The Big Bang Theory: “The Hofstadter Insufficiency”/“The Deception Verification”
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The Big Bang Theory: “The Hofstadter Insufficiency”/“The Deception Verification”

The Big Bang Theory receives a lot of negative criticism, justified and not, but Robert David Sullivan’s TV Club 10 published yesterday details exactly why this series has remained a TV juggernaut over six seasons. Sure, the multi-camera sitcom formula is repetitive, and the series loves to play into stereotypes, but the characters are well defined, and the writers have consistently made improvements to tighten the relationships and expand the scope of the show. The addition of Amy and Bernadette was the first big change, and the latest change occurred at the end of last season when Raj’s muteness around women was finally cured after six seasons of the same joke. It can be hard to track character growth on a show where things stay relatively the same on the surface, but the first two episodes of the seventh season show how far this group has come and how their relationships will continue to change in the coming year.

Leonard left for his North Sea expedition at the end of last season, and “The Hofstadter Insufficiency” picks up months later to show how Sheldon and Penny have been dealing with his absence. Sheldon has been having horrible nightmares about Leonard putting his Back To The Future 2 and 3 DVDs in the wrong cases (Leonard also gets eaten by a Kraken, but who cares), and Penny has had to live with the constant annoyance that is a lonely Sheldon. Penny stays strong for the both of them until she calls Leonard and hears the great time he’s having partying on international waters, and in her moment of weakness, she makes the horrible decision of going to Sheldon for comfort when he has none to offer.

The Penny/Sheldon relationship is at the heart of this series, and Leonard being gone forces them to engage on a deep personal level, reinforcing their bond by putting stress on it. In order to end a mind-numbing game of 3-D chess, Penny decides that she and Sheldon should just talk and share something that the other doesn’t know. Penny confesses to filming a topless scene for a low-budget horror movie about a murderous gorilla, and Sheldon responds by admitting his dislike of the switch from stars to thumbs for YouTube’s rating system. Sheldon has difficulty gauging the value of personal information in conversation, and the fact that he’s kept his feelings about YouTube hidden means that they are worth just as much as Penny’s secret.

The fact that there’s no aspect of personal shame in it for Sheldon makes the confession unimportant to Penny, and he calls her out when she disrespects his answer. The laugh track drops out when Sheldon blatantly tells her that she hurt his feelings, and what follows is one of the best exchanges between Jim Parsons and Kaley Cuoco on this show. Penny says she didn’t think it would be a big deal, but Sheldon reminds her that this kind of intimate personal communication is a big deal for him, forcing her to reconsider her reaction and apologize when she sees her mistake. It’s a lot like the scene in Sheldon’s bedroom last season, when he told Amy about his feelings for her and how he gauges the growth of their relationship. The people around Sheldon get so frustrated by his behavior that they forget to consider how that same behavior dramatically changes his wants and needs, and Sheldon’s relationships are able to improve when he puts all his cards on the table and tells those around him how he actually feels.

Sheldon has another meaningful confrontation in “The Deception Verification” when Leonard returns and keeps it a secret, so he can have a few days of alone time with his girlfriend, a plan that goes very wrong when nosy Sheldon gets involved. After walking into Penny’s apartment and noticing evidence of another person, Sheldon concludes that Penny is cheating on Leonard and charges into her apartment to find his roommate having dinner without him. After months of abandonment, the revelation is a huge shock to Sheldon’s system, igniting an anger within him that forces him to take a look at what his relationship with Leonard is really like.

Sheldon accuses Leonard of years of emotional abuse, and hearing Sheldon’s complaints after four months of bliss overseas makes Leonard respond with equal force, fully accepting his hatred of his roommate and cutting him off before Penny repairs things between them. The group is all together eating dinner like a big happy family at the end of the episode, but there’s a sense that things aren’t truly resolved. Hopefully, this season will continue to explore this rift between Sheldon and Leonard; based on the events of “The Deception Verification,” I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t living together anymore when season seven ends.

Just like the old days, Raj and Howard partner up for the subplots of both episodes, but these B-stories couldn’t be more different. The first has Howard taking Raj to a university event to help him meet someone and hopefully get over Lucy, which proves to be a fruitful endeavor when Raj makes a surprising connection with the university’s recently divorced HR director Mrs. Davis. Regina King is always welcome on this series, and it would be great if she became a recurring romantic interest for Raj. She’s proved to be a great straight man in her previous appearances, and it would be nice to get some more diversity in this cast. The totally ridiculous B-story of the second episode involves Howard absorbing massive amounts of estrogen through his mother’s back ointment, awakening his feminine side for a plot that climaxes with Howard and Raj pulling their shirts behind their heads and groping each other’s man boobs.

Those that are critical of this show’s portrayal of women won’t be pleased with the stereotypes in these two episodes. The C-plot of the season premiere has Amy and Bernadette reverting to horny teenage girls when they go to a conference together and hot guys buy them drinks, and Howard’s estrogen cream plot is essentially the opportunity for Simon Helberg to get laughs out of being overly effeminate, which largely consists of complaining about his appearance and overreacting about inconsequential events. It’s not very empowering, but these actors make it very funny. Melissa Rauch and Mayim Bialik have always had great chemistry together, and it’s hilarious to see Helberg’s already effeminate interpretation of Howard turned up to caricature levels. Luckily, the major strides made with Sheldon, Penny, and Leonard compensate for some of the more distasteful humor, making this a strong start for this show’s seventh season.

Stray observations:

  • I am so, so happy that they showed a clip from Penny’s unreleased horror classic Serial Apist.
  • Thank god Leonard came back before Penny became a raging alcoholic, because things were certainly heading in that direction.
  • In a rare moment mentioning a Marvel Comic, Howard and Raj talk about the current mind-swap story in Dan Slott’s Superior Spider-Man. I’m on Raj’s side and thoroughly enjoy the series, specifically because it feels like both versions of Freaky Friday.
  • “Perhaps I should sleep here... so you don't miss Leonard as much. ’Cause you're being kind of a baby about it.”
  • “Think you're so cool because your wife is a person.”
  • Penny: “I get it I get it. You're an emotionless robot.” Sheldon: “I try.”
  • “Your husband’s weird, and his clothes are ridiculous.”
  • “Now I know how you felt getting mauled by that sex-crazed gorilla.”
  • Amy: “Then what does ‘tweepadock’ mean?” Sheldon:  “Elephant?” Amy: “Lucky guess.”
  • “Thank you, I really needed to hear that today.”

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