After last week’s episode, I developed a theory. CBS was purposely dumping all of this season’s mediocre-to-terrible episodes at the beginning of the season because of the temporary timeslot. I wondered if the network was perhaps holding back on quality episodes, saving them for the show’s return to Thursday night, in a timeslot it’s dominated since the show first aired. Now, let’s get this out of the way: that’s a ridiculous theory, a certain amount of paranoia on my part perpetuated by a string of lackluster, and occasionally downright nasty episodes of The Big Bang Theory. With that said though, tonight’s episode lends that theory some credence. “The Misinterpretation Agitation” is a funny, insightful, loose half hour of comedy. It’s the perfect distillation of this show.
The central theme to this episode is female sexuality, specifically as it pertains to women in the workplace. The episode opens with Penny, Amy, and Bernadette gathered in Penny’s apartment. Bernadette has some big news to share with everyone: she’s been asked to be photographed for a magazine feature about sexy scientists. She’s ecstatic, and Penny’s happy for her too, but Amy is appalled. She lays out her reasons why: women shouldn’t have to exploit their sexuality to get ahead; Bernadette, and all women scientists, should be featured in magazines because they’re smart, not because they’re attractive. The social critique here is insightful, and the interplay between the three actresses feels natural, a welcome respite from the contrived cynicism of last week’s episode. Bernadette challenges Amy, and wonders why women can’t be both smart and sexy. This is weighty stuff for a network comedy, but The Big Bang Theory plays it perfectly, hitting all the intelligent points while never removing itself from the lighthearted nature of the show.
During this conversation, Penny admits that she flirts with doctors in order to help with her sales pitches. One particularly lonely doctor finds his way to Penny’s apartment, ready to present her with flowers and begin their relationship of unconditional love. The premise is a little tired, but the (surprise guest!) performance by Billy Bob Thornton as the sad urologist (to the stars) was pitch perfect. His awkwardness, his forward sexuality, his seductive wink; Thornton sold every bit of the character, to the point where he even freaked Sheldon out a little bit.
Leonard confronts Dr. Lorbis (Lorvis? Hard to catch that name.) when he knocks on Penny’s door, and he finds out that Penny doesn’t wear her engagement ring when she does sales calls. In any other episode this season, this would have devolved into a mean-spirited fight that was dragged out across the entire episode. Here, they resolve the issue quickly–Leonard’s briefly upset, but he understands; plus, he gets to go look at all of the doctor’s cool memorabilia. The scene allowed us, as viewers, to once again have some faith in Leonard and Penny’s relationship. This wasn’t another thing for them to fight about. Instead, it was a minor quibble, and more often than not, those meaningless arguments are the ones that are peppered throughout our romantic relationships.
What’s wonderful about this episode is how fast and loose it is, how every character–from the actions they take, to the lines they deliver–feel like the characters we’ve seen grow over the years. The relationships, romantic or platonic, feel organic. These are people who have known each other for a long time, so it’s nice to see them interacting as if they understand one another, and care for one another. Even though Bernadette ends up insulting Amy when she finds out she sent a nasty email to the magazine and got the “sexy scientists” feature canceled, it feels like a Bernadette moment. She’s prone to the occasional harsh comment, and she was sick of being told what to do with her body by another woman, not to mention someone she considers a friend. But she immediately recognizes how hurtful her words were and sought out Amy to apologize. This isn’t revelatory storytelling, but we don’t need that on this show. What we need are characters that feel at home with one another, that act like friends and lovers, with flaws that don’t feel like contrivances and speeches filled with vitriol.
“The Misinterpretation Agitation” wasn’t just charming in how natural the emotional moments played out; it was also really, really funny. There’s almost too many on-point punchlines, too many cuts and sightgags to count. Let’s try anyways: 1. That cut to Raj, Sheldon, and Howard eating chinese food, engrossed in the drama between Leonard and the urologist as he tells him that Penny doesn’t wear her engagement ring, was great in terms of comedic timing. 2. Sheldon’s recurring commitment to offering a hot beverage to emotionally distraught individuals is always good for a laugh. 3. “You snipped Gene Roddenberry’s vas deferens?”. 4. The way Johnny Galecki plays Leonard lighting up when they walk into the urologist’s basement. 5. Helberg, forever the show’s best physical comedian, delivering a full body shudder when he sees the original Terminator and utters, “oh, I think I just cheated on my wife.” I could go on, but you get the point.
“The Misinterpretation Agitation” reminds those of us who have found certain charms in this massively popular network comedy why we still tune in week after week. We do it to spend time with these characters, to revel in their playful banter and relate to their insecurities. We tune in to see something that gives us insight into very human aspects of relationships, but doesn’t carry the burden of needing to be “serious television.” We tune in to laugh, and to see a sparkling cast that’s comfortable with one another. Tonight’s episode gave us just that, and it would be foolish to ask for much more.
- Not sure if Billy Bob Thornton is creepier here or as Lorne Malvo.
- Sheldon doesn’t understand why Dr. Lorbis (again, Lorvis?) can’t come in for a hot beverage. Leonard: “He tried to score with Penny.” Sheldon: “So did these two and they’re having dinner with us.”
- Amy’s consistent flirtation with Penny and Bernadette is wonderful. She’s awkward, but there’s something progressive about her openness in being attracted to these women.
- I didn’t have the pen speed to note the full line, but Sheldon’s crack about Leonard enjoying the Donkey Kong arcade game as a child because it’s about a small, misshapen man endlessly pursuing an attractive blonde was hilarious. Biggest laugh of the night for me.
- “You sound like Sigourney Weaver when I followed her into the bathroom.”