The Big Bang Theory: "The Prestidigitation Approximation"
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The Big Bang Theory: "The Prestidigitation Approximation"

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The Big Bang Theory

"The Prestidigitation Approximation"

Season 4, Episode 18

Every sitcom with a will-they/won’t-they relationship will inevitably do the “one of the two in the potential couple gets another serious significant other” plotline. The problem with this is that we in the audience KNOW that the significant other is not long for this world. Every so often, you’ll find a Frasier Crane, who’s such an interesting and new character that he becomes a regular on the show. But even in that case, Diane’s fling with Frasier only lasted a very short while. She was going to end up with Sam, or she was going to leave the show. There weren’t really other options. The best thing for writers to do in these situations is probably come up with a guest character who’s so intriguing and fascinating that the audience just likes spending time with him or her, even though they know where this is all going to end up. 

You can probably see where this is going. Priya Koothrapali is not this character. When we first met her, she was a pretty fascinating character, offering a new window on Raj and having fun trying to hide her relationship with Leonard. Now that she’s back, she’s almost entirely a plot device, solely designed to get Penny to reconsider her feelings for Leonard and have Leonard dally with another woman. Now, we know that Priya’s not going to be his one and only. That’s part of the fun, and seeing how he and she eventually fall apart is an even bigger part of the fun. But the show seems to have forgotten the woman that was around back in the earlier episode, replacing her with a woman who’s weirdly insecure and insistent that her boyfriend not ever spend time with his ex-girlfriend. I guess this could make sense if he was driving clear across town to spend time with her, but she’s his next-door neighbor, and she hangs out with his entire social group. It just feels weirdly rigid and forced.

And it’s too bad that her forced bitchiness comes up here because I rather enjoyed the rest of the episode, starting with one element I haven’t enjoyed in quite a while. I thought this was one of the better episodes for Leonard in quite a while. Leonard’s a character whom the writers have struggled to figure out what to do with since Sheldon became the show’s undisputed main character. They’ve tossed him into romantic relationships. They’ve made him kind of a dick to his friends. They’ve tried to make him the one sane voice amidst a bunch of crazies. And not a one of these approaches has worked totally. But tonight, he was gawkily endearing, and the show figured out a way to show off Johnny Galecki’s physical comedy skills. This mostly involved him running into lots of stuff (ostensibly because Leonard’s contacts were bothering him), but damned if Galecki isn’t really good at running into things.

I even liked the Leonard and Penny scenes. I’ve groused plenty about how I don’t find the relationship between the two particularly interesting, but in this episode, it felt like the two really were friends who wanted to hang on to their friendship. They both kinda liked Priya, but they also didn’t like her concerns about the two—no matter how well-founded those concerns were. (And again, I think there’s an episode of this show that could have made Priya’s concerns well-founded, but it was just easier for the writers to skew her toward insta-bitch.) The scenes between the two had some history involved, but they didn’t lean too heavily on the two’s perfect love or something, like other episodes have this season. They were just friends who used to sleep together, and while there’s a possibility of further sleeping together in the future, it’s not going to happen in the immediate future. If the show wants to play Leonard and Penny angst, this is probably the way to do it.

I also quite liked the Sheldon subplot. Sheldon’s often at his best when he’s in a situation where he loses control, and while this storyline was a very simple, silly one, it certainly fit that to a T. Basically, Howard has learned how to do a card trick that never fails to impress anyone he tries it on. This drives Sheldon nuts because he can’t figure out the trick. He spends the entire episode attempting to figure out the trick, via more and more elaborate means, and when it’s revealed that Howard, at least when Sheldon picks the card, is using Raj to cheat, it’s a great reveal, simply because it doesn’t seem like it would ever occur to Sheldon that this sort of thing could happen. I also enjoyed the scene where he used the gadget to mark the card, the better to know which one to pull out later, attempting to use magic words to distract the others (poorly).

So this was a nice enough little episode of the show, one that didn’t rub me the wrong way like the last one. In some ways, it almost felt like a throwback to earlier seasons of the show, when Sheldon would be in a B-story with two of the guys and Leonard would be off doing his own thing. (Notice how little time Sheldon spent with Penny in this episode; normally, the writers can’t resist tossing in a completely superfluous Sheldon/Penny scene under any circumstances.) But then you have to run up against the fact that the central storyline of the episode basically assassinates a guest character who could have been so much more interesting. One of the things that’s always held Big Bang Theory back is that it doesn’t have a tremendous bench. Most of the guest characters it brings back from time to time are one-joke, one-gag characters, and they don’t get developed much beyond that. Some of them—Zach—are pretty funny, but most—Kripke—are irritating. Priya could have been an interesting character, but the show decided, instead, to make her the latest way it could force some Leonard and Penny angst, and that hurts the storyline, no matter how fun everything else was.

Stray observations:

  • Raj has sure calmed down about his sister dating his friend. I know the episode makes a reference to this (when Penny mistakes Howard’s question to Raj as being directed at her), but it’s still a bit odd that the show rejected a pretty interesting story in favor of some old-fashioned romcom problems.
  • I like when Sheldon gets so obsessive about something. It’s a great counterpoint to the way he’s usually so in control of everything in his life.
  • I hope Howard makes his magic tricks a regular part of his repertoire.
  • Leonard's constant fear that he was being racist by enjoying traditionally Indian things with Priya was kind of cute as a running gag.
  • Sheldon's mean in this episode, but it's because he's desperate for answers. I can usually accept his anger when he's got some sort of reason backing it up. Recent episodes have made him mean just for the sake of being mean, which doesn't really work with his character as established.
  • "Was that fun for you or just kinda insensitive?"
  • "If you could find a book called Weird Sex With White Boys, I'd be OK with that."
  • "...with the occasional dwarf in a box wiggling his feet."
  • "Not knowing's part of the fun. Was that the motto of your community college?"
  • "Where am I going to find Uranium-235 this time of night? ... C'mon, Craig's List!"
  • "Beefaroni and a show? How do you turn that down?
  • "Can't a fella ask his buddy to relocate, no questions asked?"
  • "I don't listen for it, but nice to know everything's OK with your plumbing."

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