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

The Big Bang Theory: “The Date Night Variable”

Illustration for article titled The Big Bang Theory: “The Date Night Variable”

Now that The Big Bang Theory isn’t battling with Community for ratings, everyone who likes the show can come out of their hobbit holes and proclaim their admiration without fear of ridicule, assuming there’s anyone out there who likes The Big Bang Theory that much. Like most long-running three-camera sitcoms, Big Bang is starting to show its age with the start of its sixth season, and “The Date Night Variable” feels very stagnant for the first two acts, catching viewers up on events and the end of last season but not really moving any stories forward. Sheldon and Amy continue to be in a relationship agreement rather than dating, Leonard and Penny haven’t fully recovered from his coital proposal, Howard is in space and still stuck between his mother and Bernadette, and Raj… well, something’s actually different with Raj.

Last season, I spent a lot of time discussing the possibility that Raj was gay, and at the start of this sixth season, Raj is dressing a lot snappier and talking about getting pedicures where fish eat the dead skin off your feet. Not to sound too stereotypical, but this is CBS, so those two things set off flashing pink lights in my head. With Howard in space and married, Raj is desperately lonely, so Sheldon decides to outsource his relationship obligations to an Indian and brings Raj along for his anniversary date with Amy. Raj leaves that awkward situation to hang out with Leonard and Penny, who are having their own mini-crisis when Raj shows up at the front door. He’s kicked out when he tries to force Penny to say “I love you” to Leonard, and with nowhere else to go, he heads down to the comic shop, where things get very interesting.

Kevin Sussman, who plays comic shop owner Stuart, was recently made a regular cast member on this show, and the end of this episode might be foreshadowing his character’s new role on this series: Raj’s boyfriend. When Raj walks into the comic shop at closing time (yet still the first customer), Stuart offers him a nightcap and the two men sway to bossa nova music on opposite sides of the cash register. There’s the usual queer fear laugh track playing as the two men stop talking about their tropical island fantasies and look at each other awkwardly, but when Raj is getting ready to leave the store, he stops and asks Stuart if he would like to hang out the following night, perhaps to dinner or a movie. Stuart responds that he doesn’t really have the kind of money for that, but Raj says that it will be his treat. It’s fairly ambiguous until Raj leaves the comic shop, when Stuart says to himself, “I could do worse.” So even if Raj doesn’t think this is a date, Stuart does, which will lead to some wacky comic hijinx next week if it’s the case. I’m hoping that this signifies a major change in Raj’s character. TV could use some more gay nerds.

It’s been a year since Sheldon and Amy started dating, and according to the relationship agreement, on their anniversary, Sheldon must take Amy to a nice dinner, ask about her day, and “engage in casual physical contact that a disinterested onlooker might mistake for intimacy.” Sheldon is incredibly proud to have found a loophole in this agreement when he brings Raj along, and for a while, it seems like Sheldon is going to be the same old asshole he always is. When a drunk Amy gives him an ultimatum—says something meaningful and from the heart or she’s done—Sheldon redeems himself with a touching speech, even if it is a quote from Spider-Man. It could be that Sheldon is just saying something convenient so that Amy gives him a ride home, but the strength of Jim Parsons as an actor makes his words believable, albeit borrowed. It would be nice to see the writers actually progress the Sheldon/Amy relationship, but who knows how long this series is going to last? They’re probably just going to keep stretching out this early stage for as long as possible, because once Sheldon becomes capable of comfortable, meaningful emotional contact, he just won’t be the same character anymore.

The Leonard/Penny and Howard/Bernadette situations are more of the same from these couples, with Penny continuing to be reluctant in her commitment to Leonard and Howard continuing to be a giant pussy. There’s no real dramatic weight to Howard’s dilemma, because it’s ridiculous to expect him and Bernadette to live at home with his mother. He decides to lie to both of them, which is a bad decision for more than just the obvious reasons. Howard’s mom has outlived her usefulness on this series, and rather than an obstacle for the character, she’s become a crutch for the writers to lean on. Granted, it’s going to be fun to watch Bernadette go ballistic on Howard when he gets home from space, but eventually, these characters are going to have to grow up. At this point, there appear to be big things for Raj, and more of the same for the rest of the cast. Hopefully, once the entire ensemble is reunited again, this show will get moving.

Stray observations:

  • This past month, I came across this Tumblr post by someone who used to like the series, but no longer watches on the grounds that the show laughs at the nerds, rather than truly embracing them. I agree with a lot of what is said, although with the shift in focus from the nerds to the couples, the show has started the treat its characters with slightly more respect.
  • There are so many New 52 and Before Watchmen comics on display in the comic shop; Warner Bros. is definitely taking advantage of that cross-promotion.
  • Because this is the season premiere, there are a lot of clunky expository lines recapping things that the characters would already know about. Example: Penny telling Amy about Leonard: “We haven’t really recovered since he proposed to me in the middle of sex.”
  • Sheldon says that “Release the Kraken” never gets old, then yells, “Release the Kraken!” He’s wrong; it does get old.
  • Howard’s mom won’t go by the computer because she’s afraid she’ll catch a virus, which I’m pretty sure is a “Yo mama so dumb…” joke.
  • “Well—space is ruined.”
  • “This is so exciting. Soon my upper lip will be the same fake blonde as my beautiful best friend.”
  • “If Sheldon proposed to me during sex, my ovaries would grab on to him and never let go.”
  • Bernadette: “Listen mister, you’re going to talk to your mother, and you’re going to fix this, or that thing I said I was going to do to you when you got home? You can do to yourself.” Astronaut: “Like he’s been doing since he got here.”