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The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory is a comedy about two physicists Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper who live and work together in Pasadena, California. They live a comfortable geeky existence until attractive wannabe actress Penny moves in across the hall. CBS 2007-???

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Episode 3 - The Barbarian Sublimation

29 March 2012

Synopsis: Penny becomes frustrated at the lack of success in her life and becomes addicted to online gaming. Sheldon helps her to succeed but soon becomes frustrated by her constant interruptions. He tries to wean her off gaming but his attempts fail.

The Good: The idea behind this story is a good one. We haven’t explored Penny’s life too closely so far in the show. To see her frustrated at her life and acknowledge that she hasn’t had any acting work is good to hear. We know she came to L.A. to explore an acting career (101) and yet we have never seen her doing any acting. It would have been really annoying if the show suddenly began making jokes about her invisible successes.

Having Penny become embroiled in online gaming as a way to be successful at something is a clever idea and provides a plausible context for her to interact with Sheldon. Their interaction is pretty funny as it is based around the solid formula that Sheldon doesn’t understand what a normal interaction would look like. His literal answer to her question about what looking “too Mid West” means is a good example of the fun the writers have with this (“well the American Mid-West was mostly settled by…” ).

Sheldon’s misunderstandings lead to a really funny scene which easily steals the show (see Comic Highlight). And it’s natural that his attempts to steer Penny toward a sexual encounter to fulfil her needs lead to enjoyable comedy: “Wouldn’t you prefer to socialise with Tom who is a sexually passive outdoorsman.” Speaking of sexual comedy Howard is once more a good foil and delivers his lines with aplomb.

The Bad: The big problem here is the complete absence of Leonard. Yes he is present and tries to be the voice of reason in his quiet way. However we get no hint of an emotional reaction from him about Penny’s situation. Last season he would have been stirred into action by Penny’s needs and tried to make her feel better himself. The suggestion that someone be brought in to have sex with her should especially have affected him considering he was on his first date with her two episodes ago. It seems like the writers want to move on from Leonard and Penny for now but they have done it in a far from convincing way. By not addressing Leonard’s feelings this episode has a gaping hole in logic and emotional resonance. Leonard is the moral centre of the show, he is the character the audience will naturally sympathise with and rally around and to ignore him is foolish and annoying.

The final scene showing Penny finally snapping out of her obsession because she agreed to an online date with Howard is the definition of cheap. Instead of any focus on how Penny really will begin to be successful, the show just threw out a “Howard is sleazy” joke to bring things to a close.

Comic Highlight: Sheldon is desperate to get rid of Penny. Leslie’s suggestion that all she needs is a sexual relationship appeals to him so he turns to a man sitting at the next table in the cafeteria.
S: “Excuse me. Are you currently involved in a sexual relationship?”
M: “No.”
S: “Would you like to be?”
M: “Ummm, sure why not?”
L: “Sheldon…”
S: “BuBuBuBu (to Leonard), can I have your phone number?”
M: (Eyes Sheldon) “Umm, yeah.” (He writes it on Sheldon’s arm)
S: “There problem solved.”

In Conclusion: The writers are making great attempts to be funny and they largely succeed. But they are ignoring proper character development and the show is much weaker for that. I’m glad they address Penny’s frustration here but will it be forgotten next week?

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