It’s been more than a year since I last watched a new episode of The Big Bang Theory, and it’s a credit to the show’s syndication power, that I just dropped in on an episode last week, “The Relationship Diremption” and it’s like I never left. I’m not saying that the show didn’t progress with its characters, but I was able to catch up right away after the first few establishing scenes. The familiarity is a strength of the show which doesn’t ask much of its viewers: it’s solid escapist entertainment.
In “The Relationship Diremption” we string theory genius Sheldon question his work after Raj, Leonard, and Howard all celebrate breakthroughs in, well, something. I have to admit, when the show gets very sciency, it loses me – so when the guys were all geeked out about something to do with big bang theories (I’m guessing they were proven), I felt left out. So did Sheldon. His work is largely theoretical, so he has a sort of crisis of faith because he worries that all is life’s work is for naught because it’ll remain theoretical.
It’s an interesting thing to do with Sheldon, who at least in his work, feels impenetrable. He’s constantly dismissing Leonard’s and Howard’s work, but if it turns out that his work isn’t applicable to the real world, why do it? I like giving Sheldon some anxiety in his professional world – although the writers are only too willing to put him through shit in his personal life (more on that), he has a Teflon-like coating when it comes to his research
And I love that Sheldon turns to Penny for advice. I’ve always maintained that even though the cast has been expanded to accommodate for girlfriends (and the additions were great), I think the central relationship that needs to be protected and nurtured is the sibling-like friendship of Sheldon and Penny. Jim Parsons and Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting have a great chemistry and trade barbs with rapid-fire dexterity. Though Parsons works well with the whole cast, it’s with Cuoco-Sweeting that he truly shines.
So because Penny isn’t a scientist, she analogizes Sheldon’s issue in terms she can discuss: string theory is like a girlfriend, that Sheldon may need to break up with. In the course of his breakup, he gets drunk and wakes up the next day naked, with a geology book – the Kardashian of science. He also discovers that he drunk-dialed Stephen Hawking. All this is funny stuff, with Parsons doing a fine job playing drunk and then remorsefully hungover, but the writers lost a golden opportunity when they chose to have the Sheldon/Penny drinking scene happen off screen. There’s no real resolution, so it’ll be cool to see if this new professional setback is something that’ll plague Sheldon throughout the rest of the season.
This season seems to be about professional and personal setbacks, as Penny is still struggling as an actress. I think the show’s writers need to make a decision: either she makes it or she doesn’t, but she needs to grow and move on, too. While a funny and relatable character, Penny’s also becoming somewhat pathetic in her single-minded way of looking at her career: it might be time for our girl to consider another career…
The other plot has Raj dating a girl. I was hoping Raj would come out (the show would benefit with a gay character), but I’m glad that the writers have abandoned his pathologically shy persona. He’s still sweet and endearing, but also an attractive adult. Best friend Howard wants to meet Raj’s new girl, Emily, and promises to be on his best behavior and not mercilessly tease Raj in front of Emily. Turns out Emily and Howard already met – in a terribly embarrassing circumstance where an ill Howard clogged Emily’s toilet and crept out of her window, leaving a shitty mess behind.
At this point in the show’s history, it’s enjoying some huge ratings – Friends mid-1990s level ratings. I also think it settled into a comfortable, if predictable groove. The cast is still great, though, but it’s hardly a challenging sitcom. Maybe it’s a victim of its massive success – I’ve always said that the show was pretty subversive until everybody and their mom started watching it. It then switched gears and became a romantic comedy, inevitably blanding it out a bit.