“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.
March 4th, 2010
This is going to sound like an insult, but every now and then my reviews of Community might as well be like a focus group response from small children. Every sentence would start with “I like the part where…” or end up devolving down to “It was funny when the _____ did that thing with the _____,” and that’s probably not all that fun to read.
However, it really does reflect my love for this show: while I might be able to analyze individual plots, I’m rarely that concerned about particular plots, as in I don’t learn what an episode is about ahead of time and fear that things might go off the rails. I have an inordinate amount of confidence in the show’s ability to turn just about anything into comedy, a confidence justified this week as Dan Harmon turned his own personal shame and billiards dress code into top-notch comedy.
And so some part of me truly would be entirely content to respond, in my best impression of a five-year old, that “I liked everything” and grin wildly while shifting awkwardly in my seat. However, since I was probably already long-winded and overly analytical at the age of five, let’s stick with some more detailed thoughts after the break.
“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 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.
More than One Way to Steal a Scene: Thievery in Television Comedy
January 6th, 2010
Last night, when watching Better Off Ted, I tweeted the following:
When I made the comment, I was really only trying to say that while I enjoy Lynch’s work on Glee (for which she could well win a Golden Globe in under two weeks) I believe Portia de Rossi is doing some stunning work on Better Off Ted that is being comparatively ignored by the major voting bodies (I’m with James Poniewozik: we need to ensure she remains consistently employed on sitcoms for all of time). However, a few alternate suggestions for television’s best scene stealer made me realize that I was commenting less in terms of who is the better actor, and more on what precisely I consider “stealing a scene.”
The Chicago Tribune’s always spot-on Maureen Ryan made a case for Nick Offerman, whose Ron Swanson is an unquestionable highlight on Parks and Recreation. And my immediate reaction was that, as great as Offerman is and as hopeful as I am that he receives an Emmy nomination later this year, I don’t know if I consider him a scenestealer. Of course, as soon as I say that, she comes back with the example of Offerman simply raising an eyebrow and demanding your attention despite an only observational role in the scene in question, making me look like an idiot.
However, I’m going to argue that our differences of opinion on this issue are not simply the result of my poor memory or our subjectivity when it comes to what we enjoy on television, but rather the result of the various different ways one could define “stealing a scene.” Based on different intersections of acting, writing, and cinematography, I would argue that we all have our own impression of what this term means, as we all have our own readings of each individual show and who the scene in question actually belongs to.
Which is why I didn’t initially consider Nick Offerman a scene stealer, and why I don’t expect everyone to feel the same way.