Episode 15 - The Friendship Contraction
20 March 2012
Synopsis: Sheldon wakes Leonard in the middle of the night for an emergency preparedness drill. The next day Leonard opts out of the Roommate Agreement in frustration. Sheldon is lost without him and can't do any of his chores.
The Good: The details surrounding Sheldon's emergency drills were typically fun. The use of Bunsen burners and light sabres in the dark and all of Sheldon's thorough preparation made for some good lines. I also enjoyed Penny pointing out that Sheldon doesn't use girlfriends "for what they're for" or his memoir title being "You're Welcome Mankind."
The Bad: Otherwise this was a disappointment. On drama shows you may be familiar with the concept of a "Bottle" episode. It usually means an episode set in one location to save money. Although The Big Bang Theory doesn't have the same financial constraints I often feel episodes about Leonard and Sheldon's friendship are the creative team's equivalent. These stories allow them to write scene after scene of Sheldon being inflexible and childish and they never change the dynamic at the heart of the show.
I have two major objections to these stories. The first is that neither Leonard nor Sheldon change. We don't really get any closer to understanding why Sheldon can't look after himself. The impression we are left with is that he is an overgrown child. He wants someone to chauffeur him around so that he doesn't have to be independent and face the outside world alone. That's plausible but it would be nice if the writing could burrow deeper and catch Sheldon admitting to these fears and insecurities.
When Penny starts to go "Aww" and push Leonard to help him out it felt undeserved. Sheldon puts a lot of effort and energy into bullying Leonard into being his servant and shows no gratitude or self awareness. If there was some sense that he was grateful to Leonard then I wouldn't mind so much. As it is though he clearly doesn't care about Leonard and if he could would find another weak willed friend to do the same for him.
This leads into my second objection. If the writers really think Sheldon is better as a character by being callous that's fine. It really is. But if that's the case then he can't be the object of sympathy. And reflexively Leonard needs a backbone. Leonard continues to look like a wimp and a fool for constantly giving in to Sheldon's demands. If there really is no gratitude coming to him then he shouldn't settle for "Leonard's Day." If Sheldon isn't going to change then Leonard must or we are left to see him as a fool.
The nickname plot is a formula (see Seinfeld 919) and can only end badly. It functioned neatly as a B plot but was never very funny.
Comic Highlight: Sheldon has been using a device to distil urine into drinking water. Unfortunately during the blackout he sets a marshmallow on fire. He drops it in his glass of water and sighs. "It took me a gallon of urine to make that water."
In Conclusion: The sit com formula for long series runs pretty much demands that main characters be likeable. To have a wimp and a bully instead is what holds the show back from touching real emotions.
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