This week, NBC announced that Up All Night will be switching to a live-audience, multi-camera format. If they’re smart, Will Arnett, Christina Applegate, and company will be studying The Big Bang Theory, which remains the most expertly produced show in that sitcom subgenre right now.
“The Extract Obliteration” works well as a multi-camera primer. Even for The Big Bang Theory, it’s a low-stakes episode, with no advancement of any story arc and no attempt at character development. Howard never mentions his space adventure, none of the three couples threaten to break up, and Raj still doesn’t come out of the closet (a development I’m skeptical will happen). The opening scene of Raj and Howard disco dancing seems to have no purpose other than to give us a good look at Raj’s treasure trail. Instead, this is an episode in which everyone gets to noodle around with their characters without being burdened by much of a story. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
In a Seinfeld-like spoof of a silly fad, Sheldon plays the online game Words With Friends with BBT favorite Stephen Hawking, who does not appear in the episode. (Well, only his “voice” shows up.) “Stephen Hawking is a genius and he talks like a robot. Everything I ever wanted in a friend!”, says Sheldon.
Sheldon gets overexcited about the game and then stresses out about it. (“It’s been three days! Why won’t Stephen Hawking play a word!?”) When Howard warns him that Hawking is a sore loser, Sheldon throws the game just to stay on his hero’s good side, only to suffer through a gloating phone call from his new “friend.” (The title is official, since it’s right there in the game’s name.)
Over on Leonard and Penny’s side of the sitcom set, it’s the old going-back-to-school plot. Penny’s taking a community college course on history, and Leonard interferes by secretly rewriting her paper on slavery, an institution which she boldly argues against. They quarrel, but thankfully never talk about breaking up. Leonard and Penny aren’t a terrible couple when you just accept them as being together; it’s only when they argue about their unsuitability that they get wearying and unbelievable.
Neither big story is a classic, but they come together nicely in very funny two-character scene in which Leonard and Sheldon vent about their respective problems. “I did a bad thing,” confesses Leonard. “Does it affect me?” asks Sheldon. Getting a “no,” he waves away his roommate with “Then suffer in silence.”
Leonard’s idea of using a chess clock to give each roommate a turn to speak, and to get a piece of advice in return, doesn’t help communication. In his haste to get back to his own problem, Sheldon gives such feedback as “Beats me!” and “Women, huh?” The Big Bang Theory has mostly benefited from its widening cast over the years, but it would be fun to get an episode with just Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons doing The Odd Couple for a half-hour.
And that’s about it, but everyone gets a little bit of business in this episode without cluttering things up. Raj gets to take off his shirt and do an American accent, which he wants to use because his own Indian accent seems like “making fun” of the person on the other end of the line when he calls tech support for anything. Howard does a Hawking robot voice and talks about the famed physicist being so oversensitive that he should be “in a stroller, not a wheelchair.”
As for the women, we get two always-welcome scenes with Penny, Amy, and Bernadette. Let’s just get them in a room for a half-hour as well.
- As Bernadette, Melissa Rauch gets this week’s most extended joke and the best playing around with the studio audience. She reports that after taking a shower, “I started to dry off with what I thought was a towel, but it turned out to be Howard’s mom’s underwear. (audience laughter) I had to take another shower. (audience laughter) It wasn’t enough. (audience laughter) Nothing will ever be enough.” Bernadette talking about Howard’s mother is always funnier than hearing Howard’s mother.
- Amy’s line of the week: “I once looked in Sheldon’s underwear drawer. He yelled at me. But now I know what it looks like, and he can never take that away.” Another excellent deadpan delivery by Mayim Bialik, this time to Sheldon: “When one male dominates another, his testosterone level rises.” “What’s your point?” he asks. Her response: “It’s exciting to think that you might be getting a testosterone level.”
- Penny makes “crunchy” spaghetti, which is fortunate for Kaley Cuoco and Johnny Galecki since the actors can just push the food around and not swallow anything for an entire scene.
- No Stuart this week. Can't have everything.
- Oliver Sava returns to his excellent coverage of The Big Bang Theory next week.