The perils of being a TV critic on the West Coast are many, but chief among them is the fact that by the time you see something, virtually everyone else in the country also has. This usually means that some sort of advanced perception of the episode has filtered into your brain and caused you to set your expectations way too high or way too low. After a while, you get used to it enough to just sort of filter all of that out, but every so often, something gets so buzzed one way or the other that you end up really excited for it in spite of yourself.
So it was with me and last week’s Big Bang Theory, a perfectly fine and funny episode that had so many people I knew calling it one of the show’s best ever based on that Sheldon/Raj work scene that I ended up expecting something beyond what the episode ultimately was, which was fine and funny. But the opposite happened for me with “The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary,” which a number of friends found mildly diverting and I found surprisingly sweet. Perhaps because of the fact that I had set my expectations fairly low (if I didn’t like last week’s episode as much as these guys and they didn’t like this one as much, maybe it will be awful), I was able to get into it, despite some typical Big Bang-ian flaws. It wasn’t as funny as last week’s – there was no single scene to match the scene mentioned above, though the last one came close – but it was a surprisingly winning story all the same.
Since last week’s episode was Raj-centric, then it stood to reason that this week’s would be Howard-centric. The series tends to balance stories centered on these two out, so neither gets more storylines than the other. Howard stories have been kind of problematic in the past – if Raj’s character is often too one-dimensional for me when he’s in the lead, I have problems with the one-dimensionality of Howard when he’s in support. But Simon Helberg is a funny actor, and the series has moved far enough away from the lecherous guy he was too much of the time in season one that I’m enjoying him more often than I’m not. His single-minded focus on sex above all else is still pretty hit-and-miss, but some of his other more cliché attributes – like his overbearing Jewish mother – have grown on me. Still, when I see a Howard episode, like a Raj episode, I’m not necessarily pre-biased in favor of it.
But the guy won me over tonight with his attempts to court the sweetly dorky Bernadette, one of Penny’s friends who’s a graduate student in microbiology. He’s on a date with her because Leonard and he made a pact on opening day of Spider-man 2 that if either ever got a hot girlfriend, he would get her to set the other up with one of her friends. Now that Leonard has said hot girlfriend, it’s time to pay up. The scene where Leonard tries to finagle Penny to get her to find a girl for Howard to date is a funny one, especially since it happens post-coitus and the mere mention of Howard is enough to make Penny skittish, but the whole thing really pays off once he and Bernadette are on the double date with Leonard and Penny.
The nerd who’s bad at relating to girls is such a time-worn stereotype that it’s hard to find anything new to do with it, and that’s the problem with so many Howard storylines. (For all of my complaints about the lack of believability inherent in Raj needing alcohol to talk to women, at least the sight gags in those storylines are reliably hilarious.) Howard’s single-minded obsessions and sheer perspiring effort can be funny on occasion, but it usually leads to the sort of “Ha, ha, ha! Nerds are so awkward!” sorts of jokes that you’ve heard before. I like Howard better when he’s in something approaching a relationship (like he was with the Sara Rue character last season). On those occasions, his vulnerability comes to the fore, and he ends up seeming like someone who really would like some companionship but just can’t quite figure this whole thing out. A nerd having trouble how to figure out in a committed relationship is also well-trod territory, but the writers seem to have more notes to give Howard within that territory, which makes it feel more rewarding.
Or, at least, that’s my conclusion after his nicely amusing final moments with Bernadette this evening, as the two bond over their shared antipathy toward their mothers. I’m well aware that, this being The Big Bang Theory, next week’s episode stands almost no chance of continuing this storyline in any way, shape or form. We likely will never see Bernadette again, but that’s too bad. Seeing Howard genuinely try to come up with a connection with this woman whom he should have a connection with and doing very poorly was the sort of balance between humor and sympathy that this show so often messes up, and the twist that Bernadette, too, had a crazy, overprotective mother gave Howard a great way to get in good with her. Where another show might have had a final scene that showed Howard and Bernadette running into her mother or going back to her place or something, this being The Big Bang Theory, there wasn’t one. But just seeing Howard be vaguely lucky in love for a little while gave the whole storyline a winning gloss that made it slide by easily.
The other storyline was boosted considerably by a.) Wil Wheaton being a funny name to say and b.) Sheldon being in it. As Sheldon and Raj enter a Magic: The Gathering-style card game tournament at the comic book store so Sheldon can get his revenge on Wheaton (who disappointed him after he failed to attend a Star Trek convention in the mid-90s), the two work their way up the ranks in the game to finally take on Wheaton in the end (and the episode’s final scene, which is easily its funniest). Sheldon’s always funniest when he’s using his powers for petty grievances, and seeing him use his memory to decimate everyone at the game was great, especially as he kept one eye on Wheaton. I must admit that I’m one of the few nerds in the world who does not follow Wheaton’s blog or Twitter feed, but he acquitted himself well here, particularly with his final, smirky “moon pie” to Sheldon.
“The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary” isn’t an all-time great episode of television or even The Big Bang Theory, but it does what it does very well. Its amusing moments are many, its character moments are well done, and its structure, odd though it is, allows for some nice moments for all five of the main characters. Maybe it’s all of that hype getting me to lower my expectations, but I enjoyed this episode just fine.
Some other thoughts:
- I don’t have the name Bernadette anywhere in my notes, but the fine and funny actress who played her – Melissa Rauch – is listed with that name in the credits. Was her name said at any time in the episode? My wife and I both watched it twice and never heard it.
- I like when the show makes meta commentaries about the debate over what, exactly, is up with Sheldon, as when Wheaton and Stuart exchanged the following tonight: "What is wrong with him?" "Everyone has a different theory."
- "I've seen him at the beach. He's like a human chicken wing."
- "I want our kids to ride Space Mountain before they're 20."
- "Do you need it to buy a less disturbing sweater vest?"
- "During, I was trying to remember what I read on Google."
- "Microbiology is the study of tiny, living things." "I know. I'm studying it."
- "Now fetch me Wil Wheaton."
- "If anything happened to my meemaw, I'd be one sad moon pie."