It’s oddly fitting that Sheldon spent much of The Big Bang Theory’s second season finale playing “pranks”—Bazinga!—because in premise alone, “The Monopolar Expedition” promised to be the wackiest BBT episode to date. There are few plots more sitcom-y than sending the core characters to some remote location—like a cabin, or a farmhouse, or the North freakin’ Pole—and watching them flounder.
So I have to give the show’s writers credit for zigging where I assumed they would zag, and saving all “the gang goes arctic” stuff for the coda (where, I confess, it was funny enough that I kinda wished this episode had been all-North-Pole-all-the-time). Instead, “The Monopolar Expedition” was all about how our heroes got snowbound.
It begins with Sheldon receiving an unexpected e-mail from the president of the university, calling for a meeting first thing in the morning. Since Sheldon can’t deal with the uncertainty—it makes him feel like one of Heisenberg’s particles—he heads over to the president’s house at 2 a.m., where he learns that the dean and his entire family are "fascinated by what time it is and whether people know it.” He also learns that the National Science Foundation has awarded him a grant to study the movement of monopoles in the arctic circle, and thus possibly prove string theory. Sheldon is hesitant to accept, because one of the reasons he became a theoretical physicist is so he could stay indoors. On the other hand, if he succeeds at proving string theory, “third graders will create macaroni-art dioramas depicting scenes from my life.”
Ultimately, Sheldon takes the grant, and asks Leonard, Howard and Raj to be his support team—in part because he’s worried about them touching his stuff over the summer and in part because the thought of interviewing other people “gave me a stomachache.” Raj is excited about the prospect of being part of the string-theory-proving team, which would mean that “we could drink for free at any bar in any town with a university that has a strong science program.” But Howard is skeptical about spending the summer with an irritating Aspie, imagining that “I could be the scientist who builds the crossbow that kills Sheldon.”
The other major thread of this episode had to do with Penny’s reaction to the news that Leonard was planning to spend the next three months thousands of miles away. For some reason, she’s bummed. Look, I know last week Penny moaned Leonard’s name while making out with Stuart, but aside from that, the neighbors’ on-again/off-again romance has been pretty much off the table all season long, and this sudden rekindling of interest on the Penny side seems to me to be coming out of the blue. Perhaps there’s some secret reason for Penny's Leonard-lust that will be explained next season—and frankly I do like the idea of the two of them together, if only because it gives Johnny Galecki more to do—but until then, I confess that I thought all the Penny/Leonard business detracted from an otherwise entertaining episode.
Or maybe I just missed the unique Sheldon/Penny chemistry, which there’s been too little of these past two weeks. (Just the brief scene where Penny answers Sheldon’s knock by knocking back was enough to make me wish that has been more of a Sheldon/Penny episode.) On the plus side though, there was quite a lot of Sheldon at his most spectrum-y tonight, whether it be recounting his “breakfast at 8, moving my bowels at 8:20” schedule—“How did we live before Twitter?” Leonard mutters—or him giving a smile of honest pleasure when Leonard confirmed that he’d guessed his and Penny’s emotional states accurately. (Even though he actually didn’t.)
And despite my worry about the polar zaniness, I confess I laughed out loud at Sheldon’s expedition simulation in The Cheesecake Factory freezer, which had Leonard crunching numbers on a calculator watch, Raj painting sideburns (and a Van Dyke) on a 6” figure of Legolas, and Howard paying Operation. I hereby withdraw all objections to wacky sitcom plots. Can we set Season Three in the tropical rainforest?
-Here are the gang’s reaction to spending an entire summer without Sheldon:
Raj: “We could play outside.”
Howard: “We could sit on the left side of the couch.”
Leonard: “I could use the bathroom at 8:20”
-BBT food habits update: Leonard pours himself a glass of soy milk when Sheldon wakes him up in the middle of the night, and the gang enjoys reconstituted thai food at the North Pole.
-Boy, the Slanket/Snuggie people have really gotten through to the sitcom writers of America.