It’s a storyline that had to come eventually: Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, and Raj contemplate buying a comic book store. In ”The Hook-Up Reverberation” it’s not just any comic book store, but rather an investment that will help Stuart get a new store after a fire decimated his last season. Admittedly, knowing that this was going to be the focus of the episode from teasers and episode descriptions, I approached tonight with some hesitancy. After all, The Big Bang Theory has proven time and again that when it mines ”nerd culture” for plotlines, the result is usually underwhelming, if not downright horrendous. To my surprise though, the show handled the guys’ potential acquisition of a comic book store by keeping the pop culture jokes to a minimum, and even managed to sneak in some real-world consequences in regards to financial struggles.
The friends’ decision to invest in Stuart’s comic book store comes from one of the episode’s better sequences. Eight years into its run, the show still has wonderful chemistry between its four male leads, and some of the show’s best moments happen when all of their varying personalities collide with one another in one room. While shopping for comics at the loud, hip comic book store, the four friends spar and bond over their mutual love of men in colored underwear. There’s a palpable sweetness to the moment when their eyes light up, realizing that they, full grown adults with financial means, could very well own their very own comic book store. Years of bullying and being labeled as outcasts has finally paid off. Sure, the career success they have is nice, but owning a comic book store is even better. Equal parts comedic–Leonard gets a good jab in at Sheldon, saying he’s “an 80-year-old in a 15-year-old’s T-shirt”–and sentimental, the scene is a pleasant reminder, in a season that’s struggled to find its footing so far, that this show’s best beats are found in the playful, knowing interplay of its leads. There’s seven season and a whole lifetime of these characters knowing each other, so why not tap that for all of its comedic and dramatic potential?
The best part of this storyline is that the guys’ dream actually coming to fruition doesn’t make any difference at all. Instead, the show dangles the idea in front of us, allows us to see how these four would operate as businessmen (picking up children in a van maybe isn’t the best business plan), plays it for a few solid laughs, then gets out. It’s tight, efficient storytelling that allows the episode’s quick-witted dialogue to take center stage.
The grade for this episode would be higher if it wasn’t for the other stories circulating in this episode. Even though it’s early in the season, the battle between Stuart and Howard for the title of “Best Mama’s Boy” is wearing thin. While the lack of jokes about Howard’s mother has been a nice change of pace, the replacement jokes, which play off of Howard and Stuart’s penchant for childish behavior, lack any comedic punch. There’s something satisfying about seeing Howard finally confronted with his stunted maturity, and we may still see this storyline turn into a moment of significant growth for Howard and Stuart alike. But for now, it’s spinning its wheels. Let’s get Stuart out of that house and back in the comic book store where he belongs, as the strange, sweet, totally awkward bit player that he should be!
The reverberation in “The Hook-Up Reverberation” is just as rote as the tension between Howard and Stuart. Raj finally brings his girlfriend around to meet everyone, and she immediately gives Penny the cold shoulder. Later on, we find out that this is because, in a conversation about their “past lovers,” Raj told Emily about the night he fooled around with Penny. What follows is a reductive and repetitive look at jealousy and sex. It’s a storyline that feels ripped from the show’s earliest seasons, where Penny’s sexuality was a constant punchline. “The Hook-Up Reverberation” mines that territory again, and not only does it create some baffling character interactions–you’d think that Amy and Bernadette would back Penny up a little more considering how long they’ve been friends–but it also falls back on reductive gender stereotypes that leave the show feeling cynical.
Still, there are moments throughout this storyline that pay off. Melissa Rauch continues to do stellar work as Bernadette, finding a wonderful balance between sickly sweet and frighteningly sinister–part Mary Poppins, part Lorena Bobbit. Likewise, Mayim Bialik continues to transform Amy into one of the show’s most likeable and unpredictable characters. Her sexual fluidity, her physical comedy, her keen insights into the group; they’re all traits that consistently deliver in terms of comedy week in and week out.
“The Hook-Up Reverberation” is the best episode of the season so far, mostly due to the fact that the four male leads get to spend some time together discussing the things that are dearest to them, whether they be superheroes or the potential deliciousness of a Dinosaur-Chicken Salad Sandwich. Thanks to a tight script and the cast’s chemistry, there’s a looseness to this episode that elevates otherwise overused sitcom tropes.
- The episode ends with Penny and Emily, on opposite sides of the apartment door, declaring that they hate each other. Surely it’s a sign of more tension to come, and considering how thin the conflict felt in this episode, I can’t say I’m looking forward to more of it.
- Sheldon’s literal responses to sarcastic remarks or jokes always make for a good laugh. Howard: “If his butt is so delicate, why doesn’t he use an Angora rabbit?” Sheldon: “For starters, they shed and bite.”
- Sheldon, getting even more great one-liners: “You can’t say a dinosaur-chicken salad sandwich wouldn’t hit the Mesozoic spot”
- Penny: ”Nobody actually says ‘I hate you’ to your face” Amy: “We have led different lives.”
- “I told you she exists!”
- Amy: “I’m feeling kind of backed into a corner, Sheldon.” Sheldon: “Perfect.”