It's probably too sappy, especially for tonight, with its only middling (if perfectly pleasant) episode. But as Noel and I both wrote in different ways last week, it's so ... cheering, when the sitcoms return. We like to be in their company for the same reason we like to be around our friends. They amuse us without belittling us. They project a welcome that makes us feel at home.
But making friends, as Sheldon discovers this week -- that's something we all know is rather inexplicable, and all the more daunting for it. Based on Leonard's offhand comment that Barry Kripke (our r-dropping short-term guest star) only lets his friends have time on his supercomputer, Sheldon decides to become his friend. When his initial overtures ("from what I understand, you're essentially unlikeable") prove unavailing, he takes an empirical approach. First he gives 211-question surveys to his five current friends to find out what features of himself are appealing. (The correct ranking is playfulness first, not java applet writing.) Then he goes to a bookstore to buy Stu The Cockatoo Is New At The Zoo, and distills from it a flowchart of friendship -- an algorithm, if you will. Upon discovering that the least objectionable activity (LOA) that he and Kripke could share is rockclimbing, Sheldon duly accompanies Barry on a rockclimbing expedition. He passes out halfway up, but still brings his new friend triumphantly home for Chinese food and announces that since maintaining more than five friendships would be a "herculean" endeavor, he'll have to let one of them go. Even though he second-guessed his answer to Sheldon's favorite amino acid (should have gone with his first instinct of lysine), Raj is saved when Barry reveals that he has no control over who gets time on the computer.
"The Friendship Algorithm" suffers from lack of a B-story; it's all Sheldon, all the time. And even though they do it in a loving way, I get a little perturbed when Leonard and the gang make snide remarks about Sheldon's oddities. It's always good when the writers poke them back by pointing out their lack of standing for such jabs; for instance, when Penny asks Leonard how Sheldon made any friends in the first place, Leonard replies, "How do carbon atoms form a benzene ring? Proximity and valence electrons!" But as a Sheldon tour-de-force, there's nothing wrong with this episode. And as televised comfort food for the lonely geek or geekette, it really can't be beat.
- The one truly masterful sequence is in the cold open, when the gang interrupts Sheldon's monologue about the deficiences of tapioca pudding, then finally allows him to finish in a rush of facts before he explodes ("the root derives from Brazil, which is also the home of the cacao plant, from which we get chocolate, the best pudding"). Living with an autist, I can attest that it is impossible to derail their train of thought and that interruptions simply cause the information to build up behind the temporary silence.
- Sheldon derides his own survey with the observation, "The social sciences are largely hokum."
- No, I take it back -- two masterful moments: The gang enjoying a good whistle of "Sweet Georgia Brown" while Sheldon, who does not tolerate whistling, is away.
- "Jerry The Gerbil And The Bullies On The Bus ... read it, not helpful."