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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

After its big moment, The Big Bang Theory is unsure about where to go next

Illustration for article titled After its big moment, The Big Bang Theory is unsure about where to go next

The Big Bang Theory closed out the first half of its ninth season on a high note. For weeks the whole “Amy and Sheldon are going to do it” storyline had been building, and despite a recipe for disaster, the show handled everything right. The winter finale was a genuinely sweet and charming episode that took Amy and Sheldon’s relationship to another level in more ways than the obvious. It’s rare that The Big Bang Theory spends so much time patiently building a story with two great character arcs, but that’s just what the show did in the first half of this season.

Thus, it’s a bit disappointing that after a brief holiday hiatus, the show comes back with an episode that completely ditches Amy and Sheldon. Now, on the one hand it’s probably a good idea to put those two on the backburner for a bit. Putting them right into another storyline might have felt like glossing over the events of the finale, so giving their relationship room to breathe does make sense. On the other hand, that exposes a glaring issue: after so much great Sheldon and Amy material this season, the rest of the characters feel like shells of themselves. Raj, Howard, Bernadette, Leonard, and Penny have been stuck in plot and character purgatory all season long. Nothing of consequence has happened to any of them, and it shows in “The Sales Call Sublimation,” an episode that feels like a placeholder, an exposition-heavy episode that’s meant to blow through a few plot details before setting up the back half of the season.

That doesn’t mean that “The Sales Call Sublimation” is dull or frustrating. In fact, it’s one of the funnier episodes this season. Sheldon is as manic as ever, there’s a great bit with everyone shouting out reasons why Leonard would benefit from seeing a therapist, and the opening segment where Sheldon and Amy discuss the best Best Buys and best Best Westerns is perfectly paced. The relative wealth of punchlines though can’t make up for the fact that it’s obvious how the episode is moving pieces into place for the rest of the season. While the plot that sees Sheldon and Raj spending the weekend together in the telescope room, where they discover a medium-sized asteroid, is a solid throwaway story, the other two subplots that make up the episode aim for something deeper but completely miss the mark.

The worst of the bunch involves, yet again this season, Bernadette and Howard. With a remodel on the way, their two-year house guest Stuart has decided that it would just be easier for them all if he got a place of his own. He secures an apartment, tells them he’ll be out in a few days, and then leaves, much to the delight of a pants-less Howard. It’s a moment that had to come eventually, and I guess now is as good a time as any. Stale jokes about marriage are of course peppered throughout the storyline, including a groan-inducing line about Howard finding the laundry room, but that’s not even the biggest issue. The problem is that the execution feels off, and the emotional crescendo that wraps up the plot is unearned and then needlessly undercut by cruelty. When Stuart finally moves out and Howard and Bernadette begin cleaning his room, they realize that they’re going to miss him, that he was basically their child. The sentimentality rings totally false, which may be why the show then takes a turn, with Bernadette and Howard being repulsed by their feelings. Even that falls flat though. Cruelty towards Stuart is only funny up until a point; The Big Bang Theory passed that point a long time ago.

The subplot that sees Leonard visiting a psychiatrist, Dr. Gallow (Jane Kaczmarek), in order to secure Penny a meeting with her so she can pitch her on an anxiety-reducing drug, boasts similar issues to the Howard-Bernadette-Stuart subplot. The plotline is aiming for a mix of humor and emotional payoff, and for awhile it works. Leonard reluctantly visiting the therapist only to end up rambling about his mother is a nice bit of character work, if a bit predictable, but when Penny ends up in Gallow’s office at the end of the episode, the therapist teasing out the parallels between Penny and Leonard’s mother, things go a bit off the rails. Both Penny and Leonard are meant to be reckoning with their feelings; and really, they never confronted the whole Leonard cheating thing. They’re supposed to be growing and engaging with one another, and yet the show continues to treat them like nothing more than roommates (and sometimes not even that!).

Having Leonard and Penny each visit the same therapist after everything they’ve gone through seems like a story ripe for insights and jokes, and yet the episode can’t muster much of either. The Big Bang Theory seems unable to focus on more than one plot at a time, and with the trials of Sheldon and Amy taking up most of the first part of the season, Leonard and Penny have been stagnant. Coming off of two major shifts in their relationship—the reveal that Leonard cheated, and then their marriage—the show should have plenty to explore with those two. But much like with Bernadette and Howard, The Big Bang Theory doesn’t seem to know where to go next now that they’ve moved on from the “will they or won’t they?”. Here’s hoping that the same problems don’t plague Sheldon and Amy’s relationship when Amy gets back from her neurobiology conference.


Stray observations

  • Proving once again that Sheldon and Amy are the best thing on this show right now, their Skype call was adorable and funny.
  • Howard comes up with a gross/fun game to play while vacuuming Stuart’s old room: “Lego, toe nail, or pill?”
  • Leonard responds to Penny when she asks how his therapy session went: He says he talked about his mom. “Nothing too heavy, just how she ruined my life.”
  • “He wasn’t too busy to binge-watch Hot In Cleveland with my Hulu password.”
  • Dr. Gallow wants to know why Leonard married Penny: “I used to wear tanktops alot.”