The Big Bang Theory: “The Skank Reflex Analysis”/"The Infestation Hypothesis"
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The Big Bang Theory: “The Skank Reflex Analysis”/"The Infestation Hypothesis"

The fifth season of The Big Bang Theory is upon us, and as Todd moves on to cover the plethora of new shows debuting this fall, I will be recapping the adventures of Sheldon and gang in their fifth year. This week’s hour-long premiére begins with “The Skank Reflex Analysis,” assessing the damage of the Raj and Penny hook-up at the end of last season. Picking up a few hours after the final moments of “The Roommate Transmogrification,” the episode begins with Sheldon contemplating Penny’s final words of last season, “It’s not what it looks like,” irritating Leonard as he hypothesizes that Penny was checking Raj’s anal region for pinworms. When Raj and Howard join the two, Leonard gets his revenge by revealing Raj’s crush on Bernadette, and the packed first scene lays the groundwork for a densely plotted season opener.

The introduction lays out any of last season’s dangling story threads so the writers can wrap them up and get on with the show, and I’m surprised and delighted that they didn’t try to stretch the Leonard/Penny/Raj triangle into a longer story. Todd predicted at the end of last season that there would be the “episode where Raj is way more into Penny than she is into him, the episode where Leonard gets a little jealous, the episode where Howard is shocked it happened, etc.” but these are all condensed into “Skank Reflex.”

Raj’s crush on Bernadette is handled with a quick scene where Howard’s typically chipper fiancée rages at Raj, allowing Melissa Rauch to show a different side of her character. The expansion of this series’ female cast has opened up a lot of storytelling opportunities, but it also means that there’s occasionally not enough time in an episode to fit everyone in, and the Raj/Bernadette story comes to a rushed conclusion. That said, I don’t care much about the Raj/Bernadette story anyway, so good riddance.

Raj needs to get over his alcohol dependence, because watching him take a sip from a flask or a beer in order to talk to a woman has long lost its charm. Considering how many women are now in Raj’s life, isn’t it time for him to get over his fear and start having sober conversations with the opposite sex? His talk with Penny shows his naiveté in all things sexual, completely unaware of the negative effect that sex can have on a friendship, and Kunal Nayyar is at his best when Raj is at his most immature. One of Kaley Cuoco’s greatest assets is her ability to quickly and seamlessly transition from bitch to sweetheart, and she gets plenty of opportunities in this scene. Penny intimidates people with her appearance and attitude, but ultimately endears them to her with her wit and heart, and while Penny may not have book smarts, she’s not dumb. She actually shows a lot more knowledge about how humans work than the doctors that surround her.

I used to think the Sheldon/Penny pairing was the best on the show, but the Amy/Penny dynamic has become my favorite relationship on the series. Amy is basically a 13-year-old wallflower trying to be best friends with the pretty popular girl, while Penny has become so accustomed to the company of nerds that she’s completely comfortable with socially awkward Amy. Amy comforts Penny with a story about Catherine the Great having sex with a horse, and Penny totally gets it. Amy is a girlfriend that Penny can be completely honest with, and it gives Penny the freedom to reveal her fears and doubts about staying in L.A. With no acting jobs in her entire time on the West Coast and her only opportunity being a commercial for hemorrhoids, she contemplates returning to Nebraska. That all changes when she books that commercial, and her reaction is hilarious because it is oh so true. I have a lot of struggling actor friends, and a national commercial is something they dream of. It doesn’t matter if it’s V-8 or Viagara, commercials mean residuals, and Penny probably made some good money sittin’ pretty.

The focus shifts to Leonard and Priya for “The Infestation Hypothesis,” and it’s a step down from the strong opener. How long can their relationship reasonably last on this series? Any chemistry the two characters had dissipates when their interaction is solely through a computer, and their Skype sex story is uninspired with a predictable ending. It’s an episode composed of two B-plots, and while Leonard tries to have fake sex with girlfriend, Sheldon, Penny and Amy sit on a dirty chair.

Penny has a new chair that really cradles and supports Sheldon’s spine, and when he finds out that she found the furniture in an alley, he goes ballistic. He runs into Penny’s shower, then flees the bathroom in his tighty-whiteys after discovering a wet Band-Aid on the floor. Ladies and gentleman, two-time Emmy Award-winner Jim Parsons. The chair becomes a source of creature-feature horror, as Sheldon’s hallucinates that bugs are crawling all over him (so disturbing) and a creepy lump begins to move underneath the chair’s red fabric, but what the chair really does is shed light on Sheldon’s mental health.

While playing her harp, Amy is interrupted by Sheldon’s rapid fluctuation of knocking and calling outside her door. She answers the door and says, “You are aware that your ritualistic knocking behavior is symptomatic of obsessive compulsive disorder.” My memory is a bit fuzzy, but this may be the first time that someone has explicitly connected his behavior to a mental disorder. Later she tells him that cleanliness borders on psychotic, and if you think of cleanliness being equal to godliness, his lifestyle begins to make sense. Sheldon wants ultimate control over every aspect of his world, and he has that in his apartment, but he loses his power outside of it. His job is about exploring the building blocks of the universe and harnessing their energy, and if he could only master those elements he would have ultimate power. If Sheldon Cooper were a comic book character, he’d rival Dr. Doom and Lex Luthor, but in the real world he’s just a control freak.

Raj and Howard are back to supporting status this episode, with Howard giving Leonard cybersex tips and creating an internet kissing machine so that Leonard can tongue Priya from halfway around the world. What follows is easily the most homoerotic scene of this series, as Raj and Howard test the machine by standing five feet away from each other and making out. And Howard gets really into it. Raj and Howard seem like the kind of friends that would get together to watch porn in Howard’s mom’s basement, but that scene is just bizarre.  

With Penny's realization at the end of last season that she made a mistake dumping Leonard and Leonard's relationship with Priya winding down, it looks like this season will be pushing those two back together. Honestly, I'm just excited to see what Amy thinks.

Skank: B+

Infestation: C

Stray observations:

  • Warner Bros. has been pushing Big Bang hard in comic shops and DC books, and rumors have arisen that a future episode will deal with the controversial DC relaunch, one of the most debated developments in recent nerd culture. Bring it on.
  • Is paintball a nerd thing?
  • Why do jokes about being Howard not being a doctor get funnier every time? There’s something about watching him get emasculated that creates so much joy, and the story with him becoming Dr. Bernadette’s trophy husband is the kind of B-plot that I can get behind.
  • A lot of jokes about premature ejaculation this week. Raj couldn’t even last past Penny slipping the condom on.
  • More Christine Baranski cameos, please. Leonard’s mother is consistently hilarious.  
  • A hydraulic thermal forming press panini sounds delicious.
  • Amy knows “The Girl From Ipanema” and the theme from Diff’rent Strokes on the harp. And that’s it.
  • Where there is video chat, there are Koothrappali parents.
  • “Sheldon would have been before you and he might not even have genitals.”
  • “I do have genitals. They’re functional and aesthetically pleasing.”
  • “Look mommy, a butterfly. Maddening.”
  • “If you need any more help from me, my books are available on Amazon.”
  •  “Jamba Juice is for heroes.”
  • “Rose scented Preparation-H for women?” “Now the ‘H’ is for ‘her.’”
  •  “When I rise to power those people will be sterilized.”
  • “Ta-da. Man nipples.”
  • “Kiss me where I’ve never been kissed before.” “You mean like Salt Lake City?” That’s an interesting way for Sheldon to put it, but it almost seems like he gets the idea.

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