Ah… TV is back. Sweet, sweet TV. As much as I appreciated the time to catch up with relatives, watch my kids open presents, bake cookies and soak up hours upon hours of football—without having to carve out an hour a night to blog about any of it—I’m also pretty thrilled to see that my TiVo To-Do list over the next 14 days is filled with a lot of old favorites: 30 Rock, The Office, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, How I Met Your Mother, The New Adventures Of Old Christine, Fringe, Top Chef, Burn Notice, Friday Night Lights… it’s going to be a good couple of weeks. (Especially since I’ll be at Sundance for one of those weeks, and will have a lot of the above to look forward to when I get back… assuming my TiVo can hold it all.)
It’s also exciting because sitcoms in particular often get into a good groove in the second half of their seasons, since the writers, casts and directors have figured out how to keep their unique comic rhythm going, even when the premise is middling. Case in point: tonight’s solid-if-unspectacular Big Bang Theory episode, which was seamlessly entertaining if hardly inspired.
First off… Robot Wars? Really? I know BBT has a habit of roping in all things geek (ren-fests, Star Trek) whether they’re contemporary or not, but I have a hard time thinking about Robot Wars without recalling this article from our sister publication.
That said, “The Killer Robot Instability” eked a few good jokes out of the introduction of the Mobile Omni-directional Neutralization and Termination Eradicator (or MONT-E) to our cast of characters. I liked Raj’s confession about MONT-E—“As with my father, I both love and fear it.”—and I like the little buzzsaw-sporting contraption’s reaction when faced with its blowtorch-bearing better. (“It can cut through steel like it was wubbah!” warns the fiery beast’s speech-impaired master.) MONT-E freezes for a good long comic beat, then turns and scurried away, under Sheldon’s remote control. That’s classic visual comedy there—straight-up Chuck Jones-style.
But for the most part the robot business in this episode was sparse and not very well thought-through. The moments of Sheldon trash-talking their competition (“Our robot exceeds yours in design and execution. Also, I’m given to understand that your mother is overweight.”) or insisting that he can fix MONT-E without the help of the AWOL Wolowitz (“Engineering is merely the slow younger brother of physics.”) suggested a fruitful direction this storyline could’ve gone, if MONT-E hadn’t been so quickly dispatched.
Then again, MONT-E wasn’t really the star of this show: It was Howard Wolowitz, who hits on Penny by inviting her to the dance at the Southern California Robot Fighting League Round-Robin Invitational, then goes a bit too far with the innuendo and insinuations, and gets a good dressing-down about what he creep he is. Penny’s gloves-off description of Howard’s pathetic life—a further glimpse of which we get when Howard asks his mother for a cherry popsicle and gets the shouted reply, “I ate the cherry! All that’s left is green!”—sends him into an emotional funk that indirectly leads to the destruction of the gang's beloved robot. (Raj suggests, via whisper in Leonard’s ear, that Penny is the most dangerous killer robot of all.)
I’m finding Howard to be an increasingly interesting character on BBT. I thought the way he was used in “The Lizard-Spock Expansion” was a turning point. Because nobody ever changes on this show, I don’t expect Howard ever to stop being a lecherous, poorly dressed social misfit, but I think the writers are figuring out how to make him sympathetic, by introducing some elements of sweetness and self-awareness. When Penny knocks on his door—saying, “I’ve been informed that you have feelings, and apparently I have hurt them.”—and sees Howard in his bathrobe, sans bravado, I briefly felt as warmly towards him as she did. “The Killer Robot Instability” didn’t do all it could with either its A-story or B-story, but it did add to the rounding-out of Howard Wolowitz. We’re starting to understand a little better why he fights wobots.
-Is it wrong to say I love our killer robot?
-How is “doable” anything but a compliment?
-What can make me feel this way? (A: Marci Grossman.)
-Whatever happened to Leonard’s girlfriend?