The Big Bang Theory: “The Recombination Hypothesis”
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The Big Bang Theory: “The Recombination Hypothesis”

For The Big Bang Theory’s 100th episode, the show revisits the romance that fueled its early seasons, putting Penny and Leonard back together because why the hell not? No joke, that is basically the reason why Penny and Leonard are getting back together. At the beginning of the episode, Sheldon and Leonard are walking up the stairs, Leonard is trying to figure out what to eat for dinner, Sheldon is being really obnoxious and talking about humans evolved from reptiles, and Leonard decides to ask Penny out. There’s no real motivation given for his spontaneous action, almost as if the writers couldn’t figure out a way to naturally build to this moment over the course of the season, so they threw the development in a landmark episode.

Leonard and Penny go on a date, fight and have sex, decide to start a secret relationship, then get into another fight and have sex again. While in bed with Penny the last time, Leonard tells her that he can’t imagine any positive outcomes for their relationship, and then the story flashes back to the top of the stairs, just before Leonard asks Penny out. I was prepared to be angry at an “it was all a dream” cop-out, but the conclusion took an interesting turn, with Leonard still inviting Penny despite the improbability of their future relationship. The episode doesn’t fully answer whether or not the two are actually back together, and they might even do the secret relationship idea proposed in the fantasy sequence, but it’s moved the plot forward and I always appreciate some momentum on this show.

The humor this episode is sophomoric, and if I knew nothing about this show, it would be easy to assume these characters were in high school. The worst scenes find Sheldon, Howard, and Raj playing a board game, and Sheldon needs wood to build a railroad. He needs to trade items for wood, so he asks the others if they have wood. Raj and Howard can’t stop laughing because the word “wood” reminds them of boners, and then Sheldon says “erect” and they go really crazy. Do grown men get a kick out of hearing people say “wood”? 11-year-olds might. It’s just a way for the writers to fill time, throwing “wood” around and pushing the button on the laugh track until the audience surrenders to a joke that only gets worse each time.

A laugh track is used as punctuation, and like punctuation, it can completely change a sentence depending on the way its used. When Penny makes the observation at dinner that Leonard might be a nerd, he triumphantly responds, “I am the king of nerds.” It could be a cute moment, except the laugh track cuts in with enthusiastic whooping that just makes Leonard look like a huge douche. After Leonard asks Penny out, Amy and Bernadette do a unison “oooooh,” which would be a lot funnier if there wasn’t the “oooooh” of a fake studio audience behind it. If the show is going to have a laugh track, it could at least be used in a way that it doesn’t interfere so heavily. (How I Met Your Mother is a good example.)

Sheldon is obnoxious or clueless for most of the episode, but there’s one scene where both those qualities work together to create some solid laughs. When Sheldon catches Leonard sneaking in after sleeping with Penny, he’s possessed by the spirit of his mother, grilling Leonard on where he went barefoot in his pajamas in the middle of the night. Sheldon falls for Leonard’s gas station story, but then his mother kicks in even harder, forcing Leonard to go back down to the gas station and buy some beef jerky if he used their restroom. Sheldon even gets a little Southern twang in his voice when he’s really intense, and he suddenly becomes much more imposing and authoritative. It’s a silly scene, but it’s a lot better than two minutes of hard-on jokes.  

Stray observations:

  • I would very much like to see Penny’s production of Diary of Anne Frank. That would be a great time for a cutaway, if Big Bang did those.
  • Does Needy Baby, Greedy Baby have an entire chapter psychologically dissecting Leonard’s relationship with Penny? I hope that book comes up again.
  • “Live long and suck it, Zachary Quinto.” Get it? He’s gay.
  • “The naughty part is that I’m not in his HMO network.” Bernadette and Howard’s foreplay is as horrible as anyone would have guessed.
  •  “Just remembered I’ve got to stop by the drug store.” No one delivers a birth control joke quite like Kaley Cuoco. Penny is excited to finally get a chance to refill her prescription!
  • “Promise me that when our new waitress comes over you will not start a complicated on-again, off-again relationship with her because I am very very hungry.”

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