“The Excelsior Acquisition”
March 1st, 2010
Sheldon Cooper is much more intelligent than he is smart.
What’s so strange about this character is that for all of his unquestionable intelligence, he is rarely smart about how he uses it: his lack of knowledge of social conventions means that he is often blinded to how cruel he is acting, which means that the character can often seem extraordinarily harsh. The show has struggled with a number of balance issues throughout its run, but when it comes to Sheldon the real question comes down to this: at what point would Sheldon’s intelligence outweigh his stubbornness or self-centeredness and force him to take a step back and consider what it is he is about to do or say?
I would argue that it is one thing for Sheldon to make a rash decision in search of a “once in a lifetime” opportunity, and I think it’s quite another for Sheldon to be willing to go to jail over insulting a Traffic Court judge. I understand that Sheldon will sometimes make mistakes, and that sometimes he will pick strange battles, but there’s a point where the character makes decisions not because they’re realistic but because they will make for better comedy.
And while I’d normally be fine with this if the comedy really delivered, the few jokes that the show managed to get out of the storyline weren’t enough to justify the borderline idiocy that Sheldon seemed to exhibit in order for it to happen.
“The Large Hadron Collision”
February 8th, 2010
Generally speaking, I consider myself a “Sheldon’s Advocate.” While the show often suggests that Sheldon is acting selfishly, that his ignorance to social norms is sometimes replaced by a cruel elision of interests other than his own, I tend to give Sheldon the benefit of the doubt, taking his side in those situations because the show so often pits the other characters against him without any logical reason beyond it being funny when they make fun of him.
However, I don’t want it to seem like I believe Sheldon is entirely without fault, or that only episodes which paint Sheldon in a positive light are enjoyable. I thought “The Large Hadron Collision” was a solid episode, one which had Sheldon at his most selfish but seemed like it used that to its advantage, with Sheldon making arguments which hinged on his ignorance to the influence that having a girlfriend would have on Leonard’s decision. It isn’t a complex depiction of the character, perhaps, but it’s a consistent one, and the resolution to the story was clever enough that even without Sheldon having a redemptive moment it felt true to the character.
And in the end, that’s all I ask for, other than a quick death to Bazinga.
“The Einstein Approximation”
February 1st, 2010
Jim Parsons does not need catchphrases, nor does he need running jokes. Over three seasons, Jim Parsons has consistently demonstrated comic timing and abilities that define this character in ways beyond “gags,” and which have made the character endearing when some of his actions could be seen as insufferable.
And so I don’t entirely understand why the writers seem to believe that Sheldon can best be defined by such shallow humour, as it makes what might have otherwise been a great episode (in that it focused entirely on Sheldon) into a frustrating one. The episode teetered on the edge of taking Sheldon into some potentially compromising places in terms of how the show treats the character, but it also showed a lot of great qualities of Sheldon when at his most obsessively one-minded. However, by occasionally falling back on his “catchphrases,” it ended up rubbing me the wrong way even if some of the content involved was hitting the mark.
“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.