The Big Bang Theory: "The Benefactor Factor"
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The Big Bang Theory: "The Benefactor Factor"

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The Big Bang Theory

"The Benefactor Factor"

Season 4, Episode 15

From the start, The Big Bang Theory has believed that if you throw Sheldon Cooper into a social situation, it’s a potential laugh gold mine, and if you have a storyline, that storyline should largely be confined to the episode it’s in, even if it’s not over when the episode ends. It’s also always been fond of bringing in fairly big name guest stars to play roles that are, all things considered, fairly small. There’s really no good reason to bring in Joshua Malina as the head of the university where the guys work, but, well, just having him around makes a lot of the business he’s involved with funnier. And here’s where I start to hope—probably in vain—that he comes back in the weeks to come. Someone who just won’t put up with Sheldon’s excuses and wants to open him up could be a funny recurring character for the show to have, and Malina can play that guy well. (He reminded me of the Dean from the “Homer Goes To College” episode of The Simpsons, and I mean this as praise.) 

And yet I don’t have high hopes of this happening any time soon. On another show, this would turn into a small arc, where Malina tried to get Sheldon to open up a little bit and almost certainly failed. And while that might happen, I suppose, it doesn’t really seem like something The Big Bang Theory would do. I shouldn’t hold that against the show, since it has absolutely no desire to be the kind of show where that happens, but I kind of do all the same. There’s so little sense of things accumulating here that it feels almost as if every episode doesn’t really build on everything that came before, at least in the heads of the writers. 

Still, there are so many interesting avenues to explore here that I think this is a promising episode for the show. Raj’s Indian past now seems to have an added component where he was filthy rich, something that could lead to some very promising gags in the future (characters who are infinitely rich are always amusing, for some reason). I liked the Malina character, and I particularly liked his passive-aggressive relationship with Sheldon. The idea that Sheldon has been berating this guy every day for years now is perfectly in character for Sheldon, and Malina believably plays the kind of guy who could just brush this off his shoulders and get on with his day. In their limited screentime, the two have a fun rhythm with each other. I also liked Jessica Walter, turning up as a potential wealthy donor, who wants to invest in the physics department, sure, but also wants to invest in Leonard, if you know what I mean. (And I can’t imagine you would because that doesn’t sound sexy at all.)

The episode splits fairly evenly into two halves with completely separate plots. In the first, the guys and Siebert (Malina) try to get Sheldon to come to the fundraising party and kibbutz with the wealthy older people. In the second, the Walter character comes on to Leonard, making him wonder if he should sleep with her in order to secure funding for the department. Now, neither of these stories is wildly unpredictable (and doesn’t have to be), but I liked the second more than the first. For one thing, Sheldon’s glee at the idea of Leonard being able to secure money for all of the fun physics toys he wants by doing something as basic as sleeping with an older woman gave the whole thing a nice momentum. For another, Walter is such an old pro that all of the lines they gave her made me at least smile, even if they weren’t particularly funny. One of the strengths of bringing in comic ringers for these small parts, one of the things Chuck Lorre learned a long time ago, is that it makes all of these bits funnier than they have any right to be (as anyone who’s seen a Jane Lynch episode of Two And A Half Men can attest.) There’s nothing groundbreaking or earth-shattering here, but what is here works well and offers plenty of room for the actors to play.

I especially liked the final scene (well, the final scene not counting the tag), where Leonard comes home from his date, having learned that his paramour will be giving the department money regardless of what happens but she’s still interested in him. It’s the next morning, and Penny just happens across him out in the hall, then follows him into the apartment, where both she and Sheldon tease him about his overnight escapade. The show can make these characters so mean-spirited that it’s fun to see a scene where they just tease each other as if they actually enjoy each other’s company for once, and this scene was that to a T. It was a very short scene, but it sent the episode out on a high note.

Granted, on another show, this would come back again. We’d get to see Leonard ponder how much fun it might be to be the husband of a very rich woman, particularly one who seems to have rocked his world in bed. We’d get to see Walter at least one more time. Again, this isn’t that show, and I think most of us have made our peace with that. But in episodes like this one, where the stories seem to be all but begging for some kind of continuation, it makes it all the harder to swallow the idea that everything will be back to the way it was next week. Sheldon needs someone to push him, to keep getting him to confront his various phobias (though the writers are increasingly—and intelligently—using Amy to do this). Leonard could use a wacky romantic subplot that has nothing to do with Penny. It could be fun to see Penny tease Leonard about his new lover until she realizes that woman’s a rival. But we won’t get any of that. We’ll have to settle for this, which was fun, but inconsequential. Alas.

Stray observations:

  • I wax and wane on Amy, but I like her increasingly as Sheldon’s online chat partner. I don’t know how they work out the timing between the two actors on set, but these scenes usually work.
  • I liked Howard’s outfit to go to the fundraiser and Raj’s excitement over seeing the shrimp when he was there.
  • Certain phrases are just funny in certain actor’s mouths: “Tater tot Tuesday” was one of those phrases.
  • "Well-groomed vampires meet in pairs and shave each other. Solved."
  • "Maybe he heard it was tater tot Tuesday? That's why I'm here."
  • "Tell him Dr. Cooper feels that the best use of his time is to employ his rare and precious mental faculties to tear the mask off nature and stare at the face of God." "Sheldon, it's Saturday night. You'll be doing laundry." "Well, don't tell him that. Tell him the mask thing."
  • "Normally, I respect your macho rebel attitude toward the man."
  • "I'm not above minimizing your window."
  • "That explains those puzzling camel race photos on your Facebook page."
  • "I'm just here for your money. I don't wanna shake anyone's germ-y hands."
  • "An entire dinner to talk about your research? Where are you going? The drive-thru at Jack in the Box?"
  • "You're really a broken toy, aren't you?"
  • "You might consider just this once using your genitalia to actually accomplish something."
  • "There are a lot more rich old ladies out there, and daddy needs a new linear accelerator!"

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