It seems like this season of Big Bang Theory has consisted in large part of episodes that I enjoy for the bulk of their running times, only to find some small element toward the end that makes me devolve into a gibbering fool, someone who seems capable of only focusing on the fly in the ointment. I don’t know if you read the other reviews I do here, but I really do make an effort to not let one or two minor missteps derail me from enjoying an episode that’s solid otherwise. And yet something about this show causes me to lose my mind, to sit there and be relatively amused by an episode, then absolutely infuriated by its inability to change ANYthing about itself. Which is how we get to tonight’s episode, where one tiny little moment made me far more angry than it really should have.
The episode is split, as nearly all Big Bang episodes this season have been, into two storylines. The first, involving Bernadette trying to spy on Leonard and Priya at Penny’s behest, is quite funny, particularly as it involves lots of Amy and Bernadette, who have been the best characters this season in terms of laughs. The second is all about Raj trying to find someone who cares about him and turning in his hour of need to Sheldon. It’s a surprisingly sensitive treatment of Raj’s inability to talk to women without drinking, one of those things that’s bugged me about the show since it began, and it made him very, very vulnerable, while still providing a good character for Sheldon to bounce jokes off of, which is not easy to do. And then the episode started to get to its endpoint, and it needed a way to finish up strong, and it had him take off his clothes.
I wouldn’t be fundamentally opposed to the idea of Raj discovering that his new anti-social anxiety drug was way too effective—leading him to strip for the cute girl he approaches at the coffee shop while Sheldon is off getting him a scone—if it either made a lick of sense or felt like it was going to become part of a continuing storyline. Actually, if the latter were true, I would be fine with all of this being so broad and over the top (though Kunal Nayyar is the cast member who least benefits from going broad, as it works against his sweeter qualities). But I very well know that the show seems intent on having Raj play this buffoon who can’t talk to women so often that it can’t seem to reconcile that older version of the character with the fact that what it really wants now is to have him pine after Bernadette or try to overcome that problem so he doesn’t have to be alone. The scene where Raj tries to explain to Sheldon his problems is both sweet AND funny, the tone that works best for this show; to then have him take off his clothes was crass and unnecessary, a frantic attempt to get back to the status quo.
Or maybe I should hope for the best? Because for whatever reason, The Big Bang Theory continues to be very nearly serialized. The whole storyline since Priya came back is a big, long thing about her arrival testing the strength of the group’s bond. She’s obviously driven a wedge between Penny and Leonard, and last week, she drove a wedge between him and Sheldon (though in a way that kind of made sense). She hasn’t torn the group apart, utterly, or anything, but I think we’re supposed to see her as a force of destruction. Aarti Mann, God bless her, seems better at playing the stuff where it seems like she genuinely likes Leonard, so that’s the tone the show’s been taking the last few weeks, and I think it works better than when Priya was randomly a bitch.
Take, for instance, tonight’s Priya storyline, which involves Penny and Amy getting Bernadette to get information about what’s going on with Leonard and Priya. Now, granted, I still think it’s a stupid idea to want to get Leonard and Penny back together; it’s a storyline that doesn’t really work. But I kind of enjoy seeing Penny’s schemes to drive Priya away, and this one was the best yet, since so much of it pivoted on Amy and Bernadette, who have been the two best characters this season. Despite a weird midseason slump where the writers weren’t quite sure what they were doing with Amy, Mayim Bialik and those same writers have eventually made her a female Sheldon, sure, but also a very different spin on that kind of character, a girl who’s embracing learning about the world around her thanks to her new friends, not running away from that possibility. Most humor about Sheldon comes from how closed-off he is; most humor about Amy comes from how open she is. And even though they’re VERY similar characters, that one key difference keeps the both of them fresh.
Anyway, that brings me to the part of the episode I liked the best: Bernadette trying to keep the lie about Penny going off to Europe to shoot a film with Angelina Jolie, even though the lie quickly grows unsustainable (thanks to Bernadette making up details and Amy’s auto-correct turning “architect” into “astronaut” for some reason). I love storylines where a lie spirals gradually out of control, especially if the person lying has a genuine reason to keep lying. (These stories can very quickly become stupid if the person lying is just lying for selfish reasons.) Here, Bernadette isn’t someone who lies often, and she’s terrified of what will happen if she fails in her “mission.” The very silly way things spiraled out of control, all of the other characters not even realizing they were playing straight men to her, made me laugh more than anything else in the episode.
Still, though, I keep coming back to that scene with Raj and the reason I’m not sure I should be writing about this show anymore beyond this season. In general, I like the show, but it’s just never going to be anything like what I want it to be, and the more it deviates from that and chases the things that made it a hit toward bigger and bigger ratings, the more I’m going to find myself irritated by it. I know the show has never been huge on character development, but it really does feel like we’ve learned everything about these characters we’re going to learn, seen everything we’re going to see. And that’s fine if enough people love it—and a lot of people really do love this show. But for me, it eventually ends up so many diminishing returns. I’m enjoying the Priya storyline, but I already know where we’re ending up, and it’s not really telling me anything new about any of these people. And that’s the sort of thing I’d rather half-pay attention to than have to make a case for (or against) every week.
- Thanks to Rowan for filling in for me last week. I know some of you thought he was a poor fit, but I really enjoyed reading his take on the show and how it does (or doesn’t) reflect nerd culture.
- Speaking of last week’s episode, I was very impressed with Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik’s dancing ability. I know they pretty much just shoehorned that in there because the two could do some rudimentary dancing, but they managed to appear both skillful and in character. Not easy.
- I kind of found three-player chess a bore. It feels like the show, again, trying to coast on one of its past successes, in this case the invention of Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock.
- That said, I liked that the episode prominently featured a close-up of an imaginary chess piece in a crown. I fully expect to see people playing this at Comic-Con this year.
- The big Leonard/Priya development: He’s thinking about going with her to India to meet her parents, so they can see who she’s dating and that he’s not a bad guy. Clearly, this will never happen, but, hey, drama, right?
- "I did two years of Cub Scouts before they found out I was a girl."
- "Ever since you started having regular intercourse, your mind has lost its keen edge."
- "If he hadn't been such a hound dog, we'd all have time machines."
- "I heard it at the mall as I was shopping with my girlfriends, cuz, y'know, that's kinda my life now."
- "She thinks it's cool you're following your dream no matter what." "THAT BITCH!"
- "The fun thing about Prince Joey is that every time he moves, there's a one-in-five chance he'll kill himself."
- "Most of those guys live in Texas." "Obviously this one DOESN'T."
- "Calm down. Everything's going to be OK. We may have to kill her."
- "That's amusing. Auto-correct must have changed it."
- "There's no need to interact with me. I'm just here to observe."