The Big Bang Theory: "The Pants Alternative"
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The Big Bang Theory: "The Pants Alternative"

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The Big Bang Theory

"The Pants Alternative"

Season 3, Episode 18

"The Pants Alternative" combines the best and the worst of The Big Bang Theory into 20+ minutes of ... something or other. I liked probably the first 15 minutes quite well, and it seemed to play into the roll the show has been on lately, where it finds a small story, figures out a way to place the characters within that small story and then just lets the actors play. It's not the world's most original formula for doing a sitcom, but with this cast and (increasingly frequently) these writers, it works more often than it doesn't. It's sold, low-intensity TV comedy, just there to make you laugh a lot and let you hang out with your favorite characters. On both counts, it usually succeeds.

But the last five to six minutes of the episode end up bringing everything else down. To be honest, the second Sheldon started sucking down alcohol, I was cringing. There's only one direction this story can head in, for the most part, and the show immediately started heading in that direction, which did even less to increase my confidence. While Penny feeding Sheldon the booze was pretty funny, the frequent cuts to Leonard talking about his own mother did little to suggest he's not the dick we've always suspected he is, and Sheldon's speech, ultimately, was a pretty big disappointment, never going so huge as to overcome the fairly cliched idea behind it of the most straitlaced person being the one who got drunk.

But let's back up a little more. The premise of the episode - Sheldon has a fear of public speaking we've previously been unaware of - isn't a bad one. It's another classic sitcom premise the show has dusted off and seen if it can get more mileage out of by sticking Jim Parsons at the premise's center. As usual, this proves to be a reliable way to get laughs, and this episode may as well be Parsons' Emmy tape this season, as he finds a huge variety of shades to play on the character and has that showcase scene where he's drunk at the end to insert into the clips package. I don't think it's his most shaded or interesting work, but it's certainly a performance that dominates the episode (and literally reduces all of the other characters to his supporting players), and that tends to go over better with Emmy voters. (As a point of trivia, Parsons' submission last year to the Emmys was the episode where he gets the napkin containing the DNA of Leonard Nimoy. While it was a good individual scene for him, it was not a terribly good episode overall for him. Classic rookie Emmy submission mistake.)

So the episode revolves around Sheldon's attempts to get ready for the big speech he has to give to receive the prize he's been awarded. (Honestly, though, I do wonder why the head of the prize committee was so hard-assed about him having to give a speech other than the fact that the plot required him to be that way. You'd think for a prize that frequently goes to research scientists who are not as accustomed to giving big speeches as their lecturer colleagues are, there'd be more of a way to weasel out with a half-hearted, "Thanks so much!" or something. But, then, I'm the only person wondering about this, and there's no episode if Sheldon isn't freaking out about giving a speech.) And I think the episode made pretty good use of forcing everyone into Sheldon's orbit in these scenes, with the scenes between Raj and Sheldon and Penny and Sheldon being particularly funny. (The sight of Sheldon in that green suit was one of the show's better sight gags.)

Things took a turn for the worse when Sheldon sat down for a little impromptu psychotherapy with Leonard, who succeeded in making the whole session about his own mother issues (and while I appreciated the way the episode flipped this so Sheldon ended up the therapist, I still think it could have gone to a darker or at least weirder place). If you're wondering where Howard was in all of this, well, Howard wasn't given a scene with Sheldon, simply because the episode ran out of time, I guess. But that was OK. Two of the three scenes we got were among the better ones the show has gotten, and the Leonard scene was probably salvageable with a killer ending.

Instead, we got Sheldon getting drunk and offering up the lamest series of science jokes known to man as his speech, the audience sitting in stunned silence while watching him. While I can't point to a specific instance of seeing this particular resolution to this particular storyline, that I thought, at episode's beginning, "God, I hope this doesn't end with Sheldon getting drunk to give the speech," suggests this might have taken one or two additional turns. And then, just when you think the worst of it is past, the episode has to show you exactly how Sheldon lost his pants by having Leonard and Penny show him the video of the event, which has ended up on YouTube. (And, again. Leonard? Kind of an asshole.)

That deflation of an ending isn't enough to drag down the rest of the episode - which was in A territory for this show - but it's enough to keep the episode from being one of my all-time favorites for this series. I seem to harp on this every week here, but sometimes, it's not enough to just give Jim Parsons some potentially funny material and hope for the best. Sometimes, you have to come up with material that would be funny all on its own and not with one of TV's most gifted comic actors delivering it. "The Pants Alternative" isn't a bad episode, but it's one that lets a promising start slowly fade, and that ends up being more disappointing.

Stray observations:

  • There's been talk in the comments section here (not that I think the producers of the show read this blog) about whether or not the show uses a laugh track or a live, studio audience. Chuck Lorre used his producer card tonight to seemingly prove the laugh track people wrong, showing ... the live studio audience. Now, I'd wager that the series has used laugh tracks to sweeten the laughter from time to time, but, for the most part, the audience microphones are cranked up so loud that it becomes hard to argue that the majority of the laughs AREN'T coming from the studio audience, unlike with some other shows, where the laughs are kept fairly quiet. (How I Met Your Mother springs to mind.)
  • However, just in case producers of the show ARE reading this blog, it's time to end Raj's inability to speak around women! It was amusing at one time, I guess, but it now seems almost totally inconsistent with the way his character is in every other aspect of his life, and I think you could give the oft-underserved Kunal Nayyar SOMEthing to do by offering him an episode where he overcomes this particular phobia. It's reached its sell-by date.
  • "My point is, if I were a horse or a bird, I'd be a little nervous around James Cameron."
  • "The one thing the William Shatner of theoretical physics needed was an ego boost."
  • "Before the movie, you did 20 minutes on why guacamole turns brown. It turned brown while you were talking."
  • "I once got a pretty big honor in high school, and I was terrified about appearing in front of a big crowd, but I went through with it, and you know what? The world looked pretty darn good sitting on a haystack in the back of a Ford F-150 as a member of the corn queen's court."
  • "Thank you. I'll bear that in mind if I'm ever nomianted for the hillbilly peace prize."
  • "Yes. I'll buy it on the iTunes, mother."
  • "I haven't figured out a way, and I'm much smarter than all of you."
  • "That's not exactly a mutation that would get you into xavier's school for Gifted Youngsters, but go on."
  • "Since I am Sheldon Cooper, you will be my C-men."
  • "SimCity. More specifically, the SimCity I designed ... Sheldonopolis."
  • "Sheldon Stadium, home of the Fighting Sheldons?"
  • "I recently had a dream that I was a giant, but everything around me was to scale, so it all looked normal."
  • "I was wearing size a million pants."
  • "Didn't work. This alcohol is defective."

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