Episode 22 - The Classified Materials Turbulence
3 September 2009
Synopsis: Howard has designed a special toilet for the International Space Station. He realises that it is going to malfunction and asks the guys to help him fix it. Stuart has another date with Penny and asks Leonard for advice. Leonard gives him bad advice and feels terrible about it. He tries to make things right but discovers that Penny said his name while kissing Stuart.
The Good: Saying the wrong name is a great sit com plot (see Ross’ wedding to Emily in Friends). Television shows need unlikely events to stir the pot and keep tensions bubbling for a little while longer. Saying the wrong name doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It obviously hints at someone’s true feelings but it doesn’t actually change anyone’s lives. So Penny saying Leonard’s name while with Stuart is a clever way of keeping the show’s major romance on the minds of its viewers.
Leonard has a better episode as a character because of this episode. He doesn’t want anyone else to be with Penny, showing he cares. But he feels very guilty about misleading Stuart, showing his moral boundaries. His delight at the eventual turn of events was a fun moment for him as he skips out of the comic book store. Next week will be a big test for the show, as doubtless we will get an update on Penny’s feelings for Leonard. The Big Bang Theory will be around for a long time to come, so I suspect we will have a slow move toward their relationship.
Sheldon’s determination that Leonard answer his phone was consistent with his understanding of social dynamics. Poop jokes can be funny, some more than others (see Comic Highlight).
The Bad: But poop jokes can grow tiresome. It’s not really the jokes that are the problem but how irrelevant Howard’s toilet struggles are. Earlier in the season (208) Howard interfered with the Mars Rover and suffered no consequences, a ludicrous plot development which undermined both the credibility of Howard and the show as a whole. Here we get more of the same. Howard has made a mistake with his toilet design and it ends up malfunctioning leaving astronauts trying to escape their own poop.
A story like that leads you to ask questions which the show has no interest in answering. Did no one check Howard’s work? Didn’t NASA field test this new equipment? Isn’t someone above a UCLA engineer responsible for checking the devices that are sent into space? How important is Howard at UCLA? Was he paid extra for this job or is this just part of his regular work? Will he get fired, reprimanded or demoted for such a potentially dangerous failure?
The show makes it clear that it won’t answer any of these questions. You basically tell the audience not to care when a story has no consequence. I maintain that you laugh less the less you care.
Leonard’s story is the more troubling aspect of this episode. Season two has done a lot of damage to Leonard. In season one they were slowly building him up as a character. He was the one geek who could rise about it all. His morality made him shine out above the creeps Penny had dated. His developing backbone made him a more admirable character. This season he has been reduced to much more wimpy and pathetic levels, to the point where a lot of fans would rather see Sheldon with Penny. For the record if that were to happen it should take about six seasons of expert character development and that will never happen.
Leonard is the hero of the show and I don’t blame his performance as much as I blame the writing. He doesn’t show enough good qualities, enough of a desire to grow and change and become the man Penny could fall for. A by product of the bad writing is that he isn’t funny. Anyone who has watched sit coms knows that one of the easiest and funniest things to write is a character trying to mislead other suitors away from the woman or man that they are in to. Think Ross and Rachel or Daphne and Niles. Because the audience know exactly what the character is thinking and no one else does, the humour is obvious and plausible. But somehow here that opportunity is completely wasted and the writers should really have done better. They seem to spend so much time on poop jokes that they miss the obvious comedy routines.
Comic Highlight: Raj summing up Howard’s work: “You are right, this is an important achievement for two reasons. Number one...and of course number two!” Even Sheldon laughs.
In Conclusion: This is a disappointing episode in most ways but it is still entertaining.
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