The Big Bang Theory: "The Cohabitation Formulation"
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The Big Bang Theory: "The Cohabitation Formulation"

At some point this season, I started watching The Big Bang Theory for the women of the cast and not the men. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we rarely watch the same show for the same reasons for season after season. It’s been a while since I’ve really been engaged in one of the storylines featuring the guys. Even tonight, when I thought I might find Howard’s struggle to break free of his mother (one of my least favorite running gags on the show) and move in with Bernadette interesting, I just didn’t care much about what he was up to. Sheldon’s seemingly grown harsher and harsher as the show has gone on. Howard and Raj are just who they were a few years ago, outside of Howard’s relationship (which is a great step for him as a character). And Leonard’s turned into a straight man/jerk who’s less interesting the more the show tries to put him at the center of stories.

But the ladies? Oh, the ladies are just wonderful. It’s taken me a while to calibrate my expectations when it comes to Amy. I liked her when she first joined the show, soured on her over time, and have come to like her a bit more in the last few episodes. Bernadette, well, you know how I feel about her, and during this season, Penny may have become my favorite regular character. So in the name of being positive and saying some nice things, let’s talk about the many women of The Big Bang Theory and just what they’re bringing to the show at this point in its life.

Penny: The original. The girl who’s had maybe the most character growth since the pilot (where she was more or less a prop). If the writers could just get rid of her bizarre, inexplicable feelings for Leonard (which were again a major plot point), she’d be hands-down the best character on the show at this point. She’s funny and bright, but she also knows exactly what to say to undercut the guys when they get too high-minded or too geeky. There are times when I almost recoil at the fact that Sheldon is raking her acting career over the coals, even as I realize that said career never even got started. I get that harsh truths is a part of his character, but why would he do that to HER? What’s interesting is that Penny rarely drives the storyline. She’s usually just there to react to everything else that’s going on, as she is tonight, as the knowledge that Leonard is dating Priya eventually does drive her to the tears her new best friend predicts will come. And speaking of that new best friend, I’m really impressed with the way the show has found a fun, easygoing chemistry between Penny and…

Amy: I’ll confess to not being entirely sure just what the show was going for with Amy all this time. At times, she just seemed to be a female Sheldon. Then she seemed to occasionally be stuck in her own series that aired entirely in Sheldon’s computer. But in this episode, the show revealed just how confident it is in writing scenes for just her and Penny. It’s been toying around with this idea for a while, but I think this is the episode where the series finally nailed down how these two would interact and made it as funny as it could be. All of the scenes where Amy, clearly delighting in having a new “bestie,” was insinuating her way into Penny’s life however she could were very funny. I particularly liked the scene where the guys were sitting around the apartment with Amy and Priya, and Penny came in to have some pizza. Where some of the scenes featuring the whole gang (or the majority of it) have skewed a little too much toward constant insult humor this season, this was just a nice, fun scene, and it was based in the simple idea of Penny sitting near Amy, to hear Amy’s growing awe at Priya and her suitability for Leonard. I don’t really buy that Leonard and Penny are destined to be together, but I think the show sells Penny’s desperation and the ways Amy both aids and abets it.

Bernadette: I’ve written enough times about Bernadette here that you don’t need to hear it all again. (Or maybe you do, since enough of you have suggested that my love for the character is insane.) But I like the way that the character is able to show spine while staying fundamentally true to her good-natured self. I compared her a few weeks ago to Georgette from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, only with a brain in her head, and I more or less stand by that. Georgette could stand up for herself when Ted was being a lummox, too, and Bernadette did that tonight, both when Howard was caving in to his mother’s demands on his time and when he was trying to treat her like his mother (it just took her a while in the latter case). I knew the show wouldn’t do anything as huge as have these two characters move in together, but can I hope that Bernadette’s steadfast resolve will help Howard overcome some of his issues and do the right thing by her? Yes, I can.

Priya: Here’s a grumble: I didn’t like that the fun, sexy Priya of the previous episode she was in was mostly gone in this one. She seemed less like the girl Leonard was nuts for and more like a girl that was being used as a plot device. And, yeah, shows sometimes need to toss some meat to the audience watching for the romantic couplings, particularly during sweeps month, but I missed the Priya who was kind of sassy and good at physical comedy. If the show’s going to turn this character into a recurring one, I hope it brings back the girl I liked so much the last time she was around.

After having a hesitant start to its fourth season, where mixed episodes were slotted right alongside awful ones, The Big Bang Theory has had a pretty successful February sweeps by playing to its strengths, mostly. The show feels more like itself again, less like it’s trying to make its name via brash humor and mockery of the characters that we’ve come to know and love. I don’t know that the show has figured out some of its larger problems with character growth and so on and so forth, but I do know that I’m enjoying it again, something I wasn’t sure would happen. It’s not the best show on TV, but it’s been doing what it’s been doing pretty darn well.

Stray observations:

  • "You sound a little like a drunken monkey."
  • "Tea does sound nice." "You heard the man, Leonard!"
  • "I'm upset we have an unannounced house guest, so make me cocoa."
  • "Should you ever need a slightly apathetic, tertiary friend, I stand at the ready."
  • "If true, that seems like an awfully large gamble given that the prize is Leonard."
  • "Now, let's talk about Priya, that man stealing bitch."
  • "All the more shame that will fall upon the house of Hofstedter!"
  • "Please, fly into our open maw and have at it."
  • "I'm regretting my earlier cattiness. She is an absolute delight."

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