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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Big Bang Theory: "The Herb Garden Germination"

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“The Herb Garden Germination” took a little while to get going, but once it hit its third act, I thought it was one of the stronger episodes of the season, bringing everything to nice comic simmer, where all of the actors were in the same room and all of the episode’s various ideas were bouncing off of each other. A lot of your feelings about this episode will depend on how amusing you find Amy Farrah Fowler and her various scenes with Sheldon, but if you generally enjoy them (as I often do), then you probably found the culmination of the two’s study of gossip (through the prism of meme theory and assorted other scientific pursuits) very amusing. If you didn’t, well, you’ve got a newly created love triangle to fall back on.

Actually, the love triangle between Howard, Raj, and Bernadette isn’t NEWLY created. It stretches back a few episodes to when Raj realized he was crazy for Bernadette, perhaps because the writers needed to give him something to do and a love triangle is a time tested example of “something to do.” There’s not a ton of chemistry between Kunal Nayyar and Melissa Rauch, but, hey, so long as Raj pines from afar and can’t quite express his feelings (for a variety of reasons), this could work as the old “my best friend has what I want, and I don’t know how to get it” chestnut. The reason the triangle feels new is because you never quite know just how much Big Bang Theory is going to devote itself to revisiting its old story ideas. Most of the time, they completely disappear, but increasingly, particularly in the case of the show’s many romantic complications, they come back again and again. I don’t think any of us expected to see Priya again (much less turned into such a blatant plot point of a character), but, well, here we are.

Anyway, the episode pivots on the following: Bernadette reportedly wants to break up with Howard, something Sheldon learns from Amy while the two are having one of their evenings of intense discussion. Amy learned it from Penny (who really has trouble keeping her mouth shut when there’s a secret around, a comic trope sitcom writers have been going to for their actresses for generations now), and the two speculate as to what might be behind Bernadette’s motivations. Meanwhile, Leonard wonders aloud to Penny whether Bernadette could ever go for someone like Raj—not Raj, per se, but someone EXACTLY LIKE HIM—which is how Penny learns of Raj’s crush.

Eventually, Raj learns that Bernadette may be attempting to ditch Howard and becomes hopeful that he, too, could find love in this crazy messed up world. Instead, Howard drops a bomb on the rest of his friends: He plans to ask Bernadette to marry him, and he’s had his cousin look into a ring and everything. This sets up a final scene where nearly every character is involved in the action and has something to do. As the gang gathers at Leonard and Sheldon’s apartment for Chinese food, Sheldon and Amy are attempting to determine just how much their particular bit of gossip—saying that Amy and Sheldon slept together—has spread through the group, while Leonard is trying to keep Howard from proposing and Raj WANTS Howard to propose, that his humiliation might be more public. Really, only Penny (and Priya, I guess) doesn’t have a motivation in the scene, which gives the whole thing a nice sense of pace and stakes.

Anyway, Howard whips out the ring, and Bernadette says yes. Maybe she was going to ditch him because she felt the relationship wasn’t going anywhere, or maybe she just said yes because it was in public and she felt embarrassed. But I’m impressed with how well the show has built something like a genuine story arc heading into its final few episodes, as that’s something the show has never really been able to do before. Granted, Raj’s imagined connection with Bernadette is played for laughs as much as anything else (and I have trouble imagining the show throwing the two of them together, since it still seems to find the idea of Raj being helpless around women terribly funny), but he’s finally got something like a driving goal, while seeing Howard and Bernadette get ready for a wedding could be potentially amusing. The show seems to be settling into a structure where the adventures of the gang (minus Sheldon and Amy) are more serialized than they were before, then Sheldon and Amy get a standalone story to stand on top of that. It’s not an ideal structure, and it can be unwieldy, but I have to admit that it works well enough here that I think it could work for the show long-term.

If there’s a wrench thrown into the works here, it’s the relationship between Leonard and Priya, which continues to be fairly uninteresting. Now, she’s questioning why Leonard is friends with Sheldon and talking about finding a place in L.A. I assume the writers are setting us up for a storyline where she tries to convince Leonard to move in with her and ditch Sheldon (or perhaps a cliffhanger where she actually accomplishes said goal), but Priya has turned into such a harsh, unyielding character that there’s really no danger of Leonard actually falling for her and the audience hoping he’ll end up with her. (You don’t insult the show’s main character, even if the show’s main character’s roommate agreement is objectively ridiculous.) There have been shows that managed the trick of making a guest character seem like a genuine possibility for one of the regulars—Cheers and Friends come to mind—but Priya does not seem to be one of those characters, and the sooner we’re rid of her, the more we can get back to what the show does that does work.


Stray observations:

  • Thanks to Phil Nugent for stepping in ably last week and saying a lot of things I’ve struggled to say in this occasionally frustrating season of television.
  • As always, Sheldon’s memories of his terrible childhood are amusing while maintaining a dark tinge. In some ways, this is a very dark show, like a lot of Chuck Lorre’s work. It just covers all of that up with very broad humor. What I think makes this work where, say, Two And A Half Men has never worked for me is that the actors are committed to making sure that emotional core doesn’t get subsumed by nastiness, leaving the show rather sweet.
  • What the hell was Raj drinking at the Cheesecake Factory? Was that some sort of… Incredible Hulk themed drink?
  • The Brian Greene cameo was another lowpoint for the episode, particularly as it had essentially nothing to do with anything else, outside of Sheldon briefly thinking about it later. Maybe it would have worked if it didn’t come off so blatantly as a book plug?
  • Another random element: Sheldon’s joke about the Sudan, which wasn’t funny enough to be used in such an odd, standalone way.
  • "It's odd how the activity brings back the smell of K-Mart bourbon."
  • "There's a big inspection coming up, and I don't wanna lose my TV privileges."
  • "He looks much cooler than the non-smoking monkeys. … Although it's not much of a contest. The other monkeys just sit around and masturbate."
  • "If you don't mind, I'd like to stop listening to you and start talking."
  • "I'm sorry, what pun?"
  • "I described your love-making as aloof but effective."
  • "Perhaps your talk of my sexual prowess renewed her faith in love."