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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 20 - The Transporter Malfunction

6 April 2012

Synopsis: Raj asks his parents to set him up with a woman. He is excited to meet Lakshmi and things go well until she reveals that she is gay. Penny thanks Leonard and Sheldon for all the free meals by buying them collectable Star Trek transporters. They insist on keeping them in mint condition until the doll of Spock visits Sheldon in a dream.

The Good: The Sheldon story was a simple old fashioned morality play with the voice of Leonard Nimoy present to spic things up. At times it felt a bit slow but overall I think it worked nicely. As usual Sheldon was fun to watch as he went through the stages of excitement, regret and guilt. I particularly enjoyed Penny giving the gifts and handing Leonard a label maker after giving Sheldon the transporter. When she revealed that she had actually got Leonard one too his squeal of delight was worth the wait. The actual Leonard Nimoy stuff was no more than passable but I did laugh at Sheldon’s struggle with admitting to doing anything wrong (see Comic Highlight).

The Raj story continued the long running story arc of his inability to find a girlfriend. I’m sympathetic to this story because it’s not often that male loneliness is tackled on television. I’m of the opinion that even a seemingly frivolous show like The Big Bang Theory can produce something touching and Raj’s performance leaves no one in any doubt that his loneliness is a serious issue for him. The Lakshmi story was interesting, if brief, as we touch on the non-Western aspects of Indian culture with an arranged marriage and the suppression of homosexual behaviour.

The Bad: I think there is a problem with Raj as a character. His perceived homosexuality has reached the end of the road. There have always been sit com characters in this same position: both Niles and Frasier (Frasier), Carlton (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air), Chandler (Friends) and Andy Bernard (The Office) come to mind. They are all good examples because I can readily picture them suffering the same kind of loneliness that Raj is experiencing (as well as being thought of as gay). However none of them were as lonely for as long as Raj has been. They all had stronger characters and found happiness eventually. The jokes about Raj’s sexuality have gone on so long that the subtext has become that he is in fact gay but is too deeply afraid to admit it.

I am confident he isn’t gay though and so the tone has become awkward. Particularly when Howard can joke that he doesn’t think Raj will actually ever meet someone. I think the producers have unwittingly gone too far with Raj’s social isolation. He has been unhappy for so long and with his mutism still in tow it doesn’t seem like he will find a way out soon. To finish this episode with him accepting a dog for company was the equivalent of spinsters and their cats.

It’s easy to laugh at a man being thought of as gay when he clearly isn’t. It’s much harder to laugh when you sense a deeper unhappiness surrounding that person. I don’t think the producers will have given this a huge amount of thought but I would suggest that Raj needs a lifeline of some kind away from the depressing plight he has found himself in.

Comic Highlight: Penny convinces Leonard to open his transporter and of course it is broken (because Sheldon switched them). They head off to see Stuart to complain about this when Sheldon confesses. Actually he only confesses to opening it and not breaking it. He admits that “That was a lie” and explains a little more but is still lying. He claims that an earthquake broke the toy but admits “and that’s a lie.” Finally he explains that the Spock doll came to him in a dream and led to this situation. He adds “I regret my actions towards the two of you” but immediately concedes “that’s a lie.” Sheldon’s childish refusal to fully accept morality does lead to good comedy. I also loved his excitement at the idea of a make your own sundae bar.

In Conclusion: On the surface these are two very simple moral conundrums with gentle comedy all round. However one of them hints at depth that the show may not have intended.

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Comments

  • Yikes. Typos ahoy - in previous comment.

    1) "allergy" -> "allegory"

    2) "to it's characters". I think this should be "to its characters", but my grammar sucks.

    3) "The kind of this" -> "The kind of thing"

    Clearly, I need to do more careful proofreading.
    If you can correct the comment, please do, and don't post this correction. If not, post the correction. Thanks, and sorry for the bother.

    Posted by Faheem Mitha, 05/04/2012 7:01pm (7 years ago)

  • Great perspective Faheem, thanks for posting.

    Posted by The TV Critic, 05/04/2012 12:49pm (7 years ago)

  • Hi Robin,

    I agree about the Raj "situation". In fact, I've been thinking the same thing for awhile. I actually found the whole subplot about the mutism quite interesting for a bit, as it seemed a good allergy for Indian social dysfunction, which, if you have ever spent any time in India, is quite real and quite pervasive. India is one of the more messed up corners of this messed up little planet. One of the ways it is messed up is that men and women aren't comfortable with each other in social situations, and don't spend much time in them. Hence arranged marriages and so forth. There are other problems like the horrifying attitudes of the rich towards the poor, but that is hardly unique to India. As it happens, I'm Indian, so I know a little about that.

    Anyway, so Raj's mutism struck me an an amusing illustration/dramatization of how this might show up in a suitably "theatrical" way in a sitcom-like setup. However, like you, I think they are dragging it out way too much, to the point that it is now bordering on character cruelty. I don't know if this is a Chuck Lorre thing. I remember when I used to watch "2 1/2 men" that I was struck by the equal-opportunity sadism that the show meted out to it's characters - Alan portrayed as a lonely loser, Charlie as an unhappy womanizing drunk. Both sons with mother issues (psycho mother). Jake was lazy and dumb. Etc. However, I don't think comic mileage out of the misery of your characters is a good approach long term, even for a sitcom. Also, I find Raj's predicament inherently implausible. He is attractive/personable, rich, educated, and has a good job. I'm not saying meeting someone is necessarily easy, but in the real world, someone like him would not have such major issues. And something like mutism is treatable. I'm struck by the fact that apparently nobody in his life is making the slightest effort to help him to deal with it, preferring instead to make cheap jokes. Case in point, Howard in this episode implying that he didn't think Raj would ever find anyone. Give me a break.

    Also, I hope they don't finally decide that he is gay after all. I think if he is gay he would know it. However, I see they seem to be endowing him with stereotypically gay mannerisms. Not necessarily how real gay people behave, but the kind of this that is represented as "gay" in pop/mass media.

    Posted by Faheem Mitha, 05/04/2012 9:36am (7 years ago)

  • Nice to hear from you both. I would much prefer to see Raj come out at this point rather than go the predictable route and eventually find a girl.

    I like the "effortless humour" comment. Despite the studio audience I find the comedy on TBBT far more natural and fluid than on any of the single camera shows.

    Posted by The TV Critic, 02/04/2012 10:53pm (7 years ago)

  • i personally think that they're actually intending to make Raj gay for real, because the novelty of his mutism has worn off, ie it's no longer funny seeing him struggle with it, and as you've mentioned it's hard to find his 'gay tendencies' funny when his unhappiness is so blatant.

    i did really enjoy the past 2 episodes though, quite effortless humour, pretty impressive

    Viewer score: 60 / 100

    Posted by C, 02/04/2012 1:36pm (7 years ago)

  • Wouldn't it be much more interesting if Raj was gay? So many story lines and developments to explore as he comes to the realisation that the reason he's lonely and unhappy is because he can't admit that he is gay. I agree there is no chance of them doing this storyline as they would actually have to have real character moments for it to work and the whole selective mutism thing would be hard to explain. It's just a shame because the only other story they can tell will be so familiar...
    I like Raj and Howard as comedy characters/actors, but they can never be anymore than mild comic relief, and that is a shame.

    Viewer score: 42 / 100

    Posted by The G man, 01/04/2012 12:59pm (7 years ago)

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