I reviewed The Big Bang Theory last season, but I was consistently more excited to watch Community on Thursday nights. Big Bang Theory was stuck in three-camera stasis while Community was exploring what TV comedy was capable of. But the tables have turned this season. Big Bang Theory isn’t experimental by any means, but it’s told some great heartfelt stories in its restrictive format, particularly in this latter half of the season. Meanwhile, Community has reverted its characters back to their season one incarnations and isn’t very much fun to watch anymore. Howard, Sheldon, and the gang are growing and changing while the Greendale study group takes steps backward, and “The Closet Reconfiguration” is a great example of how Big Bang Theory has matured.
Sheldon might win all the awards, but Howard has become the focal point of this show as it traces his growth from horny mama’s boy to semi-responsible married man. His relationship with Bernadette has been a constant source of humor, as it shows the ways that he’s still very much the overgrown child he used to be, and this week he’s forced to confront one of the great mysteries of his youth: his father’s disappearance. When he tricks Sheldon into cleaning his and Bernadette’s closet, Howard finds himself with a letter from his father in his hands, received when he was 18 and unopened until Sheldon got his hands on it. Now that the letter has been opened, Howard has to decide whether he wants to read it or not, ultimately choosing that he would rather not know and burning the letter. Unfortunately, Bernadette’s curiosity gets the better of her, and she goes to Sheldon to find out what the letter said.
This latter half of the season has taken strides to humanize Sheldon, and while he ends up being a huge gossip this week, he finds a way to rationalize his actions in a way that doesn’t make his seem particularly villainous. Bernadette doesn’t want to ask Sheldon directly, but she has no problem being in the room while Penny asks him. Penny asks, and she doesn’t have a good reason for Sheldon to tell her, so he creates a suitable excuse for her. He rationalizes that because they are married in California, Howard and Bernadette share the intellectual property of the letter. He doesn’t have as good a reason to tell Leonard and Raj, though, and he concludes that if Penny is going to tell them anyway, he might as well beat her to the punch. Eventually, everyone but Howard knows what his father wanted him to hear, and it’s a huge betrayal when he finds out.
There’s a B-plot involving Leonard and Penny throwing a grown-up cocktail party, but their story is mostly in service of the A-plot, getting everyone into one room so that Howard can confront them all at once. He flees the party at Leonard’s and plants himself on the closet floor to look at old pictures of his father. By escaping into the past, Howard doesn’t have to confront the reality that he’s going to have to find out what was in that letter now that all his friends know. That is, if it wasn’t for Sheldon’s brilliant solution to the problem that allows Howard to both know and not know at the same, all through the power of science. The group comes to Bernadette and Howard’s apartment to help comfort their friend using the principal of quantum superposition, stating that a physical system exists partially in all its possible states at once.
Each person tells Howard about a letter that his father could have written him, and only one of the letters is the actual document: Raj says that it was a The Far Side card saying “Happy Birthday”; Sheldon says it was a map leading to the lost-treasure of One-Eyed Willie; Amy says that Howard’s father was in the crowd at Howard’s graduation; Penny says that Mr. Wolowitz had a secret life that caught up with him; Leonard says that the man wrote about how family is the most important thing and that it shouldn’t be thrown away; Bernadette says there was a picture of Howard on the day he was born with “Howard, my son, my greatest gift,” written on the back. It’s an incredibly touching moment that shows just how strong this show can be when it taps into a real emotional place. There’s a sense that although Howard may have lost his father, he’s built a new family with his friends. They may cause him a lot of grief, but in the end, they really love him.
- Funny moments in Sheldon’s OCD this week: He becomes a small child when he’s told he has to leave Howard’s closet before it’s fully organized, he gets excited to sort a box of shirt buttons, he wears rubber gloves when he empties the lint trap in the dryer.
- Penny’s shirt sure does have a lot of buttons undone this week. Kaley Cuoco is showin’ off the goods.
- Sheldon finds a battery-operated chew toy in Penny’s closet during the tag. I love when Sheldon’s ignorance about all things sexual is exploited for humor.
- The cast and creators of Big Bang Theory shared some fun tidbits about the show at PaleyFest this week. For example, this season’s awkward spanking scene was initially supposed to happen off-screen. That would have been great.
- “You can tell me what to do or you can tell me how to do it. You can’t do both. This isn’t sex.”
- “Wait, I can go home without you? Byeee.”
- “When I first met Howard he would pull his scrotum out of his shorts and say, ‘Uh! I sat in gum!’”
- “When you say dressed up you mean nice clothes not like capes and tights and crap.”
- “I told you you shouldn’t have espresso after dinner. I know the little cups make you feel big but it’s not worth it.”
- “Great. Neither one of us is tall enough to reach that.”
- “He was already having a tough day ‘cause he accidentally wore my pants to work.”
- “Oh Leonard. If I was prone to sarcasm, I’d say I was off pulling a major heist at the museum of laundry baskets.”
- “I panicked! He looked taller than usual.”
- “Photos of Wolowitz family before father left forever.”
- “If you’d let me piece your brain with a hot needle in the right place, you’d be happy all the time.”