A long time ago, sitcoms learned that one of the surest of surefire sight gags is to have the characters all come together in some sort of mass and then have to move as one. Think of all of the shows where two people end up handcuffed together or the Mary Tyler Moore finale, where the entire cast gets into that giant group hug and ends up having to move around in that big lump. The Big Bang Theory apparently agrees, as tonight's episode features one of the better variations on this gag that I've seen in a while. To be fair, this gag has been mostly gone from TV for quite some time, so old and hoary is it, but the pitch perfect physical comic timing of the Big Bang ensemble made the final segment of the episode - featuring Leonard, Sheldon, Raj and Howard all clutching one of the original rings from the Lord of the Rings trilogy and trying to move in synchronization - funnier than it had any right to be.
All in all, though, I thought "The Precious Fragmentation" was one of the better episodes of this show this season. I know that I sometimes am fairly out of sync with what the Big Bang fan community as a whole likes, but I can't imagine this one being hated. It was just so joyful in its entire premise, and it came up with another nerdy thing to mock that it still managed to celebrate in the same breath. I don't know a single person who hasn't happened across a giant box of junk at a garage sale and wondered if they shouldn't pick it up for some reasonable rate, hoping to see what treasures await inside. This may indicate the kinds of people I run with (no Pennies here) or the fact that I write for a site that has that very idea as the central notion for an ongoing feature. But I like to think it's a universal feeling, even if you inevitably end up disappointed with what you get.
The guys on Big Bang don't get disappointed, though. They get an ALF doll. And an Aquaman figure with a penis drawn on it. They get a variety of other '80s pop culture ephemera. And just when you think this is going to be some sort of cross between a "Weren't the '80s great?" gag and yet another series of pop culture gags, Sheldon finds the ring at the bottom and the episode is off to the races. I've complained here in recent weeks about how the show's story development often feels half-assed, but the story here is well thought out and features all of the characters in solid fashion. The episode even manages to use only the five main players and the show's standing sets, which means it was apparently an episode done to save on budget costs, making it all the more remarkable that it somehow manages to feel so expansive.
Naturally, all of the guys want that ring, particularly when Howard confirms with the guy he knows (and Raj knowing exactly who that guy was was very funny) that the ring is the REAL DEAL. This leads to an extended storyline about just what these guys are willing to do to get the ring and a variety of deals they attempt to cut with each other to best solve the dilemma. Raj's desire to have a jetski and then two jetskis was ridiculous, but in a funny way, and Leonard's continuing insistence that they should send it back to Peter Jackson was so obviously covering for his desire to possess it all on his own that it made it all the funnier when it turned out that was exactly what he wanted to do.
But, as mentioned, the best thing here was that scene where the guys were all hanging onto the ring and the last one to let go would earn possession of it. It's a silly, sitcom premise, but the show and the actors make it work through conviction and solid comic blocking. The sight of Raj slowly twisting under the others' arms to grab his laptop was very funny, and everything just heightened from there. Raj using ballet terms as the guys stooped to pick up the apartment keys was another fine moment, and Leonard abandoning the quest so he could go see what Penny had bought at Victoria's Secret was a better way of the show playing the whole "Leonard is a nerd but also socially adept enough to have a girlfriend" card that it rarely knows what to do with.
But the best, best part of this storyline featured the guys all seated in the apartment, Leonard over at Penny's, clinging to the ring and trying to get each other to break. Raj making fun of Howard's mother was fun, but the best thing here was when the other two turned the whole thing back on Sheldon and made fun of his Meemaw. It was horrifying and hilarious and exactly what happens in this sort of situation. (This is not to say that I've ever ended up hanging onto a movie prop with two of my best friends, trying to get them to break, but this is definitely the way you try to get under a friend's skin to make him snap.) About the only thing I could have done without here was that shot of Sheldon in Gollum makeup, which felt a little too literal for a storyline that had mostly skated above easy Lord of the Rings references.
"The Precious Fragmentation" is just a fun episode of television. It doesn't do anything amazing, nor does it really try to. What it aims for is just to make you laugh at the characters behaving ridiculously. And on that front, it more than succeeds. If The Big Bang Theory can't be a sitcom with complex stories or character motivations, then at least it can be a sitcom that revives some of the great sight gags and traditions of sitcoms past. Maybe seeing a bunch of guys hanging onto a ring and trying to move about their apartment wasn't your cup of tea, but it was very, very much mine. Yeah, this just might be my favorite episode of the season so far.
- "Sometimes I don't listen. Sometimes, I just watch your jaw go up and down."
- "Who's Adam West? Leonard, what do you two talk about after the coitus?"
- "I'm just going to go home and make a grilled cheese and window shop on eHarmony."
- "If you are suggesting that is the actual Ring of Power, forged by Sauron in the fires of Mount Doom, I look at you with an expression of exhaustion and ever so slight amusement."
- "How is this maritime salvage?" "Other than the lack of water, how is it not?"
- "If only I'd had the presence of mind to reabsorb her, then I'd have a mole with hair in it instead of a tedious yearly Christmas letter."
- "Howard, here is more bacon to tuck into the shiksa's G-string."
- "Dripping faucets. Leaky gutter. Peeing."
- "Just to clarify. When you get to three, do we stand up, or do we pee?"