The Big Bang Theory: "The Einstein Approximation"
B+

The Big Bang Theory: "The Einstein Approximation"

"The Einstein Approximation" is an episode I really liked without having the slightest clue as to why. It does a lot of the things I say irritate me about this show (including an entire set piece where the SOLE LINE OF DIALOGUE was "Bazinga!"). I could say it made me laugh a lot, but the number of lines I wrote down to represent funny dialogue is surprisingly slim. And the story wasn't terribly developed and, indeed, leaned a little heavily on the sort of story that the show has perhaps pushed a little too hard this season, wherein Sheldon is somehow forced to step outside of his comfort zone to the delight of the live studio audience. (At least he didn't threaten to move away in this one.) And yet, I really, really enjoyed this episode. I guess maybe it made me laugh more than I thought it did. Or maybe it balanced out those things I say I dislike with some good, old-fashioned genius acting moments.

Let's start with Leonard. Some of you in comments have been making the argument that the guy is pretty much a giant dick now, and I increasingly find it hard to argue that he's not. It'd be one thing if we got a better idea of why he hangs out with these people so often, but we never get that. He just hangs out with them, it seems, because he's supposed to hang out with them because there wouldn't be a show if he didn't. This means that he only ever seems to be irritated by all of his closest friends. There were moments in this episode - notably when he and Howard were coming back from roller disco - when it sure seemed as though he was enjoying the guy's company. But when push comes to shove, Leonard always seems put out by the fact that he hangs out with these people.

It's not like we've ever seen that Leonard has a lot of other friends on the side. He's got the three guys and then he's got Penny. And that's it. He has a few other people he converses with at work, but his other attempts at socializing have mostly fallen flat. And, look, I get when you're in a place where you're just driven nuts by people you would move heaven and Earth for. But because we never see the moments when Leonard is grateful for his friends or appreciates their company or something (or we too rarely see them), the show just seems to be about a mean, spiteful guy who hangs out with a bunch of wacky people simply because the demands of the universe insist that he do so. The show wouldn't work without Leonard at its center - it really does need a straight man - but is it too much to ask that he occasionally show a little compassion?

Then again, maybe he did in tonight's episode. While he bitched about having to go fetch Sheldon from what appeared to be a Chuck E. Cheese ripoff, he was genuinely concerned that Sheldon come home and get some sleep. There's a fairly deep friendship between these two that the show too often treats as a given, and it's interesting to see it reaffirmed and put to the test in storylines like this one, where Leonard really does, when it comes down to it, want Sheldon to push past the problems he's having to be able to live a normal life again. It was that note of concern that made his increasing irritation with the fact that Sheldon simply didn't care for his concern more realistic. He didn't go from zero to irritation instantly. The gradual build-up made all the difference.

And, OK, maybe that whole sequence in the ball pit made all the difference. There are certain comic set pieces you can watch and know that some sort of new, legendary bit of physical comedy is being born. I like to think everyone watching Lucy and Ethel at the candy machine had some idea of what was happening, as well as everyone who watched that Cheers food fight. Leonard pursuing Sheldon through the ball pit, Sheldon popping up like a demented dolphin every so often to spout "Bazinga!", has the feel of one of those kinds of sequences. It's a riotously funny sequence, and it's executed almost purely through physical comedy. At the same time, it's the sort of thing you've never seen in a live-action comedy. This episode pretty much earns a B based on this sequence alone, and both Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki (who's not always the world's most adept physical comedian) do a great job with it.

The main plot, as mentioned, is really kind of nothing to write home about. While everyone else's lives are continuing apace, Sheldon is hung up on some sort of physics problem (and I'll have to trust the show's continued assertions that the science is accurate because I have no idea), which is leading him to keep odd hours and give in to even odder behavior. What's great about this is that it allows all of the other cast members to show their concern for Sheldon in ways that seem fairly natural. It also gives a great comic moment to Bernadette, continuing my surety that she should be added to the regular cast for the next season. (Jaime Weinman points out that another guest girlfriend who became a series regular was The Mary Tyler Moore Show's Georgette, and seen in that light, Bernadette seems an even more obvious addition to the cast.)

But the story lost its way somewhere toward the climax, when Sheldon's decision to get a menial job so he could divert his brain with simple labor, the better to have the rest of it working on complex scientific formulae, didn't really play out as anything beyond, well, Sheldon working at the Cheesecake Factory. Having Sheldon work at Penny's place of business is the sort of thing that seems like it should be much funnier than it actually played out as (especially with Bernadette in the role of his new, stern parent there), but the whole sequence was curiously flat, as though all involved thought the idea alone would be enough to keep everything humming along and didn't bother coming up with anything more to it.

But, y'know what? I still really enjoyed this episode. There were some great lines and at least a couple of great sight gags. (I'm a little tired of the "Raj and Howard are just like an old married couple!" jokes, but even I'll admit the sight of them roller skating was pretty funny.) And there was, for the first time in a long time, a sense that all of these people are friends who have each other's best interests in mind. That goes a long way toward patching up any other issues, and I'm hopeful that The Big Bang Theory will keep this in mind as it continues on this season.

Stray observations:

  • "Penny, I told you if you don't put him in his crate at night, he just runs around the apartment."
  • "I'm a walking, brown Yelp.com."
  • "Don't be ridiculous. What would I do with corn?"
  • "I know how to deal with stubborn children. My mother used to run an illegal daycare center in our basement."

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