, and that Sheldon quitting his job was not something that can just be rewritten and forgotten.
However, that didn’t happen: there are no apologies, Sheldon magically has his job back, and the only thing that continues on is Penny and Leonard’s relationship. As such, this is my final complaint: I think it was a mistake, and that it tainted what could have been a strong premiere.
Now, moving onto “The Jiminy Conjecture,” this was an example of the show going back to basics by dividing off their characters and letting the Sheldon, Raj and Howard have some fun while Leonard and Penny attempt to figure out their relationship. While my past views on the show can tell you which side of the episode I preferred, it was a fun half hour of comedy at the end of the day, which is more than I can say for the convoluted premiere.