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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-???


Episode 4 - The Wiggly Finger Catalyst

23 February 2012

Synopsis: Raj's loneliness concerns Penny and so she sets him up with a girl from her spin class. Emily is deaf and so Raj is able to talk but he does need Howard on his dates to translate at first. Meanwhile Sheldon decides to free up his brain by letting a pair of dice make his trivial decisions for him. Soon we learn that Raj's family are richer than anyone knew and Emily is getting him to buy her lots of things.

The Good: Just from a TV Critic point of view this was fascinating. There were so many different ideas, plot points and comedy styles all mixed together. From a strict story point of view I don't think this achieved more than adding the word 'Rich' to Raj's other known characteristics: 'Foreign', 'Shy', 'Slightly closeted', 'Whimsical', 'A jerk when drunk' and 'Selectively mute.'

In a way that is all that matters. The Big Bang Theory is a hugely successful show because people know what to expect. You could tune in to this episode having only ever watched the pilot and still know pretty much everything that was going on. Even though I may believe the show could be better I am happy to acknowledge that this formula works commercially and it would be foolish to change it too much. So what we have now is what the final scene showed. Raj has a lot of money and his friends are sure to bring that up regularly. And why not? The writers probably realised that lonely and miserable Raj only has so many stories in him. Where as a Raj driving a Maserati and still not able to talk to women: now that has possibilities. I'm not being facetious. Howard has become much more watchable since Bernadette appeared and ditto Penny now that she has Amy. Small changes on this show can go a long way to prolonging the fun.

So let's look at the actual story. I like that Penny was the one willing to do something for Raj. Given their recent experience and being the only one likely to know attractive women, it made sense. The choice of a deaf woman was clever too and it was a nice moment to see Raj force words out when he realised that this girl couldn't hear him.

Having Howard out on the date with them was a clever move. The Cyrano de Bergerac situation always lends itself to easy comedy. It also helped to explain how Raj would learn to communicate with Emily and avoid putting his foot in his mouth.

In a move the show rarely goes to we then learnt that weeks had passed. This allowed us to imagine Raj had really had a relationship and lost something important when the break up came. The introduction of Raj's wealth to explain this makes sense for what the writers are trying to achieve as I discussed above.

The key to this story working was the humour of course. It's amazing how simple jokes can be so funny. Deafness. Wealth. Gold Digging. Loneliness. A child could have constructed most of these jokes and yet they work so well. Sheldon tries to explain how rich the Koothrappali's are by saying they are "Richie Rich rich." Penny asks how rich that is to which Sheldon responds "about half way between Bruce Wayne and Scrooge McDuck." Penny's head is turned by Raj's wealth as is Leonard's by the thought of what Priya is now worth. Later when Raj irritates Penny and walks out of her apartment she admits "He is cuter now that I know he's rich." She did of course try to reason with him, asking what kind of relationship is it where you trade gifts for sex? "The best one I've ever had!" came Raj's defiant reply. Raj's parents pop in on Skype to tell him to stop spending their money on a girl. Raj sums this up by saying "You're going to make me choose between the woman I love and the money I have...very strong feelings for?" Raj says he chooses love. "You're an idiot!" his father says and then laughingly adds "love doesn't last" to a suitably withering look from Mrs Koothrappali.

There was of course a B plot as Sheldon used a set of dice to determine all his smaller decisions. It was a classic Sheldon story: its origins are in cult games and fiction; it has a practical benefit and it led to strong punch lines. The plausibility of the story came from the list of things Sheldon claimed to have achieved despite the sillier decisions which the dice insisted on. The comedy was instantly well constructed as Sheldon tries to pretend that his own desires are irrelevant while clearly resenting the choices which the dice puts before him. A moment as simple as his celebration when the dice rewards him with a hot fudge sundae was really fun.

The sight of Sheldon with a moustache was a nice use of the time that had passed in Raj's relationship. It's difficult not to laugh when Sheldon dismisses his friends with his usual arrogance begins to leave before rolling the dice and realising he has to stay put. I smiled at Bernadette's immoral side coming out once more as she suggests the wife of a dying man as a potential date for Raj.   

The Bad: It's the same old story of course. Would the show be better if instead of just making Raj rich this story had added some emotional depth? I think so. I would have enjoyed a two part episode so that we could have gotten used to Emily being around. That would have allowed the idea of Raj being used for his money to stir up genuine emotion from all of his friends. It would also have allowed much more time for Sheldon's dice story. Personally I can think of so many amusing possibilities for that story that it would have been a pleasure to see it go on longer. We could then have gotten a proper conclusion to that story where Sheldon was forced to reject the dice in favour of his own will.

To give you another example of what I think could have been better look at the moment in the Cheesecake Factory when Raj says "Hi" to Emily. The live audience Awww at that and it really was a significant moment for his character. His selective mutism presumably comes from his fear of what saying things to women will bring. So here he takes a tentative step forward safe in the knowledge that she can't hear him. Instead of that moment having real emotional resonance the next punchline comes flying in barely a second or two later. If this were a two part episode we could have had time for that moment to be played as a serious one.

I guess one hole in this story was that Emily couldn't read lips. If she had been deaf for any length of time I'm sure she would have known the gist of much of what Raj was saying.

Comic Highlight: After Emily leaves Raj he goes to Penny for comfort: "Sometimes I put the TV on mute to pretend she's still with me." Deaf humour: simple and dumb, but funny.

In Conclusion: I really enjoyed this. I laughed several times and felt the writers hit on several successful ideas which blended well together. Of course I am fully aware that the framework the writers have set themselves is very limited. If these particular jokes seemed old and dull and obvious to you then I couldn't disagree.



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  • Hi x51, thanks so much for commenting. All nit picking is welcome. I have made the change. Wow, I haven't thought about him since Zidane's head butt.

    Posted by The TV Critic, 09/10/2011 1:59pm (9 years ago)

  • hi, like your reviews very much :) read them every week...
    not wanna nitpicking... just... the car manufacturer is maserati :) materazzi is an italian football (soccer) player :)

    Posted by x51, 08/10/2011 9:47pm (9 years ago)

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