“The Lunar Excitation”
May 24th, 2010
“What’s life without whimsy?”
In the age of Ausiello (a dark age if I’ve ever heard of one), there are no more surprises: we’ve known for months that Sheldon would be “getting a love interest” in the form of Mayim Bialik, so any of the sudden shock at the events of “The Lunar Excitation” never really materializes. We’ve had months to think about how the show was going to negotiate Sheldon experiencing something vaguely approaching a romantic connection after having made the argument that the character is “in love with science,” so it’s not like we didn’t know this was coming.
The question for me was just how they would maneuver Sheldon into this situation, and how they would either maneuver him out of it or transition into a new facet of his personality. Ultimately, the final two questions are going to have to wait until next season, but I quite liked “The Lunar Excitation” in terms of how it got Sheldon to the point of being willing to (sort of) put himself out there (quasi-)romantically. It’s not, perhaps, the complex investigation of Sheldon’s social interactions which speaks to his greater neuroses that some part of me desires, but when you consider what this storyline could have become I think we have to consider ourselves lucky: Jim Parsons remains funny, Sheldon’s character is never compromised, and the series resists “duping” Sheldon into becoming a part of the charade.
“The Lunar Excitation” actually does quite well with both of its storylines, delivering a nice parting note for Penny and Leonard which leaves their relationship in a more complicated place than I had imagined heading into the summer. The finale also had a certain energy to it, with the sense of whimsy which was absent in the show during some of its third season episodes restored. It’s a whimsy which bodes well for the fourth season, even if I do have some questions about just how this is all going to play out in September considering the events in the episode.
And frankly, I’m just glad that I’ve got something to chew on with the show, considering its propensity to tie things off in a neat bow.
“The Plimpton Stimulation”
May 10th, 2010
For a few weeks, there has been plenty to talk about as it relates to the Big Bang Theory: with the dissolution of Leonard and Penny’s relationship, the show has been very concerned with ongoing storylines and character development, and as someone who values these qualities of the show more than the writers themselves this has made for some episodes rife for analysis.
However, “The Plimpton Stimulation” has no such lofty goal: rather, it takes the show’s characters and lets them loose, bringing a sexually charged physicist into the picture and just sort of letting it play out. They theoretically create conflict between characters, but it never really crystallizes into anything beyond a few laughs, and while there’s a brief mention of the awkwardness surrounding Leonard behaving in this fashion so soon after his breakup it doesn’t really make any sort of statement about, well, anything.
I would have been perfectly fine with this, but the show had to drop in one single element which annoyed me so much that this “review” will end up more of a rant than I had anticipated – I call it “The Bernadette Injustice.”
“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.
“The Wheaton Recurrence”
April 12th, 2010
There are two things that the Big Bang Theory isn’t particularly good at, and they include handling serious dramatic situations within its comic tone and the integration of guest stars beyond their initial appearance. The show has always shied away from any sort of realistic emotional tensions in favour of a cheap joke, and characters like Christine Baranski’s Dr. Hofstadter were novel upon their first appearance and felt like a big ol’ sitcom cliche in their next.
“The Wheaton Recurrence” does little to change either of these facts, even if one could argue that there was positive momentum on the emotions front. There’s a difference, ultimately, between actually dealing with emotions and featuring emotions in a major storyline: while this episode forces Penny and Leonard to consider the state of their relationship, it’s something the show should have done a long time ago, and something that we should have seen some evidence of in earlier episodes. Nothing about their revelations feels particularly natural, and the lack of either a rising action or a proper denouement makes any sort of “event” in the episode seems like a wasted opportunity.
Which, I guess, is preferable to a waste of time.
“Happily Ever After”
April 6th, 2010
Early in “Happily Ever After,” Charles Widmore tells Jin that it will be easier to show him what he intends to do with Desmond than it would be to tell him. Normally, this would make me quite excited, as I’m a strong supporter of the “Show, Don’t Tell” mode of storytelling when it comes to shows like Lost. However, if I have a single complaint about the show’s sixth season as a whole, it’s that the flash-sideways narrative device has remained frustratingly opaque – while there is value to mystery, and some of the season’s episodes have nicely played on our uncertainty, there is a point where the mystery needs to be solved in order for the show to move on.
Solution, however, is not the end goal of “Happily Ever After,” despite its title. Rather, it is an episode filled with multiple revelations and philosophical conversations which tell us something very important about what, precisely, is going on in this all-important half of the show’s narrative. It neither confirms nor discredits any of the running theories about what the flash-sideways are supposed to mean, but it establishes key parameters by which we may be able to figure things out, for good, in the future.
While some may feel that a lack of “answers” makes this yet another mysterious episode in a vague and unfocused season, I would argue that it’s the perfect “turn” of sorts: Desmond Hume’s journey into a new reality tells us enough to make us reconsider everything we’ve seen up to this point in the season but not so much that there aren’t still some mysteries to unlock in the future. While “why” and “how” remain complex questions that we still can’t entirely pin down, both questions have become more practical as we head towards the series’ conclusion, and I strongly believe that we now have all the tools we’ll need in order to connect the dots towards Lost’s “Happily Ever After” – so long as “love” is not the only answer, I’m pretty gosh darn excited about it.
“The Pants Alternative”
March 22nd, 2010
I’ve complained a lot in the past that the show often boils down to Sheldon vs. Everyone else, a dynamic which makes Sheldon seem more unlikeable than the audience wants him to be and which makes all of the other characters seem more unpleasant than they need to be. And so when “The Pants Alternative” starts with Sheldon getting an ego-boosting award, I was concerned that the episode would be about how Sheldon’s award would drive a wedge between this group of friends and create some new conflicts.
Instead, the show surprised me, as Sheldon’s friends come together to help him overcome his fear of public speaking. What follows is a set of loosely connected scenes that work pretty well as spotlights for Jim Parsons’ comic talents, proving that he can legitimately have a great scene with every character on this show. However, while those scenes might work, the big conclusion ends up taking the character too far, giving into the broad and meaningless as opposed to building the character’s self-confidence in any way. By turning a potential moment of progress into a moment of humiliation, “The Pants Alternative” undermines some of its early goodwill and emerges an average, rather than exemplary, episode.
“The Precious Fragmentation”
March 8th, 2010
The opening to “The Precious Fragmentation” was like a big improv skit. A box of random nerd objects that the gang picked up at a garage sale is revealed to feature a variety of cheap gags, whether it’s Raj wiping a drawn-on penis off of an Aquaman action figure, or Leonard finding a Spock doll with a Mr. T head and suggesting that he “pities the fool who is illogical,” or Wolowitz finding an Alf doll and flashing back to his father’s abandonment. I felt like the show just put out a random box of items that these characters could potentially make jokes out of and let them go.
On the one hand, I think this speaks to the potential humour from this group of people with the right, nerd-friendly material. On the other hand, it’s kind of extraordinarily lazy, the simplest of stories that fails to offer any sort of depth or really any sort of character commentary. It is literally the story of “What happens when the gang finds a single collectible related to nerddom and all of them desire it,” pure sitcom in every form.
And to be entirely honest, I think that’s why the episode was mostly pretty darn pleasant.
“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.