The Big Bang Theory: "The Lunar Excitation"
B+

The Big Bang Theory: "The Lunar Excitation"

It's been a weird season for The Big Bang Theory. It turned into one of the biggest shows on TV, but it feels weirdly like its media presence has decreased relative to where it was last year, when its improvement from middling sitcom to genuinely enjoyable one was a story for many of us who write about TV and what's on it. The characters have become cultural touchstones, particularly Sheldon, but it feels like the show's moment, if it even had one, has passed. And in the fall, it's being moved into a Thursday night timeslot where it seems likely to crush beloved freshman show Community, the 800-pound gorilla it's never really wanted to be. It's a sweet little show about nerds who learn to deal with the rest of the world. It's an underdog that has improbably become something that can cause other TV creators to feel real terror.

In the midst of all of this, Big Bang Theory has mostly just kept doing what it does and doing it well. I think that season three was a step down from what the show pulled off in its second season, but part of that may just be the fact that the show is no longer surprising, really. In season two, it was easier to be pleased that it had pulled out of a first season that had its moments but was also really dire in places. Now that we knew the show could be good, it was disappointing to tune in week after week and realize it wasn't better. But that's the way of these things, often. A show takes off, and everybody loves it, and then once they stop evangelizing, they realize, hey, this show isn't all it could be.

I think the major problem with Big Bang, as I've expressed a number of times this season, is the fact that its stories are just sort of amiably stuck in neutral. It's a good neutral, and it's a fun neutral, but I come to the end of so many episodes - like this one, for example - thinking that we've got a whole act to go, only to realize there's just the short scene at the very end left, and that's it. I had that same issue tonight, when I realized with some irritation that we were going to meet Sheldon's love match at the very end, rather than with any time to spare. I get that this is supposed to be what approaches a cliffhanger for the show, and that we'll likely get to spend a lot of time with Amy in the fall. But I still wanted to get to know her a little better, beyond just the fact that she's a female Sheldon.

But, actually, the idea of a female Sheldon? Is pretty funny. And Mayim Bialik plays her so well that I almost didn't care about the slapdash way we got to the point where she turned up. Raj and Howard's horror at finding this woman, at challenging themselves to do so and then actually delivering with the help of a computer was well-handled, and I was impressed with the way the show made Amy a potential romantic partner for Sheldon without ever making it seem plausible that the two would have sex. It seems just as likely that the two would observe each other and jot down their thoughts in a notepad as anything else, and I liked that about their very odd chemistry. (Plus, the writers did that thing with Amy that they do with Sheldon where every word she says is just exquisitely well-chosen.)

Most of the season was gobbled up by the Penny and Leonard relationship, a relationship that seemed mostly designed to give both actors something to do. Despite my general ambivalence about the whole plot, I think the show has handled the fallout from what happened fairly well, and I was really taken with the way it dealt with the two hooking up in this episode. I like the notion that Leonard has ruined the kinds of guys Penny used to date for her, as dimbulb Zack becomes very concerned that the guys are going to blow up the moon with their laser, eventually revealing himself to be so dumb that Sheldon thinks he's actually beneath Penny.

Now, I think a drunk Penny is usually a good Penny, and Kaley Cuoco is usually pretty funny the more Penny lets go of her inhibitions. It was inevitable that Penny and Leonard would have a drunk hook-up in some season finale sometime, but I didn't think the show would spring it on us this soon. If the show keeps having the two hook up and then having Penny destroy Leonard's emotions, I think this plotline could play out more believably than most sitcom relationships play out over the years. It's clear the show will eventually drive toward Leonard and Penny being together (as Penny's admission about how Leonard has ruined Zack for her would suggest), but so long as the journey there is full of the two never quite sure of how to act around each other, I'm cool with it.

There was a time when I thought Big Bang Theory was capable of greatness. Covering the show has made me realize that it's probably not. What it IS capable of is being very, very funny and having endearing characters I enjoy spending time with. Obviously, shows don't have to try to push the boundaries of television to be good, but I do hope that Big Bang Theory at least patches over some of its more glaring holes. Season three wasn't a bad season or anything, but there was the sense throughout that the show could have put in even 10 percent more effort and been that much better.

Finale grade: B+

Season grade: B

Stray observations:

  • Bernadette and Amy as new series regulars. Who's with me? Make it happen, Big Bang Theory! Then we just need to stop the insipid "Raj can't talk to women" thing, and we might be getting somewhere.
  • On the other hand, I want to thank the show for having me frantically Googling Albert Einstein's writings that inspired the invention of the laser. Don't know that I would have done that otherwise.
  • I think if you were going to write down loglines for episodes this show might do back in season one, "Sheldon tries Internet dating" would be at or near the top. I'm rather impressed the show has waited this long to pull that old chestnut out.
  • Big Bang Theory giving shoutouts to Good Wife felt weird and incestuous, but it also felt somehow appropriate. Both are shows that have large audiences and a disproportionately low amount of media hype relative to their ratings success (particularly considering how much many critics love both shows).
  • I don't know that I was ever, "Hey, what happened to Leslie?" but more Sara Gilbert is always good.
  • "I tell you. This is my new Grey's Anatomy."
  • "Wait a second. The Good Wife is crying. Something is very wrong."
  • "Yes, in 1917 when Albert Einstein established the theoretic foundation for the laser in his paper 'Zur Quantentheorie der Strahlung,' his fondest hope was that the resultant device be bitchin'."
  • "I was wrong. Penny can do better."
  • "I can't bring the nitrogen tank down. ... Let me restate that. It's very heavy, and I don't want to."
  • "Incidentally, one can get beaten up in school simply by referring to oneself as one."
  • "I have no difficulty believing you are not butter."
  • "When you say mistake, do you mean a fortunate mistake like the discovery of penicillin?"
  • "That's not afternoon. That's prevening."
  • "I would snort in derision and throw my arms in the air, exhausted by your constant tomfoolery."
  • "Howard wanted to write 'mumbo jumbo,' but I said no, our Sheldon would say 'hokum.'"
  • "What's life without whimsy?"
  • "I share your aversion to soiled hosiery."
  • "I don't object to the concept of a deity, but I'm baffled by the notion of one that takes attendance."

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