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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 18 - The Prestidigitation Approximation

11 March 2011

Credit CBS

Synopsis: Priya and Leonard are growing closer and she takes him shopping and encourages him to try contact lenses. She also asks if he will stop hanging out with Penny. He ducks the issue and is embarrassed when Priya finds out the truth. Meanwhile Howard shows off an amazing card trick and Sheldon can't figure out how it works.

The Good: The card trick plot was fantastic. It was far from the funniest story you will see but for a show that so often tells incomplete stories it was very refreshing to see one written so perfectly. Sheldon's growing irritation at not being able to figure out the trick was easy comedy. You just knew that his ego wouldn't let him rest until he had found the truth and his attempt to fool Howard and Raj by attaching barcodes to every card was amusingly obvious. Finally we saw how the trick really worked: everyone was pretending that the trick worked just to annoy Sheldon. It was a story which fit all the characters well and saw the rest of the group finally team up to mess with Sheldon instead of letting him push them around (see Comic Highlight).

Another good thing about the card plot was that it was an ideal 'B' story. It was frivolous and silly and took nothing away from the 'A' story of the love triangle. I do like the fact that we are seeing actual relationships develop and evolve this season. On paper Priya's discomfort with Penny's presence makes sense and Penny was smart enough to see it for the reasonable request that it was.

The Bad: Unfortunately everything that Leonard did made him look like a coward. The fact that he can't bring himself to be honest with Penny does him no favours. He then lies to Priya and pathetically hopes things will work themselves out. Then when Penny does him a favour by figuring out what is really going on and taking it well he almost comes on to her. First he suggests seeing her on the side and then when she shows him affection he almost runs after her, presumably in the hopes that she will take him back. Throw in the fact that both Priya and Penny mock his dress sense and he doesn't have the guts to refuse to wear contact lenses he comes off as utterly spineless.

Some sitcoms build themselves around less than admirable leads (The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm etc) but I really don't think that Leonard is meant to come across the way he does. I think the writers want his social cowardice to be funny but I don't think they realise how unlikeable it makes him. Penny is one of the shows leads which suggests Priya won't be around for that long. The implication remains that one day Leonard will end up with Penny again. That is the role of the 'hero' of the story but Leonard looks very far from that right now. It's tough to find any positives in the portrayal of Leonard right now. His stories are leading only to frustration.

Comic Highlight: Finally Sheldon forces Howard to perform the trick on him so that he could remove Raj from the equation. So instead Raj mimed what Sheldon's card was enabling Howard to guess correctly and leave Sheldon flummoxed once more. A really nice end to a neat story.

In Conclusion: I don't think the producers of The Big Bang Theory are intentionally making Leonard so un-admirable. But regardless that is what's happening and it makes the show less fun to watch. Otherwise this was pretty good.

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  • Hey Malcolm, thanks for posting.
    Lots of good thoughts and obviously I agree about Leonard suggestng Penny move out, it was a stupid line.

    I think in a mature version of the show Penny and Leonard could actually find ways to avoid hanging out but I know that's not the point of this story.

    Posted by The TV Critic, 31/03/2011 10:02am (8 years ago)

  • As our heroine often says, ‘Sorry I’m late’. I could not wait until it airs UK-side in July, and managed to find the full episode online. I think this was one of the better episodes of season 4, not least as we did not have everything so Sheldon-centric, with him trying to dominate the group to demonstrate his superiority. Here he was always on the back foot, leading to a lot of fun for us as our potential (in Sheldon’s eyes) Nobel Prize winner was continually reminded by lesser intellects of his inability to solve a simple magic trick. Best of all for me, the writers had Penny returning to the likeable easy familiarity we saw in season 2 of being just ‘one of the guys’. She was even happy to collude with Howard (Creepy Candy Coating) Wolowitz in his aim to rile Sheldon. I very much hope the writers keep to this nice Penny, and it was not just for contrast with the ‘not nice’ Priya.

    When I first saw the CBS story outline for this episode, my first thoughts were of a ‘Friends’ style Ross, Rachel and Emily scenario. Both Emily and Priya’s insecurity made them ask their new partner to cut themselves off from an ex. Whilst it may seem a reasonable request, both Rachel and Penny were long standing friends with all the new partner’s friends, and the request could only be implemented if the ex also cut herself off from all her friends in his social group, or the new partner removed himself completely from his social group. It is clearly unreasonable to tell an ex to stay away from all your friends, as they are also her friends, so the only option to comply with the request is to remove yourself from your friends, which in Leonard’s case would mean moving out of the apartment where his friends all hang out. This brings me on to the most bizarre moment of the whole episode when Leonard actually asked Penny to move out to solve his dilemma. What were the writers thinking of for Leonard’s character? Selfishness has never been any part of Leonard, so how could they get him to effectively say “Priya wants me to have no more contact with you, so I want you to uproot yourself from your home and move away”. Throughout this episode the writers are portraying Leonard as pathetic, reminiscent of the traits he was given in the Vartabedian Conundrum (S2 Ep10). Uncertainty, nervousness, or insecurity are flaws which can be played for laughs, but pathetic is not funny.

    It will not surprise you to know that I agree wholeheartedly with Michael that Penny acted fantastic in this episode. Her scene in the Indian Restaurant was written way over the top for comedic effect, but she showed much more than just easy familiarity with Leonard as she took food off his plate, and again when she came back to take the glass from his hand and drink from it. Priya looked as stunned as Stephanie did when Penny walked into Leonard’s apartment for early morning coffee ‘in her underwear’.

    It is clear Priya and her controlling ways will not be with us much longer. It is a great pity that Leonard did not remember Penny’s sage advice from the Vartabedian Conundrum that you do not always have to go along with what the woman wants.

    Two comic highlights – Firstly, Penny saying an embarrassed ‘Oopsie’ to Raj when she realised Howard’s question about Leonard and Priya was not directed at her (Raj’s expression to Penny here was also a delight). My second highlight was Sheldon’s attempt at the magic trick by pushing the deck of cards under Leonard’s bedroom door and asking him to pick a card as Leonard and Priya made out.

    Roll on June when I can see all the second half of season 4 here in the clarity of full 1080p.

    Posted by Malcolm, 31/03/2011 2:58am (8 years ago)

  • Yeah good comparison with the Emily-Ross-Rachel thing. Priya hasn't really asked anything too unreasonable yet but it's inevitable that she won't be sticking around.

    Posted by The TV Critic, 13/03/2011 4:46pm (8 years ago)

  • The magic trick indeed was a very funny plot. As I am very interested in card tricks myself I knew from the very beginning that this was either a made up trick or crappy writing(which I ruled out).
    A friend of mine pointed out that the obvious fake made that plot lame, but I don't think so.
    At first, it was perfectly set, all scenes and characters made sense, and the revealing shot from behind Raj in the end was a nice move.
    Secondly, Sheldon would be way to self centered to figure out a team up against him(let alone giving Howard credit for such an intelligent move).

    The love triangle reminded me very much of another triangle like that, Ross-Emily-Rachel from Friends.

    In my opinion, in both cases the writers tried to make the temporary love interest a little obnoxious for the audience by letting her bossing the guy around.
    Thus, the temporary character would not be missed very much and the focus could be turned back on the subliminal simmering feelings of the two main characters.

    Both Ross and Leonard were pushed into a difficult decision, both made "the wrong one" to save the "bird in the hand", and both couldn't let go of their good friend in the end.

    But unfortunately, there is the line where the stories depart.
    Ross remained Ross, risked to lose his bird by standing up for his friend Rachel....and lost Emily.
    He got hurt for doing the right thing, and the audience felt with him.

    Leonard acts cowardly through all this episode. This is fine at first, because, let's face it, most of guys will act like him when pushed into changing by the new girlfriend.
    He should have refused to wear the contacts anymore after a few tryouts, but ok.
    The worst part was the end, when he basically felt the same as Ross but acted like a spineless jerk.
    Penny by the way acted fantastic throughout the episode.

    I sincerely hope the writers start to rethink their path for Leonard. The actual path says "clown", and like in a real circus, nearly everyone loves clowns, but not all the time.
    Leonard has so much potential, but they should really let more nerds write the scripts to let us see him again like a noble one of us. One of us. One of us.

    Sorry.

    Posted by Michael, 13/03/2011 7:33am (8 years ago)

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