The Big Bang Theory season 9 episode 4 review: The 2003 Approximation

Like Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory's ninth season is flailing around and trying unsuccessfully to turn back the clock...

This review contains spoilers.

9.4 The 2003 Approximation

There’s a point in almost every show when characters hit a wall. It tends to happen when series are extended past their natural end, fail to bow out gracefully, and characters enter a holding pattern right up until someone finally drops the axe and puts them (and often the audience) out of their misery.

It’s perhaps too early to say that this has happened to The Big Bang Theory, but a tempting declaration nonetheless. I’ve harped on about the show’s uncanny ability to evolve past the standard sitcom pitfalls in previous years but this, its ninth season on the air, might be the most difficult run it’s put out. When it was funny, or when effort was still being put into developing characters like Sheldon, it was less of a problem.

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How does Sheldon react to Leonard and Penny seeking to move in together? Not well. Will Raj and Howard ever address their co-dependency issues? Definitely not. Will we see Raj enter a nice, healthy relationship with a character the writers bother to flesh out? Nope. Heck, will poor downtrodden Stuart ever catch a break?

All of these issues and their solutions could have featured in a number of previous seasons, with the only real difference here the break-up between Sheldon and Amy. Yet, as fascinating as the potential of that story threat was, after four episodes it’s hard not to think back to the far funnier, interesting and emotionally engaging days when we were simply watching those two craft an unlikely relationship despite the odds stacked against them.

Now, Amy is hardly around and Sheldon has regressed right back to his pre-season eight anxieties. Maybe there’s a larger plan here, or maybe the writers have simply run out of ideas and find it easier to play on what we’ve known about the character since the start. This episode could even be read as hanging a lampshade on the problem, with Sheldon literally resetting his life back to 2003 when he cared about no one other than himself.

The second problem – all of this is really sad. Even Howard and Raj’s B-plot, which involved the two of them forming ‘filk’ (folk with a sci-fi twist) band Footprints on the Moon to play at Stuart’s comic book store, is tinged with slight tragedy when we realise Raj is still trapped in his unhealthy, essentially loveless relationship with Emily (hey, Emily). She doesn’t like the Indiana Jones/Thor mash-up he and Howard have created, and the doubts set in.

That character is single biggest waste of time we’ve ever witnessed on this show, and it baffles me that she’s still around. Are we just supposed to forget about that scene in the finale? And that Raj doesn’t actually want to be in the relationship at all?

Stuart himself still serves no purpose, a collection of broad character strokes and untapped potential. Should the suggestion of him moving in with Sheldon have been carried through? I don’t know, it could have been the most annoying plotline in the universe, but it would have at least been something different. As it stands at the end of the half-hour, nothing has changed at all. Sheldon doesn’t want Leonard to move out, and so he doesn’t.

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Will this resentment from Leonard’s side fester and become something more? Or do we expect him and Penny to live in separate apartments until the show itself gets cancelled. Even Friends had the courage to separate Joey and Chandler, with little damage to the group dynamic. The one glimmer of hope comes with the suggestion that Amy could eventually take that extra room, with a reconciliation by the end of the season shifting things forward.

I just hope it comes soon, because it feels like The Big Bang Theory is just flailing around right now, wishing for the glory days.

Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, The Bachelor Party Corrosion, here.

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