Top 10 The Big Bang Theory episodes

On the eve of its seventh season, Patrick counts down The Big Bang Theory's 10 best episodes...

It’s a daunting thought to think that The Big Bang Theory has been running for six seasons, spanning seven years in total. It seems only yesterday that we were inaugurated into the world of socially inept geeks, the telegenic blonde across the hall and Sheldon’s infamous spot. But here we are, on the brink of the seventh series and The Big Bang Theory still hasn’t lost its touch. But almost inevitably the day will come when the show becomes stale and uninteresting. Thankfully co-creator Chuck Lorre acknowledged this last month, “you don’t want to repeat yourself. After 100-some-odd episodes, redundancy is looming.” Hopefully The Big Bang Theory will pull the plug at the appropriate time and thus be remembered as one of the twenty first century’s great American sitcoms, but until then we must view each new series with an open mind as well as revisit some of the classics. So join me as I count down its top ten episodes…

10. The Zazzy Substitution

Also known as: the one where Sheldon takes in an abundance of kittens. Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, Richard Feynman, Edward Teller, Otto Frisch and Zazzles. Yes, those are the names Sheldon gave to his newly adopted furry friends when he hit troubled times with Amy. And yes, his mother did have him tested. The Zazzy Substitution was originally higher on the list but when I returned to watch it I found it’s only distinctive feature was the appearance of the cats. I’m not one to buckle at the knees and whimper at the sight of an adorable feline but the idea of Sheldon, a thoroughly dispassionate theoretical physicist surrounded by kittens is a particularly bizarre and endearing one. Other reasons to like The Zazzy Substitution include the return of the Cooper matriarch, Mary. Laurie Metcalf is wonderful to see in any medium, especially when she’s portraying Sheldon’s devout Fundamentalist mother. Metcalf returns on fine form and gets to spout such lines as, “you got a lot of cats and you gave ‘em cute Jewish names.” After a series off the show, it was good to have her back.  

9. The Maternal Congruence

Also known as: the one where Leonard’s mom kisses Sheldon. Another returning mother? I hope this isn’t becoming a pattern. Another one of the series’ many episodes featuring the parents of our lead characters, The Maternal Congruence is one of the better episodes, this time spotlighting Leonard’s difficulties with his forbidding mother. Christine Baranksi, who I shall eternally remember as ‘the tall one out of Mamma Mia!’ returns to play Mrs. Hofstadter and she is as acrimonious as ever. The upside of this meeting is that she gets drunk and locks lips with Sheldon so that’s certainly one point in its favor. The Maternal Congruence again features Leonard questioning Penny’s class background and education, something that reoccurs throughout the series. He’s unsure whether his mother, an award-winning author and neuroscientist, would approve of his relationship with someone in an inferior profession. But once Penny slips her one too many tequila shots, she comes to like the waitress, citing her as her “home girl”.  

8. The Extract Obliteration

Also known as: the one where Sheldon befriends Stephen Hawking online. The Big Bang Theory has developed such a massive following that celebrities are queuing up en bloc to get a guest role in an episode. This time it’s ‘the Hawk’ – or ‘Wheels’ as Sheldon likes to call him but apparently he’s not okay with that nickname – a man who isn’t a stranger to the show. Hawking appeared in a series five episode [The Hawking Excitation] when he conducted a lecture at Caltech, subsequently meeting Sheldon, who idolizes him. Sheldon unwittingly made a maths error in front of him and promptly faints, much to Hawking’s exasperation at “another fainter”. In The Extract Obliteration Sheldon and Hawking become ‘friends’ through a word game and once more does the latter get a one-up on Sheldon.  

7. The Zarnecki Incursion

Also know as: the one where Sheldon gets hacked on World of Warcraft. It’s sad to know that today the Internet is aswarm with people whose sole intention is to create chaos. The so-called ‘trolling’ community expands daily and it’s worrying. Some take the form of apoplectic commenters; a few send death threats and others hack. For a show that centres on technology and modern day gizmos it wasn’t long before The Big Bang Theory tackled the issue. In The Zarnecki Incursion Sheldon has all his “imaginary crap”, as Penny puts it, stolen and so the gang set off on a ‘quest’ to retrieve it. It’s always nice to see the group actually backing up Sheldon and not going against him because a lot of the episodes follow the ‘Sheldon vs. the world’ formula. Sometimes I feel that the sarcastic comments about Sheldon are almost too much. Yes, he’s nettlesome but he’s still their friend and they don’t show it often enough. The Zarnecki Incursion is one of those brief occasions where they defend Sheldon; even Penny gets in on the action as they rush off to confront Todd Zarnecki, the eponymous hacker.   

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6. The Infestation Hypothesis

Also know as: the one where Penny takes in a lousy chair. I have always been fascinated by Sheldon and Penny’s relationship. One moment Sheldon is insulting Penny’s heritage and she is understandably annoyed, the next they’re friends. Perhaps it’s mutual respect, perhaps its bad continuity, I don’t know but as well as being fascinated by the ‘Shenny’ relationship (I made that up on the spot but you can probably find it in some disturbing fan-fiction online) I’m also a strong admirer of it. Take a scene near the beginning of The Infestation Hypothesis, Sheldon has been temporarily exiled from his apartment and so takes up residence in Penny’s living room where the pair sit together reading. They joke about being like an old married couple and both take it good-humouredly. Unfortunately the rather sentimental moment is quickly aborted as Sheldon discovers that Penny found her rather snug new armchair on the streets of Pasadena. A rift forms between them as Sheldon urges her to get rid of it but Penny resists. It’s an amusing plot that plays on Sheldon’s many phobias and it’s rather gruesome when you see a creature of some description shuffling beneath the fabric of the chair. Meanwhile there’s a rather clunky subplot that shows how Leonard and Priya cope in their long-distance relationship. Eventually they resort to dirty talking online, which leads a couple of very awkward but amusing scenes.  

5. The Love Car Displacement

Also known as: the one where they all go to a convention. Friends did it with The One With Joey’s Big Break, How I Met Your Mother did it with Duel Citizenship and now The Big Bang Theory has finally taken onboard one of the most traditional plots in sitcoms: the road trip setup. When the science whiz kids of the group get invited to participate in a science panel they take advantage of the situation and turn it into an ensemble road trip. With Penny tagging along the ensuing junket is a mirthful and lighthearted bedroom farce with the odd reference to Bridget Jones’ Diary thrown in. Naturally shoehorned in is more Penny/Leonard drama and a maladroitly handled encounter between Howard and one of Bernadette’s former flames.  

4. The Irish bar Formulation

Also known as: the one where Sheldon makes up a fictional Irish barmaid. Sheldon can’t lie. It’s a well-established fact that because of the physicist’s literal nature he cannot tell a fib. In The Loobenfeld Decay we discovered what measures he goes to when Leonard lied to Penny – the results were tortuous. He is then placed in a similar situation when he discovers Leonard has broken a pact formed between himself and Howard: neither is allowed to sleep with Priya and Leonard does so. Cue a convoluted analogy between Leonard and Sheldon and Batman and Alfred. The Priya plotline is more or less shoved to the side midway through the episode when the spotlight is turned, once more, to Sheldon. His painstaking cover story to where Leonard was is the highlight of the episode as he creates the fictitious Maggie McGeary, an Irish barmaid that Leonard allegedly encountered in a bar. Sheldon goes to ridiculous lengths to bring McGeary to life; extracting a ginger curl from an orang-utan to provide the group with a hair sample, creating a fake voicemail on a fake phone number as well as even writing up a flirtatious message on a napkin that ‘Maggie’ supposedly handed Leonard. It’s wonderfully convoluted; it’s wonderfully Sheldon.   

3. The Barbarian Sublimation

Also known as: the one where Penny gets addicted to video games. Even though she he has a streetwise attitude Penny is also a misfit in her own right. As expressed many times Penny is deeply frustrated with her life, especially as her acting ambitions have gone down the pan, her education is seriously lacking and she can never catch a break. She doesn’t fit into the group and, occasionally, is not sure she wants to; she represents a different part of America, a different class. Although she fits in with the social situation she finds herself and is well versed on social niceties, putting on a bubbly front, Penny is thoroughly discontented with her life. In The Barbarian Sublimation we meet her when she’s hit a serious bump in her life, her acting career is still on a steady decline, she’s loverless and she hasn’t received a desired raise at the Cheesecake Factory. Enter Sheldon, who introduces her to his online game, Age of Conan and soon Penny is hooked. As amusing as it is to see Penny bleary-eyed, dressed in loungewear with food running down her front it’s also rather depressing. The Barbarian Sublimation is a snapshot of Penny’s life at its lowest but still, being The Big Bang Theory; it’s enjoyable and a bit too funny given the subject matter. Black humor this certainly is.  

2. The Egg Salad Equivalency

Also known as: the one where Sheldon manages to offend everyone. Sheldon’s sexist? And racist? Why, I’d never have guessed it. Actually, no I would have. Casual sexism has always been there in Sheldon’s dialogue from his habitually dismissive comments towards Penny to his mocking tone whenever a woman (in the show) achieves some form of scientific breakthrough. Finally it’s caught up with him as his inappropriate lecture to his assistant Alex proves to be the final straw. Alex reports him to the human resources department and soon he’s off to a meeting with the Afro-American departmental head. Unfortunately he reiterates his point that women are slaves to their biological urges, putting unfortunate emphasis on ‘slave’. Then to make matters worse he drags Raj, Howard and Leonard into the mix when he inadvertently blurts out the others’ mistreatment of the university’s facilities. The Egg Salad Equivalency is another traditional Sheldon-centric episode and considering it’s set in the rather muddled sixth season it’s very, very good.  

1. The Staircase Implementation

Also known as: the one that goes back to the beginning. We’ve always wondered why Leonard would move in with a person like Sheldon Cooper, anyone for that matter. In the third season of the show, the writers decided it was time to go back to where it all began and give us an origin story of sorts. The Staircase Implementation was a break from the norm; a flashback to the moment Leonard encountered Sheldon for the first time – and my favorite episode. It’s hard to pin down why I like it so much but it’s most likely the different feel The Staircase Implementation has, it’s one of the few episodes of The Big Bang Theory to not follow a set formula. There are plenty of great ideas – North Korean mole Joyce Kim cropping up was a nice touch as well as the ‘die, Sheldon, die’ painted in ‘blood’ in Leonard’s room – and more than a few good performances (Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons are on fine form as usual) that make The Staircase Implementation one of the most memorable episodes of The Big Bang Theory. The Big Bang Theory season seven starts on CBS on Thursday the 26th of September. Come back after broadcast for our spoiler-filled episode review. Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook friend here.

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