This review contains spoilers.
7.19 The Indecision Amalgamation
This week’s Big Bang Theory sets up a simple but effective structure in which three different characters struggle with a decision (while minor threads in the background exploit Melissa Rauch’s skill at playing Bernadette’s slightly dark side, which is always funny). Sheldon’s is, of course, meaningless and fairly trivial, while Raj and Penny struggle with considerably more important decisions relating to the areas of their lives that they have struggled most with throughout the series, his love life and her career.
Sheldon’s is the least successful storyline in this episode. The fact that it’s a largely trivial decision is not, in itself, the problem (we say ‘fairly’ and ‘largely’ because games consoles are expensive and if this decision were being made by a character with less expendable income than Sheldon it would be correspondingly slightly more significant – though still hardly life-changing). Ending up completely frozen or obsessed over a minor decision is something that happens to lots of people and this sort of plot in a sitcom can lead to good character work as, usually, total breakdown over an insignificant decision is an indication of something deeper going on.
The problem with giving this story to Sheldon is, in fact, that it’s so in-character and unsurprising. For Sheldon, taking the process of making an unimportant decision to extremes up to and including avoiding going to the bathroom isn’t an indication of some deep underlying issue he’s struggling with, but simply business as usual. This makes it more difficult to sympathise with behaviour that almost goes beyond annoying the characters and crosses the line into annoying the audience, a situation exacerbated by the fact that we’re well into the episode before it’s explained why Sheldon, a character who has been established as having substantial expendable income, can’t just buy both consoles.
The complete lack of resolution to Sheldon’s decision almost doesn’t matter since the story has become so tedious by that point that we hardly care, but the problems with this plot were multiplied when it culminated in Sheldon breaking down into tears in the store. You can hear the studio audience feeling unsure about how to react – Sheldon has extreme reactions to things, but he very rarely cries, and this seems excessive even for him. Again, if this had been leading to a revelation that the whole obsession was actually a symptom of an underlying, more serious, emotional issue it could have worked, but he and Amy simply walk out of the store, business as usual, cheapening the rare outburst of emotion from Sheldon and increasing the sense that the whole plot is a tiny issue blown massively out of proportion – in character for Sheldon, perhaps, but not entertaining to watch.
This Sheldon plot thread isn’t a total loss, though, because it does give us one very funny scene in which Amy tries to play along and pretend that this is a desperate situation with high stakes while trying to have dinner with her boyfriend. Amy’s exaggerated reactions to Sheldon’s dilemma, culminating in a desperate ‘Please pass the butter!’ are brilliant. The episode also establishes that, following Valentine’s Day, Amy is now being kissed on a semi-regular basis, every Date Night to be precise, which is good for her (even if it was demonstrated with one of the most sexless kisses in TV history).
Fortunately, the other two stories in this episode are much better. Raj trying to juggle two women had the potential to be more squirm-inducingly disastrous than Leonard’s attempt to say ‘playa’, but thankfully Raj decided to do the sensible thing and simply explained the situation to his date, Emily (whose response, ‘Usually on first dates I talk about music and stuff, but I was promised weird, so let’s do this!’ is perfect). Raj has spent years failing with women, partly because he couldn’t talk to them, but mostly because he kept trying to be some kind of lothario and using terrible lines (when he could speak), passing himself off as something he wasn’t – except with Lucy, which is why that worked at all. Here he finally starts being himself and, of course, it works. It’s perhaps a shame Emily so straightforwardly equated level of sexual activity with the seriousness of a relationship, considering how well the show portrays how important Amy and Sheldon’s relationship is to them without sex (yet), but that’s a minor nit-pick, and at least she was impressed by Raj’s honesty.
The most successful storyline in this episode, though, was Penny’s. Some of us have been hoping for years that the series would explore Penny’s career as an actress more, and while this may not have been comedy gold to compare with Friends’ Freud! musical, it was a funny, well put-together storyline with heart and, impressively for this show, an actual punchline. The more we see Penny and Leonard talk about her career, the better, as their relationship appears both more plausible and more like something we want to succeed when we see them dealing with life decisions together and supporting each other, rather than portraying their relationship as an endless series of Penny making jokes at Leonard’s expense (she did that too, but only briefly).
The other good thing about this plot was that it brought back recurring guest star Wil Wheaton, whom it’s always great to see, especially (for us geeks in the audience) when Star Trek gets a mention. Okay, it was slightly more fun when he was playing an evil version of himself, but that would have been hard to sustain in the long term and it’s good to see these people interacting with friends outside the core group anyway. This is also another example of these characters’ welcome tendency to do things that make sense (rare on a TV show) by asking their friend, the famous actor, if he has any advice for Penny on starting out in acting.
All in all, a very satisfying half-hour. It’s a shame Sheldon became so positively irritating, but considering one of his main character traits is that he irritates people, it’s perhaps inevitable that he will occasionally slip into irritating the audience. Meanwhile, Penny and Raj continue to move forwards, opening up more possibilities for the show as it works out what to do with these characters over the next three years.
Read Juliette’s review of the previous episode, The Mommy Observation, here.
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