Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Big Bang Theory, "The Hofstadter Isotope": Comic book guy triumphant

Quick spoilers for last night's "The Big Bang Theory" coming up just as soon as I alphabetize my Garth Ennis trade paperbacks...

As always, I have to give the "Big Bang" writers (in this case, David Goetsch) credit for getting the geek details right. During the gang's trip to the comic store, I kept waiting for them to make some kind of obvious mistake about DC continuity, but near as I could tell, they got everything right -- up to and including Stuart's description of "Hellblazer" to Penny.

I also liked the depiction of Stuart as a guy Penny might like. There are, in fact, guys who hang out at (or work in) comic book stores who aren't as socially inept as our heroes (or Captain Sweatpants); they're just normal, sometimes even charming, people who just happen to dig illustrated stories about short Canadians with adamantium claws. My only disappointment was how the episode's climax undercut that by having Stuart be completely oblivious about the true meaning of Penny's "coffee" invitation. I think they could have still told the joke about Sheldon ruining everything while having Stuart be aware Sheldon was ruining it -- if anything, it might have been funnier to see Stuart trying desperately to end this argument but not knowing how -- but instead it seemed like the last five minutes of the episode undercut what happened earlier, and I fear we won't see Stuart again.

As for the other guys looking to score at the bar, Raj getting drunk continues to be a good running gag, while Howard being creepy continues to not be. I had hoped after "The Killer Robot Instability" that the writers might finally let Wolowitz grow up just a little and stop being an oblivious sleaze, but instead he remains the character who most embodies the laughing-at (vs. laughing-with) problem I often have with the show.

What did everybody else think?

33 comments:

Jon Delfin said...

Granted, I watched the show very late last night and might have nodded off. Does the episode title have anything to do with anything?

Tosy And Cosh said...

I cringe at myself for writing this, but Sheldon's rant about WHICH Spider-Man title to buy was technically wrong, since Marvel for the last year has not been pubishing Spectacular or most of the others (just Ultimate and Amazing). Right?

Myles said...

This is my second complete episode of the Big Bang Theory ever (I'm attending the PaleyFest panel, so I figured I should, you know, watch the show?), and I continue to find it charming. I had written it off after the pilot, but they've done a good job of (as you note) giving the characters their own identities beyond nerd/sleaze archetypes. I agree that Howard lacks such an identity as far as I've seen in my spot checks, and I'll be curious to see when I eventually revisit the whole series (it feels like a good summer catchup show) and see the ups and downs for myself.

Melanism said...

Re: Tosy and Cosh: While yes you are correct regarding the publishing of those titles, being that they were going to a comic shop, the option to buy all those titles that Sheldon accurately listed existed. being that it's Sheldon, the fact that Penny didn't say she wanted a NEW comic left the door open.

P.S.: Don't cringe. :)

synco said...

I definitely don't like the "let's laugh at the geeks" jokes but I give the writers some leeway since there's obviously a little bit of each of them in the characters (since they write the characters so pitch perfect). This episode, however, what really bugged me was the "let's laugh at fat people" joke at the end with Raj making out with a faceless woman (shown later, I know) with a heavyset body. Hey, you know who's lower on the social ladder than a nerd/geek? A fat girl. Boo! You're better than that BBT writers!

Hydrogen said...

@Tosy and Cosh: Spectacular and Sensational were rolled into Amazing, so now Amazing is published tri-monthly. Of course, as mentioned previously she would have the option of purchasing back issues, or more likely since it was a gift, trade paperback collections of those books.

David Thiel said...

I commented to my wife after the show, "That may have been the most comic book references ever in a single half-hour. And every one of them was accurate." As a card-carrying geek, I'm always delighted when a movie/TV show gets the details right.

I was surprised to hear a Spider-Man discussion last night, as the show so clearly favors DC Comics. I've long assumed that the boys' tastes in comics are shaped by Warner Bros. corporate synergy. (Not that I mind, I'm an old-school DC fan myself.)

As for the episode itself, I too was a little disappointed that they went that route with Stuart. A high-functioning geek such as he should've picked up on the obvious "coffee" invitation. As you suggest, it would've been funnier to have Stuart trying and failing to extract himself from the argument.

Though I absolutely agree with Sheldon: gotta go Dick Grayson.

David Thiel said...

Also agreed that the fat girl joked grated. It also seemed out of character both for the boys and the show, as both have shown themselves perfectly willing to accept women who are less than model-perfect, such as Leonard's girlfriend Stephanie.

Alan Sepinwall said...

As you suggest, it would've been funnier to have Stuart trying and failing to extract himself from the argument.Fienberg had an even better suggestion: Stuart knows what Penny wants, and he's torn between trying to get in there and needing to win the argument with Sheldon. Like, he's just about removed himself from the argument when Sheldon says something outrageous that he can't let stand unchallenged, along the lines of, "Actually, I always preferred the Azrael Batman from the early '90s to Bruce Wayne."

But no matter what, it totally killed the point of the story to have him not know he was losing his shot with Penny.

Stacey said...

I guess it was just me, but I was hoping that Sheldon's evidently lengthy conversation with Stuart after his date with Penny was Sheldon trying to help Leonard in his own awkward way. Perhaps because just a few scenes earlier, Leonard had been asking Sheldon why Penny liked Stuart when he and Stuart were practically the same guy.

Sheldon argues against this, pointing out Stuart's art degree, his being self-employed, and, of course, his awesome discount on comic books. But his actions (waiting for them to return from their date to corner Stuart into an extended comic book conversation) went to prove to Penny that Stuart is NOT all that different from the others. And the way he kept Stuart from waking Penny to say good-bye furthers that idea, eliminating Stuart's chance to apologize and potentially redeem himself a little in Penny's eyes. (Though there seems to be good evidence that Sheldon has gotten in trouble for waking her before and has learned his lesson and wished simply to share the wisdom.)

I kept waiting for a scene in which Leonard would learn about what had happened and understand (because HE would get the whole "coffee is not really coffee" scenario) that Sheldon had helped him, even indirectly.

But for that to work, Sheldon would have to understand that interrupting someone's date and the chance for "coffee" to talk comic books is something Penny would potentially find exasperating and I'm not sure he'd get that.

I don't know...did anyone else think this? Or was I just creating a whole different motive where there was none?

Billiam said...

I've never really enjoyed Howard. He's the least funny character, and is often unlikeable.
And I would have liked to see Leonard at least manage to strike up a conversation with a girl.
Finally, I always feel bad for the person who gets cast as someone whose sole purpose is to be fat/ugly. Between that and Stuart, it was like the writers got off to a great start and then were reduced to making fun of "losers" by the end.

Aristophanes said...

I was really disappointed by the way the fat woman was played for laughs at the end. As if it wouldn't have been bad enough for Howard to judge it, it seemed to be played as though fat women are inherently funny, not just through a sleaze's eyes. This show is usually so good at the laughing-with (as Alan mentioned), that it was hurtful to see such cruel laughing *at* someone.

It was mostly a great episode, and I laughed a lot, but I had a lot of trouble with that last scene, and it affected the overall experience for me.

Zack Smith said...

Alan, in agreement on Feinberg's ideas. That is a VERY true situation that happens in real life all the time...um, I've heard.

Anyway, Stuart had a right to be frustrated with Sheldon. Jason Todd?!

The bar plot was a bit frustrating in the lack of character development. Obviously, the show has to go on for several years, but they seem to gloss over such movements as Raj talking to Penny sober or Howard admitting his creepiness in favor of reliable gags.

And at this point, you'd think it would be obvious to Leonard that he just needs to talk to women. I can buy him hanging out with Howard as a friend, but he seems smart enough to realize he's all talk in the romance department.

The less said of Raj's hookup, the better.

There might come a time a year or two in when the show's desire to mock the awkward/oblivious aspects of the characters overwhelms the sweetness that makes it fun. Until the outright meanness sets in, though, at least there's episodes like this, which rank as the best moment of comic-nerdity on TV. Not surprised if Dave Goetsch is writing for Marvel or DC within the year.

Finally: Sheldon's assessment of all the books Penny's nephew would need to read in order to understand a current DC book is sadly accurate. They have some serious accessibility issues these days.

Liz Coopersmith said...

The big girl was a cheap shot, but the scene at the end with Raj waking up, trying to get away, but was then like, why try to get away, I'm comfy and I had a good time, was cute and unexpected. After all, NONE of them is in a position to judge.
The title: Isotopes are, quote, "two different forms of the same element that have different numbers of neutrons in the nucleus." So, even though Leonard and Stewart are the same "element", Stewart differs enough to attract Penny. I love this show.

Trey said...

Yeah, Sheldon's off the reservation with that Jason Todd nonsense. Tim Drake!

Granola Mom said...

I actually didn't have a problem with Raj's hookup. I took his panic when he woke up to be more along the lines of "Oh, crap, I'm not drunk anymore, how am I going to deal with this situation!" more than panic over being with a "fat chick".

He seemed content to snuggle down and stay after the first initial panicked moment.

Pamela Jaye said...

Sheldon's mini-rant about the Star Trek ep, in which he had to detailedly describe the ep both times reminded me so much of my friend Ollie who could never refer to our church as the Boston church, but always had to add the location, who we rented from/where we met and who was the pastor.

Comparing Big Bang to Grey's - the only thing I recognized in Dr Dixon was the rocking. Ollie says it's soothing.

The store entrance itself was a blast. I spent years with my ex at the local Federation Comics, bored to tears, but never noticed the lack of other females. hmm... I'll bet the was one, though.

Jim(?) should get kudos for memorizing that dialog. I think the only other show where any has to say things that complex at that rate of speed and that length would be ER. People don't talk that fast on Grey's, if they talk medical at all. On House they all have to share.
I have not yet watched House.I have the feeling that was a bad choice.

I'm still frustrated about one thing:
Leonard is pining for Penny again. And yet, there was no evidence when he ask Stephanie to not move in, that they were breaking up. (he texted her, read the reply, said something having sex and ran off. then we never saw her again)

During the strike, they were holding like... TeachIn pickets - They had one titled something like, learn how to write geeks (obviously done by someone from this show)

I also wondered last night while missing the first minute of HIMYM as the tuner stopped and restarted, whether the networks were scheduling all the "good stuff" on Mondays from 8 to 9 so that people would watch more online, where the AMPTP would not have to pay the actors/writers/whatever broadcast... residuals. okay, this is first run, no residuals. I'm not sure who pays what to whom or what it's called. But since new media is such the big deal... I just wondered

Pamela Jaye said...

Alan, in agreement on Feinberg's ideas. That is a VERY true situation that happens in real life all the time...um, I've heard.me too

Pamela Jaye said...

I was just reminded of something by the comment on accessibility of comic books.

We had a class in Oral English in... oh... 10th grade.

For mine, I had to do a job interview, with the teacher, in front of the class. Job was in a record store.

I kept attempting to find some way to help my interviewer/"customer" buy the right LP for her nephew (or whoever) but apparently, by 10th grade, I had never *heard of* a gift certificate.

Years later, I finally figured out why my teacher seemed to keep insisting there *was* a "right" answer.

Pamela Jaye said...

and yes, I just dislike Wolowitz and wonder why the other guys hang with him. I guess it's cause they're not female. He icks me out.

Kenny said...

I thought Stewart was the one who was pro-Jason Todd and Sheldon was arguing in favor of Dick Grayson.

Also, I dropped the Batman books shortly before the ill-advised resurrection of Jason Todd -- is he still around and kicking and a potential heir to the cowl? Ick.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see there are some folks who were really put off by the fat girl joke at the end. IMO, Howard's reaction was along the lines of "of course, a fat girl will hook up with anyone!" Because of that setup, the bit with Raj waking up and realizing he was in bed with the girl was more about "holy crap I just slept with this big, fat girl" rather than "oh no, I'm not drunk, what do I do?"

I love this show so so much but I am disappointed that they do pull out the fat jokes from time to time. Like someone else said, they're better than that.

And Liz Coopersmith, you are awesome for that explanation. I know what an isotope is but I just didn't make the connection! So funny!

Anonymous said...

My take on Wolowitz is that he's kind of the show's middle-ground character on social matters between Sheldon and Leonard. He has shown he can be articulate about his desires, albeit with a sleazy/leering edge that is absent from Leonard's behavior (like we saw with his theory about waiting for the more attractive men and women to pair off and leave the field for people like him; and it did work in the end--just not for Howard!) but he sometimes has no clue about just how OFF his behavior is in a way that Sheldon either ignores or isn't capable of feeling (his interaction with Penny that led her to tell him off, followed by his stunned reaction to hearing someone genuinely loathe him). Raj doesn't have any of their issues because he's got a very funny sitcom condition wherein he's incapable of socializing when he's sober and very likable and charming when he's plastered.
I don't like the Howard-Ma Wolowitz interactions because they just amount to two annoying people screaming at each other. That would be the biggest mystery of this show that is enjoyable overall, why they keep that terrible running gag in place.

Mark B said...

IMO, Howard's reaction was along the lines of "of course, a fat girl will hook up with anyone!" Howard's reaction was "lucky bastard!" I heard jealousy, not contempt and not regret.

Because of that setup, the bit with Raj waking up and realizing he was in bed with the girl was more about "holy crap I just slept with this big, fat girl" rather than "oh no, I'm not drunk, what do I do?"Because of that setup, I think it was the latter instead. Any guy would be nervous waking up with someone after drunk sex. "Uh oh, what if she thinks this means we're in a relationship now?" would be the likely fear.

Yet at the end, he was quite happy happy to stay with her.

Why does the assumption have to be that, just because she's heavy, they have to be making fun of her? Come on, she "got some" with a decent guy! (Penny surely didn't.)

The other "big girl" on the show (Sara Rue, although not so big these days) also got herself some, and certainly didn't lack self-confidence.

This show should be praised, not criticized... as opposed to something like HIMYM which has shown only one big girl, and only for a cheap (and predictable) sight gag.

(Or Sara's previous show, "Less Than Perfect," which featured a pilot that was full of fat jokes at her expense.)

Concerned Otaku said...

Totally agree with Feinberg and Sepinwall on the ending and the wasted opportunity. Of all the things, his geekiness would allow him to recognize the coffee invite as a not so subtle invite for other things, afterall, it's used on television all the time.

My idea, maybe just for one episode, introduce like some westerner obsessed with Japanese culture of cosplay, otakuism and have a clash of traditional Trek/War/DC/Marvel geek versus Gundam/Neon Genesis/FLCL geek.

ghoti said...

Alan, I think real Stuart would have no idea how to act with a woman who looks like Penny. I thought the way he clung to the comfortable familiarity of the discussion he was having with Sheldon rather than the high-stress unfamiliarity of his date with Penny was perfectly done.

Also, this episode returns to my favorite thing about this show, which is the development of Penny as a character.

It felt completely believable that Penny's relationship with Leonard and company has gotten her to the point where she sees Stuart as a potential love interest. He's not just a comic book geek to her, he is a nice, charming guy who has something to offer.

Kaley Cuoco is a very talented actress. If someone else were in her role, the show wouldn't be half as funny and could be downright uncomfortable to watch.

Michael said...

My first-ever episode. Friends have been trying to get me to watch for a while, but I never got around to it. I happened to catch the comic-store scene and I had to rewind and watch the whole thing. Not quite sure I have a handle on all of the characters yet but if this is a typical episode, I think it's time to rent the first season to catch up.

Tyroc said...

I liked it. Especially the almost dead-on comic book stuff. I'll give Sheldon a pass on not being up to date on the Spidey books because he's always been a HUGE DC fan, and wouldn't be as up to date on Marvel.

I thought the fat joke was pretty terrible and nothing to be celebrated. WAY too easy. And the way the laugh track was played up on the camera revealing he was in bed with her only made it more awful (and even if that was the real crowd reaction they could've toned it down.) Had he seen her and immediately gone, "Awesome!" it might've played less offensive. Instead his acceptance at the end took a while -- long enough for the audience to mock this overweight actress -- and then he realized it was no biggie (pun not intended.) You could also have had her disgusted by who she drunkenly hooked up with. She could've said, "Wow. I must've been loaded." Something different than ha ha she's fat.

But then again Chuck Lorre isn't famous for his love of women.

Anonymous said...

The coffee part had me pointing at my husband and rolling on the floor laughing. My husband is an attractive guy and neither socially awkward nor geeky, but was quite oblivious in his 20s. When we first met, a little over 10 years ago, we were out with a group of friends. We talked all night and, when we were leaving, had the following conversation on the sidewalk:
Me: "Do you want to share a cab home?"
Him (completely clueless): "Oh, I just live a few blocks that way. You can have the cab."
Me: "so, you don't want to share a cab?"
Him: "That's ok. See you."
I figured that he clearly was not interested -- and got mixed signals from him at the next event we both attended until I flat out said to him "I find you attractive and would like to get to know you better if you feel the same way." He had no idea that "share a cab" meant the same thing as "come in for coffee." Now, he wonders how many opportunities he missed in his ignorance. So, yeah, I totally bought that Stuart just missed the real meaning of coffee.

spiderpig said...

@Liz Coopersmith - Thanks for the explanation of the show's title. You are dead on! :)

As usual, I liked all the geek references - they really do have some good writers for this show (with the exception of course of the fat jokes).

And even though I think Wolowitz is a skeez, I can see why the other guys hang out with him. He's really the only one who encourages them to try new things. Yeah, his methods are misguided, but he's not a "bad" person.

I really do think that Stuart misread the "coffe" signal. Even if he's a high functioning geek, I'm sure he doesn't get hit on my women all the time so he doesn't know all the code words.

I completely agree with ghoti who said that one of the best things about the show is Penny's character development. I read a TV Guide article where they said that Penny is morphing Leonard into the guy she wants to marry, but more and more I think they are taking Penny on a journey where she appreciates guys like Leonard more and more. And Leonards interactions with Penny are of course changing him so hopefully some time in the future they will be on the same page (in true sitcom fashion of course).

Mark B said...

I really do think that Stuart misread the "coffe" signal. Even if he's a high functioning geek, I'm sure he doesn't get hit on my women all the time so he doesn't know all the code words.
No one should be misreading "coffee" anymore, not since the "Seinfeld" episode where George figured it out all too late.

Geek Defender said...

In his defense, why isn't a girl in her early 20s offering him to come in for a drink? (Meaning alcohol.)

Jill said...

I find Stuart's response to Penny's invitation quite reasonable, because I too, thought coffee meant coffee. (In my defense, I come from a different continent!) He probably doesn't watch much TV and isn't familiar with the pop culture.

Frankly, I'm little annoyed at how many people react to the "fat" joke. It's well-established that Wolowitz is desperate to get with a woman, regardless of age, appearance and weight. (He said something like "let the jocks thin the herd so that we can get the weak and the old" in the bar.) So his reaction near the end is definitely envy, not contempt or anything. If the show really wants to make fun of "fat" people, Raj would have run when he woke up, instead of snuggling back into that woman's embrace after a moment of panic (which I interpret as "Oh no I'm not drunk anymore, how can I deal with her?" rather than "Oh no I slept with a fat chick!"). If there's social hierarchy in this show, it's gotta be "fat people" > nerds, because even geniuses like them can't get the "nice ones." All in all, I really don't think TBBT meant to offend or degrade any kind of people here.