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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 9 - The White Asparagus Triangulation

29 March 2012

Synopsis: Sheldon likes Stephanie and begins to research ways in which he can ensure that Leonard’s relationship with her succeeds.

The Good: It’s nice to see Leonard’s life at the focus of the overall plot. His relationship with women is the only part of the entire show (at present) which develops and evolves and exploits genuine emotion from the audience. Or to put it another way, it is the only story in the show which has had any real consequence so far. By meeting Penny and seeing a life beyond Sheldon’s suffocating routine, Leonard has begun to realise his social potential. We even get a hint of why Stephanie might be good for him when they reference (once more) his lactose intolerance and she good naturedly laughs about it and moves on.

I certainly can’t fault the way the writers go about their current strategy even if I don’t agree with the strategy. Their plan of course is to make the show funny by building almost every scene around Sheldon and his eccentricities. They certainly take that idea and run as far as they can with it and I appreciate their commitment to each joke. For example Sheldon noses his way into a romantic dinner and says afterwards “And you said there’d never be enough pasta for the three of us.” Then to drive home Sheldon’s inability to empathise with Leonard’s desires he later walks into the kitchen and says “Look at that, there’s even pasta left over.” Or when testing the boundaries of social behaviour by walking around a cinema and making strange noises, Sheldon finally realises that Leonard is sitting in the “acoustic sweet spot.” Again, rather than miss out, Sheldon sits next to Leonard and leans right over him just so that he can enjoy the sound at its optimum.

Finally at the end of the episode Leonard loses it and shouts at Sheldon for his interference. It’s good to see Leonard finally stand up for himself and tell Sheldon off. He also gets to the heart of one aspect of Sheldon when he says “The worst part is you don’t even understand what you did wrong because you can’t conceive of something that you are not an expert in.” As good as that is to hear, it’s not really the heart of the matter. The heart is that Sheldon likes having Stephanie around. It’s not about helping Leonard, it’s a selfish desire and just like Leslie Winkle (202), he would try and get rid of her if he didn’t like her. So at least he is consistent.

The Bad: The end of the episode makes light of Sheldon’s interference because Stephanie is really into Leonard and things worked out ok. But that shouldn’t be the moral of the story. Sheldon behaved in a selfish and thoughtless way and shouldn’t be forgiven so easily for his interference. There has to be some room for Sheldon to grow as well. We can’t sit through season after season of Sheldon never changing or the show will become frustrating in the extreme.

An example of that is that Leonard and Penny have both been constantly annoyed and frustrated by Sheldon this season. Almost every time they interact with him they both do the reluctant sigh and mutter about him under their breath. If that continues then it implies that they don’t want to spend any time with Sheldon and makes it harder to believe that the group can maintain the cohesion which makes the show enjoyable.

My major gripe is still the overall direction of the show that can allow an episode about Leonard’s love life be so entirely dominated by Sheldon. The writers are still finding entertaining ways for him to hold court but they are working from a narrow base. This week Sheldon has almost morphed into the Dad from American Pie as he “amusingly” uses slang with no authenticity at all. Again, we can’t sit through episode after episode of Sheldon asking Penny inappropriate questions. Eventually that well will run dry. The focus on Sheldon also robs us of genuine character development for Leonard. We still don’t know why he likes Stephanie so much, what they have in common or anything about their dynamic.

Comic Highlight: Sheldon’s latest scheme is to make Leonard look like the Alpha male by opening a jar for him. As Leonard struggles to open it Sheldon tries to cover by telling Stephanie that he long ago accepted his role as the Beta male. Leonard taps the jar into the counter to help him open it and ends up cutting his hand. Stephanie rushes over and asks if he’s ok and Leonard says “No, I’m bleeding.” Quick as a flash Sheldon, clinging to his idea adds “Like a Gladiator!”

In Conclusion: The Big Bang Theory is like a state-of-the-art ship being sailed in the wrong direction. The cast is strong, the writing can be excellent and is certainly creative. And yet the show’s priorities are all wrong and they are producing television which is a lot less good than it could be.

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