Episode 1 - The Skank Reflex Analysis
7 February 2013
Synopsis: Raj hopes to continue his relationship with Penny while she wants to put the whole thing behind her. Leonard is mad at Raj and Howard joins in when he hears about Raj's interest in Bernadette. Sheldon is more concerned with an upcoming paint ball game.
The Good: Nothing seems to have changed between seasons which is both good and bad.
The writers dealt thoroughly with Penny and Raj hooking up. I particularly liked the call back to Raj's interest in Bernadette (414, 420). That helped paint a more convincing picture of Raj. It would seem he is just a lonely guy who gets instantly wrapped up in any woman who shows him any interest. It's not the direction I would suggest taking his character but it is believable. It was also good to see Penny address the status of her life in California after so many years without success. It's probably for the best that they didn't sleep together either, it gives Penny a veneer of self respect.
As usual Sheldon managed to dominate any scene he was involved in (see Comic Highlight) which does lead to some fun moments but isn't the solution to turning this into a consistently good show.
The Bad: Although Leonard talked about Priya leaving the country we didn't see her. Nor did we see any action being taken on his part. I can only assume she is being written out and there will be no further depth to their relationship. I don't care about that story especially but that is kind of the point. When a major story can be forgotten that quickly it sends a message to viewers not to invest in anything they watch.
The structure of the episode also reflected the way the show has changed and yet stayed the same. We got little cameos from Bernadette, Amy and Leonard's mother. All of which added little bits of value on there own but ultimately made the episode weaker. I liked seeing Bernadette fight for her new marriage. I actually liked the way her gruff anger reminded me a little of Howard's mother. Amy too can be good and her affection for Penny's friendship is a fun note to play. I was even vaguely happy to see Sheldon call on Leonard's mother to offer him some support in a time of need, though I doubt that was the prime motivation of the writers.
Those cameos have prevented the show from becoming stale and centred only around the guys. A female energy has been a boon for the show and it gives the writers so much more to work with. However, this episode was unfocussed as they so often are. The attention on Penny's life barely scratched the surface. We don't really understand how Penny and Leonard see one another with much depth. We don't really understand Raj's feelings beyond him being a bit sad and lonely but with an edge of jerk to make him funny. That story has so little emotional resonance because we spent our time on the cameos. Similarly I don't know if Sheldon really had a master plan to win the paint ball game. In another sit com Sheldon would have aimed to bring his bickering friends together through his noble self sacrifice. But we know he did it selfishly to win the game. I don't know if even thought it through that far or if he was slightly surprised by his friends decision to 'avenge' his 'death.' It all felt rushed and undeveloped.
The deus ex machina of Penny suddenly getting a commercial was typical. We've never once seen Penny act and I'm not sure this will be the first of many. I could easily see Penny coasting from terrible commercial to terrible TV show for the next few seasons so that her life won't change much at all.
Comic Highlight: There remains no doubt that when the writers get Sheldon's dialogue right there can be magic. I loved this reaction to Leonard's pain over Raj sleeping with Penny: "That sounds like sarcasm but I'm going to disregard it because I have an agenda - Paintball! Specifically the interdepartmental tournament this weekend. Now in order to function better as a fighting unit I thought we should establish a chain of command."
The reaction to Leonard was funny in itself but at this point it seems clear that Sheldon is going to make a case for being in charge of the group for the game. He goes on: "Now it goes without saying that I would outrank the three of you but the question remains: by how much?" It's just such clever writing because it comes so naturally from what we already know of him. The obvious joke - that he would be in charge - has by this point become so obvious that he goes beyond it and actually frets over what imaginary rank to give himself. It's funny and it's clever and there just isn't enough stuff like that on TV.
In Conclusion: A new season but very much the same show.
Add your comments on this episode below. They may be included in the weekly podcasts.