This review contains spoilers.
7.18 The Mommy Observation
This week’s Big Bang Theory does something highly unusual for this show – it actually follows on from last week. Not only does it link up thematically with the previous episode, as Howard helps Sheldon with a family situation and Penny and Leonard think about their future and their commitment to each other, it actually follows on plot-wise from last week, as Howard and Sheldon are still in Texas on their way to visit Sheldon’s mother.
Sheldon arrives at his mother’s unannounced because he wants to surprise her, which seems a bit illogical and un-Sheldon-like, but is rather sweet. Perhaps this is another way in which Amy is changing him, or perhaps he’s just softening up a bit as he matures. The real reason, of course, is that he needs to be unannounced for the plot to work, as he glances through the window while approaching the door and sees his mother in flagrante delicto with a man. Being Sheldon, he views this unfortunate accident as a disaster that must forever destroy his relationship with his mother.
Sheldon’s mother has always been one of the best written and acted guest characters on the show. She is a fundamentalist Christian, her views the polar opposite to Sheldon’s (who feels that there is no need for religion if we have science) and in every appearance, the show manages to walk a fine line as they mine this rich-looking seam for humour but avoid allowing the humour to get vicious or offensive to either scientists or Christians. Sheldon’s mother’s views are in complete contrast to the gang’s (and she has been occasionally racist, sexist and other –ists in the past, partly due to the generation gap as much as anything else) but she is a kind, considerate and largely sensible character who seems to have dealt reasonably well with the difficult job that was raising Sheldon, a child who tried to achieve nuclear fission in his backyard.
That tradition continues here, as there’s plenty more humour to be had out of Mary Cooper’s religion and Sheldon’s attitude towards it. Howard, for example, wants to be a good guest and bring pie and flowers, while Sheldon wants to give his mother ‘the gift of knowledge’ (specifically, a recent archaeological discovery that suggests there were no camels in the Middle East during the period covered by the Old Testament, contrary to the suggestion of an unspecified Biblical passage). ‘An insult to her faith is always thoughtful’ observes Howard wearily. As always, the show is not overly mean-spirited to either party, a tricky thing to pull off where religion is concerned. There is also a more serious point to be addressed in this episode, as the plot requires Sheldon’s mother to do something she would normally be against, and Laurie Metcalf balances her performance perfectly, imbuing Mary’s admission that she’s struggled with that issue and that she’s ‘not perfect’ with depth and sincerity, but not allowing it to slide into anything maudlin, finishing up with a perfectly delivered ‘that man’s booty is.’
Meanwhile, back home, Raj is making everyone play a murder mystery game in which Stuart has been murdered and one of them, in character as themselves, has done it. He really should have realised that having everyone play themselves was bound to go wrong, especially when it emerges that the murderer came back in time from twenty years in the future to do the deed, meaning that he has written futures for all of them. (We were a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to hear them all, but we did get to hear that Amy has won a Nobel prize and has bought and shut down the comic book store in a desperate attempt to get Sheldon to pay attention to her, which Amy thinks is ‘not the worst idea’).
Raj was clearly too busy imagining his future as a wrinkled but still flexible Madonna’s toy boy to realise that writing a future in which Leonard and Penny have broken up in a very realistic scenario (their careers both took off and they drifted apart, with Penny living in London and Leonard a professor at Stanford) was a truly terrible idea. Leonard and Penny, of course, haven’t discussed what they would do if this happened, despite the fact such a scenario is extremely likely given that academics usually have to go wherever the jobs are and actors generally have to travel a lot and sometimes have to relocate on a fairly long-term basis. Penny had assumed Leonard would come with her, not realising that he doesn’t do his job for money (Bernadette does, but she is in a rather more lucrative branch of science than experimental physics. If Leonard has a full-time job at the university he’s probably earning well now, but he would have spent years in a PhD program living off Ramen Noodles while everyone else went out into the real world in order to reach that point). Bernadette and Amy express appropriate horror that the two haven’t sat down to talk about this, with Amy adding that of course, her and Sheldon’s relationship agreement covers all such scenarios, as well as how they’ll sell out the human race if and when intelligent dogs take over.
Fortunately the day is saved by Stuart, making a welcome return and gaining a last name (Bloom) – we can only hope this means that someday we’ll get to hear Penny’s. Though considering the show has just been renewed for another three years, we wouldn’t be surprised if Penny’s last name is withheld until the final episode when she and Leonard may or may not finally get married, like the Mother on How I Met Your Mother (or the Janitor on Scrubs). Anyway, poor Stuart is still being nice and considerate (asking Bernadette to move because he can see up her skirt rather the leering, as her husband might once have done) while making casual references to how unhappy his life is – and judging by what appeared to be a glimpse of the actual future, it’s not going to get any better. It’s he who observes that Penny and Leonard make each other better, and that’s why he believes they’ll find a way to stick together, which doesn’t entirely solve the problem of the fact they’ve never had this conversation, but it’s very sweet.
Overall, then, this episode provided the blend of laughs and ‘aw’ moments that have made The Big Bang Theory such a success and kept it running for seven years so far and if all goes well at least ten in total. Congratulations and well done to all concerned – after all where else on TV can you hear someone refer to their mother’s vagina as ‘my old room’? Our TVs would be the poorer without it.
Read Juliette’s review of the previous episode, The Friendship Turbulence, here.
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