Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Big Bang Theory: “The Beta Test Initiation”

Illustration for article titled The Big Bang Theory: “The Beta Test Initiation”

If anyone had any doubts after last episode, Penny and Leonard are back together. It’s unclear if “The Beta Test Initiation” begins the night of their first date or if some time has passed, but one thing is certain: Kaley Cuoco and Johnny Galecki are going to have to work at rebuilding the little chemistry they had in the past seasons. Their walk up the stairs at the start of the episode is peppered with sexual banter, but the dialogue comes off forced and stiff, especially on Galecki’s part. His awkwardness is great for when Leonard is comparing their relationship to software and recommending a “trial run,” but it gets in the way of the characters having a believable romance.

I knew there would be trouble when Leonard corrected Penny for calling their “trial run” a “beta test,” but he’s severely pushing his luck when he delivers the first bug report. A list of the things Penny needs to change, color-coded by importance, is probably not what Penny agreed to, and it’s a gesture that should be grounds for termination. Penny responds by creating her own list of things she wants Leonard to fix, and while it’s healthy that they’re getting all their problems out on the table, it’s unfair to ask the other to get a complete upgrade to have a relationship.

Leonard does make one change, fixing his choice in date options by taking Penny to a shooting range, one of the places she loved to go as a kid. They kiss and make up, and Leonard shoots himself in the foot, gracing a pinky toe and putting a hole in his Reebok. They reconcile while trudging back up the apartment building steps, and the episode ends with Leonard and Penny firmly in a relationship again. It’s a development I approve, even if it did just randomly happen over the last two episodes, and it will be interesting to see how the group dynamic changes now that everyone but Raj is partnered up.

This is one of those weeks where the writers don’t know what to do with Sheldon, so he’s given a random plot about some esoteric subject. In this case: flags. “Sheldon Cooper Presents Fun With Flags” is Sheldon’s new 52-week video series about vexillology, exploring the exciting world of flags with Amy forced to join in. That’s basically all they do this episode, except for a scene in the middle of the episode where they watch Dr. Who with Penny and Leonard. It’s a pretty useless story, although Parsons and Bialik are really good at being bad on camera, so that’s a plus. The flag show could be seen as the closest thing Sheldon and Amy have to intimacy, so in a way it’s like they're making a demented sex tape featuring Amy dressed as a pretzel and Sheldon in lederhosen.

In a plot that surprisingly took a half a season to get to, Raj falls in love with Siri, the voice that exists inside his iPhone 4S. She's someone that Raj can talk to, and he quickly descends into madness as he devotes more and more of his time to the faceless woman. The Siri plot is the kind of story Big Bang Theory does best, taking a specific topic of nerd pop culture and exaggerating it for comic absurdity. Raj invites Bernadette and Howard over for Peking duck prepared with help from Siri, and he does creepy things like dress her in different cases while paraphrasing Coco Chanel. Bernadette’s reactions are some of the best parts of the Siri story, along with the goofy closing tag where Raj goes to the “Office of Siri” and meets the bombshell behind the voice. Of course, when Siri tells Raj that she’ll make love to him if he asks, he’s struck mute once again. It's a strong payoff to the subplot, even if it is a dream sequence.

Stray observations:

  • For anyone wondering just how popular Big Bang is, check out this Reuters article claiming the series as the “show no one hates.” I don’t know how much Q scores matter, but there’s no denying that it’s a ratings juggernaut.
  • “I’m surrendering to fun?” It’s hard to tell if Amy sincerely enjoys or is just putting up with Sheldon’s videosyncrasies, and that’s a credit to Bialik’s performance.
  • “Like Cher, Madonna, Adele, all the women that rock me.” Two gay icons and one burgeoning gay icon are the women that rock Raj. Between this and Raj and Howard’s erotic experience peeling the plastic off an iPhone screen, the “Raj is gay” hypothesis is gaining some weight.
  • “Her heart’s full of love no one cares what’s in her mouth.” Have I mentioned that Amy’s awesome?