The Big Bang Theory season 8 episode 23 review: The Maternal Combustion

The arrival of Leonard and Sheldon's mothers takes The Big Bang Theory back to the good old days of being a sweet, funny sitcom...

This review contains spoilers.

8.23 The Maternal Combustion

Putting Leonard or Sheldon’s mother in a room with their son is a proven formula for a funny episode of The Big Bang Theory and, while I wish the show could transfer that magic to the rest of its seasons, it’s always a relief when we realise that they’re arriving at the apartment for an episode.

And this episode gives us something even better – both mothers in the same room at the same time. They might appear like the mirror images their children (one brilliant; one sweet and simple), which is very much how they’ve been portrayed when flying solo, but it’s a (reluctant) testament to the writing that their interactions here were very much steeped in their own characters, rather than anything taken from Sheldon and Leonard.

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In all honesty, the stuff in this episode that involved the two guys was the weakest part, and just left you wanting to get back to the living room for more passive-aggressive mudslinging from the ladies.

The Big Bang Theory realised this too, because the B-story involving Stuart, Howard, Raj and Bernadette was thankfully abbreviated. I say thankfully not because it wasn’t good, but because it was precisely its shortness that kept it from wearing out its welcome and turning the corner into irritatingly slight.

To start with, it’s a set-up that’s been used again and again – Bernadette is shrill and demanding, Howard is an ungrateful man-child – and it’s not until half way through that my ire of ‘oh, not this again’ turned into actual laughter. Howard’s a character I like very much from time to time, and I’m a die-hard Raj and Stuart apologist, so storylines involving all of them together should – and can – delight me in the right circumstances.

They undercut Bernadette’s ‘nagging wife’ routine with the fact that she had a very good point, and Howard’s general portrayal as an overgrown teenage boy (something I’ve not been on board with for a couple of seasons now) was turned on its head with his genuine mini-epiphany. The final laugh didn’t come from him being unwilling, but rather his ineptitude which is, coupled with some spot-on physical comedy, ever-so-slightly preferable.

It’s a simple plotline that hardly took up any screen time at all but, with so many things to get wrong, it’s notable that it turned out to be just a funny little diversion from an equally humorous central plot thread.

Similarly, while we know that Leonard’s mother’s new bid to shower her son with affection won’t stick, it’s a gag steeped in a lot of history with all four of the characters. The Big Bang Theory always did very well in the past, for a sitcom at least, with evolution for its characters and their relationships so, whenever an episode gets its laughs from its own past, rather than relying on the actors or the archetypes the characters can be squashed into, it’s a big relief.

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It’s all too rare of an occurrence these days, which is why these guest spots are so much fun. It reminds us of a time when the show was consistently good, sweet and funny, even if we now have to make do with the odd episode to bring back the memories. Also, more Stuart please!

Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, The Graduation Transmission, here.

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