The Big Bang Theory season 12 episode 10 review: calculating cross-promotion

The VCR Illumination shamelessly plugs Young Sheldon while playing it very safe elsewhere. Spoilers ahead in our review...

This review contains spoilers.

12.10 The VCR Illumination

The end of the The Big Bang Theory is going to be a big deal for a lot of people, from the actors and their gargantuan pay cheques to the many, many people operating behind the scenes. But the fact that we have a mere half a season left of the most popular sitcom on television has to be the biggest deal to its home network. CBS has built its entire schedule around this show, and they’re going to make damn sure that Young Sheldon gets a push before it’s over.

For that reason, you can’t really blame this episode for its shameless cross-promotion, but there are a lot of ways the episode suffers for it. This isn’t an organic crossover in the same way as Buffy/Angel guest appearances or the yearly DC TV event week is – it’s clearly a way for the network to remind its audience that Young Sheldon exists.

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As with anything at this late stage, there’s very little for Sheldon to learn during one of his hissy fits. Like anyone going through a grieving period, sooner or later he has to lift himself out of it and carry on. The correct lesson for 10-year-old Sheldon to learn would have been that his dad can make a point with sports metaphors, but Sheldon’s father has never been a character on the parent show.

Instead, would it not have had more impact for grown man-Sheldon to turn to Amy for support? It’s her paper too but, true to form, it’s her husband who is babied by their friends. Having an emotional breakthrough be about a relationship we rarely hear about besides jokes from his mother feels tacked on and cynical, and distancing for viewers of The Big Bang Theory alone.

But Leonard and Penny are actually great in this episode, from their random discussion about correct breakfast foods to their genuine desire to help out their friends. If they don’t have a storyline to call their own, then I feel like this is the correct way to use them.

Howard and Bernadette’s storyline is just as limp as Sheldon’s, despite some promise that it might tie up some loose ends for Howard. This couple have a similar problem to Leonard and Penny in that the traditional TV-worthy life events have all already been depicted. Short of some tragedy, they’re really only fit for side missions and, if the A-plot is no good, they’re not enough to save an episode.

Still, it’s fun to see Howard renounce his ambitions to join the Magic Castle based not on embarrassment or a lack of ambition, but because it’s not fun anymore. Devoting himself to learning magic may have been a good pastime when he had less going on, but now perhaps he has to accept defeat. It’s also a hoot to see Bernadette in full pageant mom mode, teaching Howard to razzle dazzle the judges in the only way she’s been taught.

Despite many reservations, The VCR Illumination has its moments. Sheldon saying that he had been saving the videotape for a time when Star Wars films were no longer being made (“I don’t think that’s ever going to happen, so…”), and Beverly’s thinly-veiled preference for Sheldon over her own son. But perhaps 20+ episodes is too long for a show limping towards the grave, and they’re saving the best stuff for last.

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