I’m stepping in for a vacationing Todd tonight, revisiting my old Big Bang Theory stomping grounds. Even though I stopped being the point-man for BBT coverage during the off-season—largely because I felt like I’d said about all I had to say about the show—I’ve still been watching this third season, and enjoying it. This season has only provided one all-time classic—“The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary,” which could well be the best BBT episode ever—and I’ve had some qualms about the way the writers have handled the Penny/Leonard relationship, as well as the way they’ve often dumbed-down Howard and Raj. But for the most part I’ve had no major complaints. I like these characters and I like the writing on Big Bang Theory; I still look forward to spending a half-hour with the gang each week.
I’ll be frank, though: I didn’t love the set-up for this week’s episode, “The Guitarist Amplification.” I hate to break out the word “hoary” from my dusty old toolbox of Big Bang Theory descriptions, but sitcom plots don’t get much hoarier than “girl’s ex-boyfriend comes for a visit, rattling insecure new boyfriend.” This episode opens with Penny and Leonard suffering through a round of the Sheldon-created board game Research Lab (slogan: “The Physics Is Theoretical, But The Fun Is Real!”) when she lets it slip that her old guitarist friend Justin will be crashing on her couch for a few days. Leonard quickly surmises that Justin isn’t just a friend but an ex, and when he makes it known that he’s not comfortable with this arrangement, Penny freaks out about his lack of trust, setting off an argument that ends with her storming out and a trying-to-remain-oblivious Sheldon muttering, “Has your relationship reached its inevitable ugly end?”
But I gotta give credit to The Big Bang Theory’s writers (the A-team of which were in charge tonight): they switched things up by making “The Guitarist Amplification” less about Leonard and Penny’s annoying epic spat and more about Sheldon’s reaction to same. When the fight begins, Sheldon retreats to the kitchen to drown out the sounds of the yelling with a blender. When Leonard brings the dispute back up in the car the next day, Sheldon tries to distract him with a game called “Scientist.” (How to play: Sheldon names three scientists, and then Leonard has to put them in order by size of their contribution to their respective fields.) When Howard and Raj take opposing sides in the Leonard/Penny debate and reopen the wounds of one of their own past disagreements, Sheldon loses it in the comic book store and has a flashback to growing up in Texas with a constantly bickering mother and father.
It’s never a surprise to see Jim Parsons do great work as Sheldon, but he was in particularly fine form in “The Guitarist Amplification.” I don’t know whether to credit the writers, the director or Parsons, but whoever came up with the idea to make Sheldon not just bothered by fighting but also insecure and more than a little angry deserves a pat on the back. Like Sheldon, I tuned out all the yelling fairly quickly, and instead just focused on the character’s slow-burn reactions: his little facial tics as he stands outside Howard’s house and hears Howard and his mother hollering at each other; the little nest of comic books and noisy robots he builds for himself at the comic book store, and so on.
Ultimately, Penny takes pity on Sheldon, saying that she and Leonard will always love him no matter how much they fight, adding, “Now how about we buy you this robot and then we’ll all go home?” (Sheldon: “Can I get this comic book too?”) And Penny relents to Leonard’s pressure too and has Justin sleep on the boys’ couch instead. (Sheldon again: “I should’ve asked for much more than a comic book and a robot.”)
And as often happens with this show, I’m of two minds about the characters and where they go from here. As always, I love the interactions between Penny and Sheldon, as shown to its best advantage tonight in the scene where Sheldon once again cleverly uses his status as a Cheesecake Factory customer in order to force Penny to pay attention to what he has to say. (Kaley Cuoco gets her own little acting showcase as Penny gets increasingly frustrated with what Sheldon’s saying and how he’s saying it, until she finally snaps at him and he sighs, “And she wonders why she’s constantly undertipped.”)
But Penny and Leonard? I’m still largely uninterested in them. I feel like Sheldon does when he’s trying to rush the gang to the movies and Leonard and Penny hold them up, forcing everyone to stand in the hallway, suffering through an awkward encounter. I want to tell the writers what Sheldon tells Leonard: “When that woman moved in three years ago I told you not to talk to her, and now look, we’re going to be late for the movies.”
-Sheldon makes sno-cones out of crushed ice and fresh squeezed oranges.
-You know what vegan chicken-and-rice is? Rice!
-How do you make a half-sandwich?
-Leonard is bothered by the plethora of stuffed animals on Penny’s bed that stare at him during their amorous activities.
-Poor Stuart is still pining for Penny, such that he laments that when he leaves the comic books shop, he’ll be heading to “a slightly smaller lonely room filled with comic books.”
-There’s no difference between being a jerk and being an ass. They’re synonyms.