This review contains spoilers.
9.6 The Helium Insufficiency
There are bad episodes of The Big Bang Theory, and then there are just weak ones. Bad episodes tend to inspire the kind of abject rage that no self-respecting sitcom should be in the business of regularly delivering, while weak episodes are like The Helium Insufficiency, and really just bore you into submission until you’re almost happy it’s not demanding anything more of you this week.
In general, A-plots that involve only Leonard and Sheldon interacting have kind of played out at this point and, though a strong episode can benefit from the pleasant familiarity of The Big Bang Theory’s original pairing, ones like this just feel like the writers wanted to go home early that day. It’s full of Sheldon being anxious and unpleasant and Leonard making faces at him, and then we get Barry Kripke as an unfortunate bonus.
We’re told in the opening that a group of unseen Swedish scientists have read Leonard and Sheldon’s paper and are trying to conduct the experiment before they get the chance, and so the pair have to quickly get their hands on some helium. After Barry denies them access to university resources, Howard directs them to ‘a guy’ he knows, and we witness the only underground car park helium deal in television history (?).
Michael Rapaport’s guest appearance was relatively charming, injecting a little life into a back and forth that might otherwise been completely forgettable. Still, the recurring gag of the Mexican stand-off seemed like it was just there to fill the ‘insert nerdy joke here’ space on the script.
Thankfully the B-plot is a little more substantial, with Penny and Bernadette discovering that Stuart has been using what I understood to be Tinder (they didn’t actually name it in the episode) to meet women. They mercilessly mock him and his efforts, of course, but it’s actually nice that we’re getting a slight shift in the ‘Stuart is tragic’ narrative that’s been going on for a near-decade. Good for him.
Also, good for Amy, who we find out has been getting on pretty well without the interference or approval of her friends. Beating Stuart’s two online dates with three coffee dates of her own, it seems she’s already begun to move on from the emotionally stunting experience that was dating Sheldon Cooper.
First, though, she has to sit through the girls, Raj and Howard screening potential dates for her, finally being pushed to reveal her secret when a text from ‘Dave’ flashes up on screen. In general, I’m a big fan of the way the show has allowed Amy to evolve (pretty much the only character who has this year), legitimately succeeding at a real, adult dating life unlike Raj pre-last season and Stuart pre-this week.
But I hate when we’re forced to watch our protagonists be terrible, and not in an understandable, human way. I can take Sheldon struggling to act ‘normal’ or Howard reverting to his man-child ways, but when they’re cruel to each other? It’s the show’s worst tendency, and somehow always involves Penny as the ringleader.
So The Helium Deficiency wasn’t in any way the worst episode of The Big Bang Theory, but neither was it anywhere near the best. As a sixth episode, I guess it’ll do, and it was at least nice to get back to the ongoing thread of Leonard and Sheldon’s paper – one of my favourite plots from last season.