“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 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 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 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).