This review contains spoilers.
12.1 The Conjugal Configuration
Anyone who’s ever held on long enough to see the final bow of a long-running series will know that it can go one of two ways – a big, epic adventure that elevates the series beyond the sum of its parts, or business as usual that celebrates what has come before. There are merits to both, and sitcoms certainly lean more towards the latter, but it seems wrong somehow for The Big Bang Theory to get even smaller as it winds down, rather than going for broke and basking in its own success.
The Conjugal Configuration is only the first episode of this swan song, so it might be silly to judge the season on its ups and downs, but it is not a promising start. Unfunny and kind of boring, it’s a premiere that gives off a whiff of desperation, that maybe the writers were bluffing and don’t have enough story to fill another season on the air. Should Amy and Sheldon’s wedding have been the series finale? Almost definitely, but I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise.
We check back with our newlyweds as they begin their honeymoon, and it’s as offbeat as you’d expect. Starting off in Legoland before moving on to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and other ultra-nerdy activities, tension only really sets in when Amy grows frustrated with Sheldon’s over-scheduling of their love life. Despite it being something she’s known about him since they met, she is shocked that his approach to love-making is strangely clinical.
It’s a storyline that’s treading old ground in the worst way – by refusing to acknowledge what the characters have learned from the same argument in previous seasons. As the biggest gulf between Sheldon and Amy’s personalities, we’ve seen them learn to compromise on physical intimacy, and to see that crumble now is unnecessary and, I’m sure for some audience members living with similar dynamics, incredibly frustrating.
A different argument between Leonard and Penny is slightly more intriguing, if only for its promise that we might get to see some tension between the show’s original couple after years of treading water. When they find that Amy’s father has opted to hide in his daughter’s apartment rather than go home to his wife, Leonard accidentally compares their marriage to his and Penny’s.
Penny is understandably upset by the suggestion that she is as scary and overbearing as Mrs Fowler, but it’s an argument designed to split the audience as it does them. Will Penny and Leonard end up like them, unloving and impatient, or can their differences truly be a strength?
The biggest treat this episode gives us, though it’s still low on laughs, is a Raj storyline that doesn’t involve his love life. Invited on the news to offer his scientific expertise, he bombs the interview after learning that their first choice was Neil Degrasse Tyson.
When he insults Tyson on live television, they begin a Twitter feud that results in a guest spot from the man himself. I bet it won’t be the last celebrity appearance we see before the end of the season. Wouldn’t it be a fun end for Raj if he became a famous TV scientist?
If we were to give The Conjugal Configuration the benefit of the doubt, it’s hard to blame it for its averageness considering that it was probably in the can before the big announcement. As far as we know, the only person who wanted the show to end was Jim Parsons, and so this premiere was just another drop in the ocean in the eyes of the creative team.
Still, as we enter a phase of The Big Bang Theory that knows the end is nigh, let’s hope for something a little more crowd-pleasing, consequential and – most of all – funny, than what we’ve had so far.
Read Caroline’s review of the season eleven finale, The Bow-Tie Asymmetry, here.