This review contains spoilers.
7.14 The Convention Conundrum
The central male characters in The Big Bang Theory have always seemed somewhat contradictory to outsiders. As Penny frequently observes, although they obviously maintain high level jobs at the university, they also engage in activities she associates with childhood – dressing up, playing with dolls and reading comic books. Obviously, those of us immersed in the geek community know that there’s nothing especially childish about cosplay and RPGs, action figures or graphic novels, but that is undeniably how they are perceived by the outside world. In this episode, the tension between a willingness to embrace the fun aspects of childhood and the long, slow, uncertain process of becoming an adult is explored to brilliant and often hilarious effect.
The three strands of story in this episode are kicked off by the boys’ failure to get tickets for Comic-Con in an opening sequence is surely relatable for anyone who’s tried to get tickets for a big event they really cared about, not exclusive to SFF fans. Penny mocks them as ever, though she does express some genuine regret when she sees how disappointed they are. Leonard, Howard and Raj decide to buy scalped tickets and go anyway, while Sheldon refuses to do anything illegal and decides to start his own convention instead. When even his friend Wil Wheaton turns him down over the phone, he decides to approach James Earl Jones in person to ask him to appear. Meanwhile the girls, mystified by the guys’ passion for the convention, decide to do something grown-up, only to find they’re not quite sure what grown-up activity entails.
Sheldon’s story looked at first as if it was going to be another round of Sheldon failing to understand stalking laws and ending up with another restraining order (preceded by callbacks to those put out on him by Stan Lee and Bill Nye the Science Guy). The moment when James Earl Jones declares gleefully ‘I like Star Wars too!’ is the moment it becomes something much more fun. James Earl Jones is wonderful in everything and his performance here is a joy to behold. It also can’t fail to be funny; whether Jones’ movie characters are good or bad, they tend to be serious and ponderous types (thanks to that amazing booming voice) so watching him delight in eating ice cream, riding a fairground ride and torturing Carrie Fisher doesn’t stop being amusing throughout the episode. Sheldon and Jones’ plot is a glorious celebration of childhood and all the ways it can be fun and worthwhile re-living some aspects of it.
Of course, it all falls apart for Sheldon when Jones moves away from childhood into more adult fun. Already uncomfortable with random cruelty to potentially unstable actress/writers, he isn’t at all happy with the move to a strip club and sauna. It is probably both the sexual content and the adult nature of these activities that bothers him. Of course Sheldon would not be comfortable with close physical contact or nudity in any situation, but as Penny observes, sex isn’t what makes you a grown-up. However, Sheldon is a character who spent his childhood achieving things most people don’t get near until their twenties at least, and so he enjoys spending his adulthood embracing certain aspects of the childhood he largely missed out on. When Jones moves away from childhood activities, Sheldon stops enjoying himself so much. But none of that takes away from how much fun the whole daft plot is.
Leonard, Howard and Raj, on the other hand, are forced to confront adulthood when they realise the potential consequences of their actions. Their desire for Comic-Con tickets isn’t especially childish, but their insistence that they are ‘bad boys’ when they start to worry about the consequences of their actions is. As they start to become genuinely concerned that Sheldon might actually be right and buying scalped tickets isn’t worth the risk, they hide behind macho proclamations and desires to be cool and naughty that almost certainly go back to their teen years. They’re pulled up, however, when Raj mentions applying for citizenship. Like it or not, they are grown-ups, and they have to consider boring things like how a criminal record might affect a citizenship application before trying to emulate Batman (though I’m with Raj on that one – I struggle with Batman). Of course, that won’t stop them hiding in the dark and pretending not to be home to get out of the situation.
Finally, the girls’ story is probably the most emotionally affecting of the three. I’m sure every single one of us, somewhere around the twenties or thirties, has wondered why we don’t feel like a grown-up and what it is exactly that makes a person an adult, beyond legal status. (At least, I hope so. Otherwise it’s just me…) Especially nice was Bernadette’s observation that being married makes no difference, because the point is, no matter how grown-up everyone looks from the outside, many still feel like a fraud inside. The girls constantly mock the guys for appearing childish, but ultimately the guys are probably the more grown-up, because instead of sitting around worrying about being grown-up, they just do what makes them happy.
(I also loved Amy’s point about how much Penny spent on a dress, showing up Penny’s frequent hypocrisy in mocking her boyfriend so much for his interests when hers are no more worthy or less silly. And I loved that Howard has an allowance. It’s like Bernadette has a housewife in the fifties.)
Overall, this episode was a lovely meditation on childhood and adulthood, with all three stories coming together really well. Only Sheldon’s story had a real sense of resolution, but then, not only is this show terrible at resolution, these are issues that can’t be completely resolved. All anyone can do is put on their tiara and enjoy an ice cream while avoiding doing anything so ridiculous it’s liable to affect future attempts to obtain a mortgage or US citizenship. That’s really all that being a grown-up is, in the end.
Read Juliette’s review of the previous episode, The Occupation Recalibration, here.
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