Episode 18 - The Pants Alternative
25 May 2016
Synopsis: Sheldon wins the Chancellor's Award for Science but threatens to decline it when he finds out that he will have to give a speech. It turns out he has stage fright and passes out under the stress. His friends rally around and try to help him. Raj tries to teach him meditation, Penny takes him shopping and Leonard attempts to get to the root of the problem. In the end some alcohol keeps him from fainting.
The Good: The structure of the plot was perfect, the execution was not. Sheldon has a problem which he can't solve. So his friends graciously offer to help him out and each one tries and fails leading up to the moment where he must face his weakness. It's a perfect sit com plot, a plausible situation which offers the chance for several unique sketch-like scenes between characters.
And there were notable successes along the way. Penny taking him clothes shopping was predictably fun with Sheldon's complete disregard for fashion. When he finally emerged sharply dressed in a fitted dark suit he genuinely exclaims "This is absurd I look like a clown!" His own literal mind amusingly destroys Raj's attempt to help him meditate. And Howard's no fooling sarcastic response to the question of how he was going to help was surprisingly believable and harsh.
There were other fun moments too. Raj kept up his streak of asking awkward questions about sci-fi products, here dissecting Avatar. It could become quite a fun gimmick for him, allowing the writers the chance to cash in on the hit movie or other craze of the day. Raj moping with no 3D glasses while everyone else watched TV was a funny image. And a classic bit of camp Sheldon came when he spoke to the chancellor saying "Yes I was expecting your call (aside) three years ago!"
Even gags like "C-Men" (instead of X-Men) and Sheldon dreaming he was a giant but with a giant world to match were fun if predictable. The only moment which went off the beaten path was Leonard breaking down into tears over his own childhood memories. The writing was consistent as we have met Leonard's mother twice now (215, 311) and it was nice to hear him point out her flaws and not be a wuss. But his crying was so real and so poignant that it rather stepped all over the comedy. It was a sad reminder that if the writers knew what to do with Leonard he could be a hugely valuable character.
The Bad: So what was wrong with this? Nothing in theory. This was what it was. Sheldon turned to alcohol to cure his fear and did what all characters in sit coms do, he humiliated himself. This episode was in no way bad, but it was vanilla when it could have been really funny.
Good jokes are either universal or character specific (see Comic Highlight). There is nothing universal or specific about Sheldon hopping onto stage and doing a stand-up routine. It's not clear why Sheldon would even know a comedy routine, let alone want to indulge in one. His silly jokes and insults are funny in a very broad sense, there's nothing specific which could really get you laughing. If him being drunk had to be the punch line then it would have been fun to see him have a different reaction than expected. Or indeed to just insult his friends or colleagues in a way which meant something to the audience. Or perhaps reveal something embarrassing which the viewing audience will find funny. Instead he made a Uranus joke. It's lowest common denominator writing and it's sad because this could have been so much more.
Leonard rather ruined any sympathy gained by inappropriately ranting about his mother at the podium. There again you are forced to ask why he would chose to do this. It doesn't flow from his shy and retiring character.
Comic Highlight: One line made me laugh and it was so simple. Raj and Sheldon are sitting on the floor ready to meditate. Raj tells him "I'm going to be leading you through a series of meditation exercises. These methods come from the ancient gurus of India and have helped me overcome my own fears." It's a great line because we know he still can't talk to women thus he deflates all the credibility of what he just said. Its character specific, it's believable, it's funny.
In Conclusion: Same old same old, a show which deliberately chooses to be average rather than excellent. A perfect plot delivered with gleeful mediocrity.
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