Sheldon Cooper has been largely insufferable for nearly the entire fifth season of The Big Bang Theory. The character has been moving away from the tactless but lovable nerd of the early seasons and becoming a selfish asshole, so it’s with delight that I can say Sheldon is at his best in “The Shiny Trinket Maneuver.” When Amy gets upset after Sheldon shows no reaction to her article making the cover of a prestigious journal, he turns to Leonard and Penny for advice on how to be a better boyfriend, meaning how to be a boyfriend at all.
“Hard as this may be to believe, it’s possible I’m not boyfriend material,” Sheldon says during the episode’s best scene, a roommate conversation in which Sheldon turns to Leonard for relationship counseling. Jim Parsons shows why he’s won those two Emmys, bringing a poignant sadness to his delivery, making it an even bigger revelation for Sheldon. Sheldon excels at everything he does because he avoids those things that he’s substandard at, and now that he’s in a literal boyfriend contract, he has to learn how to be the best at it. Leonard tells Sheldon that pretending to be sorry and getting Amy shiny jewelry is the best bet, and Sheldon enlists Penny’s help in finding the perfect substitute for “I’m sorry.”
This episode puts the focus on Amy and Bernadette, which is great because not only are Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch strong comic actresses, but their characters open up a new realm of storytelling possibilities for their male companions. Amy forces Sheldon to interact with a person on an intimate level, while Bernadette shows Howard what a relationship really entails, and when the writers focus on those aspects of the couples, the comedy feels more organic and personal.
When Howard performs a magic show at his cousin’s birthday party, Bernadette’s aversion to children is revealed, putting their relationship at a crossroads. Howard wants children because he doesn’t understand the reality of having kids, but Bernadette’s experience with her siblings has shown her what a terrifying thing a big family can be. Melissa Rauch is wonderful this week, whether she’s reminiscing about putting her sibling’s hand in a waffle iron or conceding to Howard with the condition that he become a stay-at-home dad. The real magic this episode is how Rauch is able to take a cluttered line like her car rant after the birthday party and make it sound like a single cohesive thought. As silly as Bernadette and Amy are, Rauch and Bialik make them real people.
Amy genuinely thinks that date night is a special occasion because it’s the second Thursday of the month according to her relationship agreement, and she’s legitimately hurt when Sheldon doesn’t recognize her accomplishment. Bialik’s reaction to the tiara Sheldon gives her is absolutely perfect, the kind of jubilant exclamation that a repressed princess would have upon receiving her bejeweled crown. Amy immediately knows that Penny is the one that thought of the present, and asks her to put the tiara on her head before hugging Sheldon and screaming “I’m a princess and this is my tiara!” It’s an opportunity for Bialik to cut loose, and she does so admirably. There’s never any real resolution to Amy and Sheldon’s story, and the moral is apparently that shiny things make up for real apologies, but they got some laughs out of me so kudos Big Bang writers!
Raj’s homosexuality started off as a fun “what if?” but is now becoming more and more of a possibility, and this episode gives further evidence than Raj might be harboring secret desires. When Sheldon speaks out against Howard’s magic show, Raj criticizes Sheldon’s need to always peek behind the curtain, or, in the case of his joke about lockpicks in his keister, up the butt. When Howard is lamenting Bernadette’s hatred of children, Raj consoles him by saying that he always pictured Howard guiding a young boy to manhood. I imagine that boy is Raj. When Leonard jokes that Raj could have Howard’s kids, Raj responds, “Just because a man shows caring for another man doesn’t mean he’s displaying the love that dare not speak its name.” That sounds like a whole lot of denial to me.
- Sheldon emerges out of the bathroom with a comic book haphazardly folded back in his hands. A nerd with Sheldon’s compulsions would not do that kind of damage to a comic book, especially not a Scott Snyder Batman issue (which I’m pretty sure that was).
- Sheldon makes Nathan Fillion vs. Ryan Gosling for Green Lantern joke. Not even Nathan Fillion could save that train wreck of a movie.
- Howard pulls a condom from behind Bernadette’s ear, which is actually a pretty handy magic trick.
- Yeah, I miss Community too. Get over it.
- “I think my crotch is starting to curdle.” Dairy and genitals is never a good combination.
- “Nonsense, I look like a train conductor.”