The Big Bang Theory season 6 episode 2 review: The Decoupling Fluctuation

Review Kaci Ferrell 5 Oct 2012 - 07:47

Can The Big Bang Theory write women? On the basis of The Decoupling Fluctuation, Kaci isn't convinced...

This review contains spoilers.

6.2 The Decoupling Fluctuation

Much like last week's premiere episode, this week's The Big Bang Theory is all about relationships (and space pranks). And while I'm not tired of relationship-focused episodes just yet, I do worry that this will be a trend for this season. I don't know how I'd feel about an entire season of dating woes. 

As expected, Howard's fellow astronauts are picking on him by making him clean the space toilet (at least he knows his way around it, having engineered a space toilet himself, right?) and scaring him with alien masks. (I'll wait while you go Google "astronaut screams for nine minutes." Hurry back!) Bernadette, who is tragically underused while Howard is off in space, recommends that he stand up to them, which only leads to Howard's face becoming their personal graffiti board. Sometimes a guy just can't catch a break.

Neither can Stuart, who begins his integration into the group this week when Raj asks him to tag along since he's going to the movies with two couples. Sheldon, who hates change, isn't thrilled to have a new guy tagging along and insists that Stuart behave as Howard would. And, shockingly, Stuart proves to be rather like old school Howard when he and Raj announce their intention to go try to meet women at a bar, referring to the two of them as "coffee and cream." It's a nice throwback, but it does remind me of how much everyone else on this show has progressed from their initial characterization, save for Raj. Here's hoping that his new friendship might inspire him to expand his horizons and grow a little. 

Speaking of growing, not only is Sheldon dealing with the change brought about by Stuart's induction into the group, but by the threat of a possible Leonard/Penny break-up. Distraught about the impending change, he tries first to warn Leonard using a Transformers metaphor that leaves Leonard under the impression that Sheldon himself has "transformed" into a new person due to his relationship with Amy. When that fails, Sheldon asks Penny not to break up with Leonard, first explaining his aversion to change, but finally admitting the true reason why the situation bothers him: "Please don't hurt my friend." It's a nice moment of growth (and wouldn't it be nice to see Raj have a moment of his own) as well as an ironic counterpoint to Sheldon's aversion to change throughout the episode, given that it wouldn't be happening at all if he hadn't grown into it. 

But the bulk of the episode rests on Penny's shoulders as she works through her feelings for Leonard. Apparently, she did not tell him that she loved him after Raj's outburst last week, and admits that she doesn't really know what she feels for him. When Bernadette and Amy press her for more information, Penny reveals that not only does her relationship with Leonard not match up with Penny's previous experience of love, but she even goes so far as to describe her feelings towards him as "boring." Ouch. 

I've never been a fan of the way the writers handle female characters on this show. In fact, I'm pretty sure that most critics would agree with that statement, to varying degrees. But unless the writers are holding a trump card in their hands and refusing to play it just yet, I think this arc of Penny's feelings towards Leonard takes the cake. We never really delve all that deeply into her feelings, or into why she does or doesn't love Leonard. Even if the answer is simply, that for whatever reason, that spark isn't there, we need to go into that and explore it so that we as viewers can understand where she's coming from. It feels like there's something we're not being told, or else it's just lazy writing to throw an obstacle in the couple's path to create superficial drama. I'm personally leaning towards the latter given my past experience with the way The Big Bang Theory writes female characters, but I'm willing to see how it plays out. I need the show to explore Penny's character and emotions, though, before I can let this issue go. 

By the end of the episode, we learn that Penny wants to break up with Leonard, but ends up having sex with him instead when faced with actually telling him that. And so nothing is resolved which just compounds the problem of this 'drama' feeling hollow since we don't really know anything about what's going on inside Penny's head. 

This episode had a few chuckles, but all-in-all, it's not as strong as its predecessor and suffers greatly due to the increased focus on Penny without an increased attempt to delve deeper into her character. Here's hoping things improve with episode three.

Read Kaci's review of last week's episode, The Date Night

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Not that I disagree with a lot here but... well, 1) it's a sitcom and we rarely get emotional depth from a sitcom. 2) I don't know that we've done much emotional exploring for ANY of the characters, male or female. Again, it's just not a typical sitcom convention. In most sitcoms, any sort of deep emotion is played at a heightened level because it needs to be squeezed into a 21 minute format that must include laugh lines every twenty seconds. 3) I don't watch BBT for deep emotional exploration. I don't care if Leonard and Penny get together. If this was PARENTHOOD, I'd say it's fair to bemoan that we don't get to the emotional core of the characters. But deep emotion often (not always, but often) comes at the expense of laughs and that's the show's prime directive. I found the Penny/Leonard storyline unfilling but not because we didn't delve into Penny's psyche or because the writers may not be good at writing women. To me, it didn't go anywhere. It was treading water and rehashing stuff we've seen before. That's why it didn't work for me.

Smacks a bit of the interminable on/off relationship of Ross and Rachael in Friends and boy did that get tedious.

If the show goes back to Leonard pining after Penny following another break up it may be the final straw for this program. It has definately lost something, much like Friends, where the initial program premise changes from 4 geeks who are hopeless with women (6 singles who are hopeless with relationships) to 4 guys in various relationships and much of what initially made the program fun and funny is lost.

Plenty of comedies have managed to keep the central premise of the show, not every show has to evolve because sometimes evolution causes the show to become less than it was.

I fear if Leonard and Penny split up there is nowhere for Penny's character to go.

I'm really struggling with this programme now. Being a young, impressionable wippersnapper when it was first aired, I initially loved it, seeing it as a positive and hilarious look at nerd life. As it has progressed, it's very quickly become a bad copy of Friends. Add to that the fact that I discovered it was created by Chuck Lorre, of Two and a Half Men, and the sexism, racism and any other prejudice possible, became painfully blatant in every joke. Watching old re-runs on E4, I've noticed that the show has not got worse for me as it's gone on. It's always been bad, I've just grown up.
I just can't shake that feeling that, despite arguing otherwise, the programme's sole purpose is still to laugh at how sad and pathetic it is to be a nerd. Which, in most cases, could not be further from the truth. The only part of this episode that made me remotely smile was the Ed Norton/Mark Ruffalo analogy from Sheldon, one of the few geek-culture references I've noticed of late. This show is getting tired, boring and increasingly offensive, in my eyes. I don't think I'll be watching it much longer with properly clever American comedies out there like Modern Family and How I Met Your Mother (you can argue that HIMYM is a copy of Friends, but watching over an extended period shows a spectacular attention to detail in continuity that makes it extremely clever).

Watching old episodes again, there are times when Sheldon asks Penny about "friends with benefits" and other humany-wumany things (sorry to borrow a lame one-liner)... let Penny and Leonard split. That bit's getting tedious. Amy's a bit scary as well and it's amazing she's still friends with Bernie and Penny... write her out... then get Sheldon and Penny together.

Yes, I am a nerd and I do like the show - even if it takes jabs at folks like me at times. I can laugh at myself. But the show itself is definitely hitting a rut... especially given the lack of cool nerd scenes like the cornstarch on a speaker, the laser pizza game, movie and gaming references, etc... it really has become a "Friends"-clone-wannabe.

i disagree : i think the writers have hit it right on the head. with this episode i wonder if kaci is just giving her side of the story because she is a woman and that's how she feels. Bottom line Penny comments are exactly accurate when she says i have been in love before and it did not feel like this . maybe this is the new kinda love one that's boring . THATS REAL LIFE : did you not remember when penny could not have Leonard because Leonard was with Raj's sister ? PENNY was not happy she wanted Leonard more then ever. THAT'S WOMAN always want what they cant have ( men also ) dont get all up in arms ..........
that's why Penny is bored now she has Leonard . so the WRITERS are exactly right on point you always want what you cant have .
It takes two people who are okay with compromise and feel that this is the best the y are going to get to be in true love if one feels they can get better they will always feel bored and always feel that is this true love ? ITS the way of the human : Penny wants something she cant have thats why she is now bored .

I thought the premiere was much more boring. I actually found this episode pretty amusing. It did reuse a few things, however (Sheldon entrusted with a secret. Penny once again not sure she wants to be with Leonard).

I feel like they've dumbed it down significantly since season 5, and have really done so this season even further. I am an Engineer, and partake in all of the nerdiest hobbies one can think of to don the title of "geek." What I enjoy most about this show (aside from watching Sheldon and seeing a near-clone of myself on portrayed on television) is the moments of nerd-speak and intelligence rants/formulas/equations, etc.... and being able to follow, comprehend and understand them. These moments are increasingly rare as of late, as are moments of nerd-gaming (i.e. Halo night, Warcraft, Star Trek, etc....) in favor of a more Friends-feel.

That said, while it's not as good as it was, it's still decent enough that I'm still engaged enough to not miss an episode.

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