The Big Bang Theory season 9 episode 17 review: The Celebration Experimentation

The Big Bang Theory reaches its 200th episode in season 9, and Stephen Hawking, Adam West and Wil Wheaton were there to celebrate...

This review contains spoilers.

9.17 The Celebration Experimentation

Milestone episodes can go one of two ways. They can either be fairly run-of-the-mill stories imbued with an emotional resonance the audience, but not the characters, are aware of, or they can be tirelessly self-congratulatory. Three guesses which one The Big Bang Theory opted for.

So this, the two hundredth episode of the show, has been presented to us as a summation of what the writers clearly love about their work thus far. Sheldon. It’s all about Sheldon and how much everyone loves Sheldon. It’s about Sheldon’s insecurities and triumphs, about his relationships with his friends and his obnoxious inability to acknowledge what’s going on around him. This says a lot, and none of it’s very good.

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While the show clearly wanted to use this episode to celebrate its most famous character, in the process it misses the point entirely. The Big Bang Theory is an ensemble show, or it should be, and I’m sure viewers aside from me would have preferred to take stock of how far everybody’s come, rather than just one part of that ensemble.

The issue’s even more pronounced when we remember that season nine has been very Sheldon-heavy, not just with the humour but also a lot of the more dramatic storylines.

There’s literally a sequence in which all the characters – including people like Leslie Winkle or Wil Wheaton – make speeches about how much they love him. Half of the people in the room objectively hate him, as we’re constantly reminded, yet they’re forced to recite dialogue few people would say about their best friend.

But then, as a kind of microcosm of The Big Bang Theory‘s highs and lows, we have the scene between Sheldon and Penny. It’s spelled out to us, but it really is the case that those two characters sum up the entire point of the show. When it’s not being mean-spirited or lazy, this is a series about different people coming together and learning from each other. Penny came into the guys’ lives like a tornado of ‘normalcy’ and emotional intelligence, while they in turn taught her to expect more from her life than douchey guys and dead-end jobs.

So it was nice to be reminded of that, however briefly. Yes, Leonard has known him the longest and Amy has seen him without pants, but Penny understands him in a way they can’t.

And oh yeah, Adam West was in this. And Stephen Hawking. Another stalwart of milestone episodes, the big guest stars add little to the episode except to possibly bring in more viewers. For a show with as many eyeballs as this, that feels a bit frivolous.

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As people know if they’ve ever read one of my reviews, I actually like Sheldon quite a lot. He’s clearly one of the series’ better characters, and he’s one who embodies the kind of stories these writers clearly enjoy telling, but that should never come at the expense of all the other things the show has going for it.

Forgetting this distinction drags the episode down quite a lot, which is a shame. As much as a significant portion of people hate The Big Bang Theory, and as much as this censure is often deserved, there are many things about it that deserve celebrating.

Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, The Positive Negative Reaction, here.