This review contains spoilers.
11.10 The Confidence Erosion
Regardless of our expectations of the genre, the best and most popular sitcoms tend to be those that evolve. This might in tiny, incremental ways or with huge strides like Monica and Chandler’s relationship on Friends, but, while these shows are comforting in their repetitiveness and reluctance to really challenge their audience, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be bold every so often.
The Confidence Erosion is an episode that attempts to address some big things in the universe of The Big Bang Theory. We know that it can’t stick permanently because of all the reasons mentioned above, but it’s an interestingly brave idea nonetheless.
Howard and Raj, now the show’s main friendship pairing since Leonard and Sheldon went their separate ways, have fallen out. Preparing for a big interview, Raj begins to take notice of the regular deluge of abuse thrown his way by Howard, and decides to take a stand.
I’ve heaped this praise on the series before for storylines like this, most recently when the aforementioned apartment switch took place, or when the show separated Sheldon and Amy for almost half a season. While so much of the sitcom can be disappointing on a scene-by-scene basis, I feel like it still knows how to take these steps effectively, and fold in lasting ramifications despite a necessary return to the status quo.
Just taking this episode on its own, however, it’s satisfying simply because it addresses so many external criticisms of the show. Despite being comfortable with his own affinity with the girls, Raj is constantly belittled because of it and, despite being as smart and successful as his friends (he has a PhD over Howard), he’s viewed as lesser. The fact that he is the only person of colour on the show simply aggravates the issue, with Raj so often othered because of his difference from Howard, Leonard and Sheldon.
Just the fact that the writers have acknowledged that this is a thing and feel the need to address it in a multi-episode storyline is a good sign, since that’s rarely felt like the case. Whether it’s the hints that Raj is gay simply because of his interest in typically ‘girly’ things, or the racially-charged jokes made by Howard at his expense, it’s become as uncomfortable for parts of the audience as it is for Raj.
Adding fuel to the fire is the parallel realisation by Penny that she may mistreat Leonard in the same way as Howard does Raj. Despite the episode setting this up as a humorous aside, Penny does amend her behavior by the end of the episode, and it’s kept as a small part of the fabric of their marriage.
Speaking of marriage – we almost missed out on the no doubt insane nuptials of Sheldon and Amy. Despite deciding to make a game of splitting up wedding planning duties, soon the couple start arguing about which outlandish choices they can get through the other’s defences. Amy suggests that they just go to City Hall and get it over with, but Sheldon surprises everyone by announcing he wants a big party.
Finding someone he wants to spend his life with is like finding dark matter, and he wasn’t even looking for it. When you make a miraculous discovery, you tell the world about it. Aw, Sheldon, you big smoothie.
The Confidence Erosion shows what The Big Bang Theory could be if it simply tried a bit harder. While tackling dramatic issues that feel true to character, the joke hit rate remains steady and you don’t come out of the half-hour feeling bummed out. Let’s hope next week’s mid-season finale sticks the landing, and finally gives Raj a voice he can keep for more than an episode.
Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, The Bitcoin Entanglement, here.