This review contains spoilers.
7.12 The Hesitation Ramification
Stop me if this sounds familiar: in this week’s The Big Bang Theory, Raj and Stuart try and fail to talk to attractive girls, Sheldon misses the point of something in trying to analyse it scientifically, and Penny and Leonard’s relationship is in trouble because Leonard can’t stop himself from saying brutally honest, utterly tactless things. He’s a lot more like Sheldon than he realises.
As the above summary implies, this episode has the distinct feeling of a show stuck on repeat. We’ve said before that it’s in the nature of a sitcom to change slowly if at all, to maintain a status quo for as long as possible because without the ‘situation’ that defines it, the comedy wouldn’t be the same show any more. But there’s a difference between maintaining the status quo and simply repeating yourself, and unfortunately this episode falls into the category of the latter.
Sheldon and Amy’s not-quite-a-story is probably the best offering here. This show still has the ability to make a ridiculously tired joke like everyone being on their phones and not talking mildly amusing and Amy is right, Sheldon with his pants down is usually funny. We also loved Sheldon’s discomfort at starting a series with Episode 246 and Amy’s solution (the first 245 episodes were a prequel), which we intend to try out on some friends with similar issues. Meanwhile, Howard and Bernadette may not have a sub-plot, but Bernadette’s version of the café scene from When Harry Met Sally and Howard’s Star Wars audition are probably the funniest parts of the episode.
This is the sort of repetition that works in sitcoms. There’s nothing especially new or unexpected here and the characters don’t really change, but the jokes themselves are, if not new, delivered reasonably freshly and everyone can go away feeling vaguely satisfied.
The main problem with the Penny/Leonard and Raj/Stuart stories is that they promise change but deliver only repetition. Raj, Leonard and Penny’s problems are fundamental to their characters, which ought to make their attempts to address them feel like moving forward. But, while several episodes that have addressed Sheldon, Howard or Amy’s issues have led to genuine change and real, if incremental, growth, Leonard, Penny and Raj seem to be trapped in an endless cycle in which the only forward momentum has been that Raj no longer needs to hold a beer or liqueur chocolate when trying and failing to talk to women.
How many more times can we hear a “joke” about Raj finding a man attractive? He is presumably capable of finding men attractive as well as women: move on. How many times can we watch Raj and Stuart try and fail to chat up women? Will it ever occur to them that maybe they should simply take part in social activities, meet people, make friends and perhaps find more than that with one of them, rather than approaching total strangers purely on the basis of physical appearance? Will they ever try online dating again, or are we done with that now that we’ve had one episode on it? Oddly enough, the best bits of this ‘plot’ were the jokes about Raj and Stuart dating each other, mostly because they came across as an observation on the tendency for two people, single in a crowd of coupled-up friends, to end up partnering each other where their friends bring romantic partners, rather than simply banging on the old drum of Raj and Stuart’s sexualities (even if that’s what the writers meant).
And then there’s Leonard and Penny. We mentioned during one of their regular fights earlier in the season that we almost wished they had actually broken up, since they often seem to struggle to find a reason to be together. The ending of this episode leaves the question of whether or not we’ll get our wish unresolved, but either way, the nature of their problem feels like an unnecessary re-run of earlier seasons. The initial trouble comes about because Leonard doesn’t really believe in Penny’s abilities, or at least isn’t sure she’ll make it as an actress, which may be realistic but isn’t nice for Penny to hear. It’s surely no coincidence that this plot is kicked off by a glimmer of hope that Penny’s career might finally be going somewhere, which is quickly dashed. We’ve been here before.
There is one aspect of this particular round in the Leonard-and-Penny merry-go-round that was fresh and new. The real rift that may or may not cause the breakdown of their relationship is that Penny proposed to Leonard and he didn’t immediately say yes. This is unsurprising in the circumstances, but aside from Penny being drunk and treating him almost as a consolation prize, when Leonard talks to Sheldon afterwards, he seems genuinely uncertain over whether he wants to marry Penny, which is definitely new. If their story develops from here, with Penny actually more interested in Leonard than he is in her or both deciding they no longer want to be with the other, that will at least be different.
It will only be new to an extent, though. If Penny and Leonard break up in the next episode, we’ll simply be back on the on-again off-again cycle that is the fate of all sitcom love interests. Even if the writers decide to break them up “for good” in as final a way as they can think of, short of killing off one of the characters, the audience interest in the relationship and conviction that there’s still something between them will continue unabated, as Bill Lawrence found out in Scrubs, and as is abundantly clear from those who long held out hope for Ted and Robin in How I Met Your Mother despite the fact the pilot episode made it clear that Robin was not The Mother. The best option is probably to have them get married, or make some other indication of a permanent connection (moving in together is a favourite) but for that to be plausible, the writers would have to stop making jokes about how little either character respects the other and the other’s interests.
Raj’s selective mutism may have long outstayed its welcome before it was finally resolved last season, but the show has demonstrated an ability to change and move on in the past. At one point, Amy’s crush on Penny was such a fixture that it was becoming detrimental to her relationship with Sheldon, but in the past two years that gag has been almost entirely dropped and Amy and Sheldon’s feelings for each other have been explored and developed in genuine and, most importantly, entertaining ways. It may be that whatever resolution – a break-up or a reaffirmation of affection – is waiting for Leonard and Penny in the next episode will be completely satisfying and will move their relationship (or lack thereof) on in a new and dynamic way. But based on this week’s episode… let’s just say we’re a little worried.
Read Juliette’s review of the previous episode, The Cooper Extraction, here.
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