Monday, November 09, 2009

Big Bang Theory, "The Guitarist Amplification": Sheldon's solo

Quick thoughts on tonight's "Big Bang Theory" coming up just as soon as I ask for more than a comic book and a robot...

There are episodes of "BBT" where it feels like the show has caught up to Jim Parsons' great work as Sheldon. And then there are episodes like "The Guitarist Amplification," where Parsons seems way too good for the rest of the show.

So many parts of the episode drove me up a wall, from the repetitive and unfunny Leonard/Penny argument (which would have had me going for the blender as well were I in the room) to yet another nails-on-a-chalkboard fight between Howard and his mom(*), to the way the writers keep selling Stuart out as a loser after giving him such a promising introduction at the end of last season.

(*) Seriously, I want to find whatever member of the "BBT" writing staff who dreamed up Howard's mom and/or the one who keeps arguing to include these scenes, and I want to lock him in a room where he can do nothing but hear those two actors yelling at each other for at least 72 hours. Maybe then he'll understand how I feel about that.

And yet Jim Parsons had that perfect moment where Sheldon acted out every argument his parents ever had. (As Fienberg put it, it was like Alec Baldwin's Emmy-winning therapy scene from "30 Rock," only played for real - and still screamingly funny.) Watching it in the middle of this otherwise lame episode was like going to see a band give a mediocre concert punctuated by the guitar player surprising everyone with a face-melting solo. There are nights when the rest of the band can almost keep up with the guy, but mostly he's carrying the group all by his lonesome, and the imbalance can get awkward.(**)

(**) If you prefer to put faces to analogies, "The Big Bang Theory" is Stillwater from "Almost Famous," and Parsons is Russell Hammond. I look forward to his "I am a golden god!" moment.

What did everybody else think?

35 comments:

Noel said...

I think it's more than just that scene. I thought Parsons put on a clinic tonight: the angry orange squeeze over the sno-cone, the facial tics at Howard's door, the Cheesecake Factory gambit (during which Kaley Cuoco more than held her own)... Parsons provided a lot to watch while everyone else was just yelling.

d$mania said...

I still think the show is incredibly funny. Having Leonard and Penny together is lame, but there is enough other stuff going on with the show that it's well worth it. How about How I Met Your Mother?

ninjapenguin said...

Your analysis is dead on. I love TBBT. Love it. But sometimes I sit asking myself why I love it - like every week. Then Jim Parsons pops into frame and I melt all over again. Sheldon *is* the show. And it's great.

On a side note, Sheldon already had his "Golden God" moment(s). He puts himself on a pedestal every moment of every day. Unless you're waiting for someone to agree with Sheldon - in his mind he is already the Golden God.

takineko said...

I haven't seen tonight's episode yet-- but I have to agree and disagree.

I disagree about Howard and his mom. I love that, sorry but I do. However I do hate real arguing, bickering, mean spiritedness and I HATE Leonard and Penny as a couple, so I'm not looking forward to that aspect of tonight's episode.

Also I hear, even though Jim did an amazing job as Sheldon, that Leonard and Penny were kind of treating him like an idiot savant, he can't cross the street by himself? Can't take care of himself? If he could afford his own rent he wouldn't even have you people around!

Anyway, I do find that I watch the show more and more for Sheldon, Howard and Raj, which is sad because I used to watch the show for Sheldon and Penny interactions, and the rest of the group was icing on the cake. However they seem to stick Penny and Sheldon into fewer and fewer scenes and the few they do get together are not exactly in character or under normal situations. Every scene with Leonard on the screen seems to suck the humor and interest right out of the show.

Think it's too late to replace Leonard with Stuart as the shows supposed "main character"?

Louis Mastorakos said...

I thought the episode was meh but for Sheldon's outburst and the scene where Penny and Leonard buy back his love (it was predictable, but Parsons' giddiness at getting his comic book made me burst).

One thing I've loved about the addition of Stuart's comic shop (does it have a name?) is how great the production design is on that set. It looks exactly like what every geeks' ideal comic shop should look like and I love tha the design team keeps updating the shelves/walls/racks/etc. with up-to-date (or as close as possible) with each new episode.

andythesaint said...

I actually appreciated that they let Leonard and Penny fight like a real couple (well, like a real TV couple at least). Given the way this shows sometimes goes too fast to the standard geek/hot girl tropes, I expected Leonard to instantly cave using the logic that Howard espoused (which is why, as John Cusack states in High Fidelity, when it comes to dating, you have to punch your weight).

I'm glad Leonard stuck up for his own feelings, even if the argument was contrived. And Penny fought back without giving any indication that she was ready to walk out of the relationship (or even use the threat of a walk out). Frankly, I'm surprised the show didn't go with the tired cliché of her withholding sex to win the argument (of course, as I type that, I realize this could be because it's the plot of an episode airing two weeks from now).

Craig Ranapia said...

Seriously, I want to find whatever member of the "BBT" writing staff who dreamed up Howard's mom and/or the one who keeps arguing to include these scenes, and I want to lock him in a room where he can do nothing but hear those two actors yelling at each other for at least 72 hours.

Seriously, I've started to pre-emptively cringe every time Simon Hellberg's lips begin to move. Saves a lot of time and heartbreak. What (or who) did he do to get so much bad and unfunny material dumped on his character?

mrsb said...

If he could afford his own rent he wouldn't even have you people around!

Without his friends, he couldn't get to work or to the comic book store.

As much as I love Sheldon (and I LOVE Sheldon), he needs his friends way more than they need him.

Anonymous said...

Have to disagree with Alan. This episode felt painful - it played on Sheldon's autistic/asbergers spectrum issues in a way the show is usually fantastic about avoiding. This was just sad and painful to watch as Sheldon was suffering - that's not a joke for a person like him. Parsons a great actor, but the whole episode's tone was just way, way off. Was it a new writer last night?
As for Howard and his Mom, I can't help it - love them.

Anonymous said...

my biggest problem with the show is just how aimless it is each episode. I thought this episode was going to be about conflict resolution between Penny and Leonard, and then it shifted into how to deal with Sheldon, and then instead of weaving the two storylines together they just skip over the compromise/apology and end with the guitarist on the couch. This feels like lazy writing.

David Thiel said...

I also despise the Howard/Howard's mom scenes. They're not just shrill and unfunny, but the gag itself feels like one that I've heard many, many times before.

On the other hand, I found the rest of the episode hilarious, and yes, it was Parsons running circles around the rest. My favorite bit was his rant about the "half sandwich."

I actually like the Leonard/Penny relationship. Granted that some of that is wish-fulfillment. Still, I appreciate that it didn't turn into one of those endless "will they/won't they" fauxmances. They got together and the show didn't come to an end; it just added another complication. Kudos to the writers for *not* making it a big deal.

If I had one non-Howard nitpick, it's that I think the robot toys seemed like something you'd find at Target rather than a comics shop. Which is odd, given the attention to detail lavished on the geek paraphernalia on the show. What I'm saying is that I think Sheldon would've held out for an even better robot.

Alan Sepinwall said...

David, I've been to plenty of comic shops that sell toys, figurines, videos and other things only tangentially related to the comics themselves.

mrsb said...

@ Anonymous:

Though the writers have denied that Sheldon has any sort of autism spectrum disorder, anyone who's familiar with someone with the disorder will definitely see a lot of traits in Sheldon.

It was sad to watch his upset, but try not to focus on the fact that he is/could be/whatever someone with autism and focus on what an awesome job the actor is doing in portraying it.

His friends might tease Sheldon about his quirks, but they are always there for him and stand up for him when he needs it. If everyone could follow this example, the world would be a much kinder place for those on the spectrum.

Parsons plays the role of Sheldon brilliantly - no one need feel sorry for this character - just give him a little empathy and make sure you get him to the movie with enough time for concessions and a pee break.

I think the episode was very well written in that regard.

Bryan said...

my biggest problem with the show is just how aimless it is each episode.

it's funny you bring that up - I've noticed the same thing this year in some of the eps (but don't view it as a negative as you do) - It sometimes seems to have that Simpsons story-line thing going on - just kind of wanders from one thing to the next

forg/jecoup said...

I like Leonard's impersonation of Penny it was spot on.

Sheldon's impersonation of her parents fighting was both funny and heartbreaking as we get to see the softer side of Sheldon

I love Howard and her mom fighting haha. Howard's impersonation of her mom was so funny too.

And I love Raj's Beyonce reference LOL

David Thiel said...

Alan, trust me, I've spent a LOT of time in comics shops and other geek establishments. My point (and it's a very minor one) is that the props and set decorations are generally spot-on and very specific. (For example, the row of DC Comics' "Showcase Presents" trade paperbacks on Sheldon's bookshelf.) The ephemera found in comics shops may only be tangentially related to comics, but it's almost always related to some TV/movie/anime property.

There are so many robot toys geared to adult collectors that it surprised me to see them go for something that one would expect to find at a Big Lots. I would've expected Sheldon to hold out for the likes of a "12-inch Gold Cylon Commander as Seen in the Original Galactica."

Robin said...

I disagree with your assesment. Not in the sense that Parsons isn't great but in that he stands so far above the others simply by talent. A television character is a synthesis of writing and acting. Sheldon is the only character in the show to receive a fully rounded personality. The other actors can not compete because they are not given the material to work with. To claim Parsons is head and shoulders above them is to ignore those standing behind him supplying the lines.

Anonymous said...

Very disappointed with last night's episode.
The Howard/Raj relatiionship deal is so played out, it is ridiculous.
Other than kaley and parsons, a waste of my time.
However, I agree that having penny and leonard hook up is much better than the tired "will they ever get together" stuff on most shows.

cadfile said...

While I sort of enjoyed the episode I am worried that Sheldon may "Urkle" the show - where it changes from true ensemble to "The Sheldon Show"

The writers have done a decent job of balancing the characters so I hope that continues.

Kenrick said...

I agree that this episode was painful when Sheldon wasn't around. Loved Sheldon's half sandwich bit and reliving his parents arguments. Howard and his mother are like nails on chalkboard to me.

As someone who does frequent comic shops and has a good sense of the collector's market (ie I purchase them), I also agree with David that the robot was really out of place. I even asked myself... wth is that thing and why would Sheldon even want it?

Lastly, I still don't understand how Penny can afford such a nice apartment on her own.

David Thiel said...

I should add that the only reason the toy robot stuck out is that I've come to expect such a high standard from the geek references in "Big Bang Theory." For example, earlier this season Sheldon bet his prize copy of "The Flash" issue #123 (with the classic "Flash of Two Worlds" story), and damned if the prop wasn't recognizably "Flash" #123.

One of the things that first attracted me to BBT was that it was clearly written by people who walk the walk.

Henry said...

I actually ended up liking the episode after being a little worried that the episode was going to focus entirely on the Penny-Leonard argument. The various arguments throughout the episode were rather funny and these characters are so likeable over the past three seasons that I was willing to forgive the overall mean-spiritedness of the episode (unlike some episodes of The Office).

But you are right, Alan. Parsons is on another level against these guys. I'm still amazed how he delivered the mini-monologue about the rules of the guessing game in the car with Leonard. Or his acting out of his parents' fight over Sheldon's name, which was just hilarious.

mrsb said...

At least one of the robots in question looked like a Power Rangers toy from the early 90's. (Not saying for sure it was one, just made me think of it.)

I know comic "geeks" who'd love one of them for their collections.

Diana said...

I guess I'm pretty alone on this but I think Howard and his mother are hilarious!
I love Leonard and Penny together, the awesome, pretty girl with the geeky boyfriend. (I married a geeky guy and we have the same kind of arguments).
I like the Raj and Howard arguments very funny too.
I haven't found anything wrong with the show.

Craig Ranapia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Best line of the night: "Then you're a liar because I'm drunk as hell!"

And I'm not just talking about BBT, I mean all of TV last night. Well played, Mr. Parsons. Well played.

Craig Ranapia said...

Lastly, I still don't understand how Penny can afford such a nice apartment on her own.

Forget it, Kenrick, it's Chinatown. :) This is TV Land, where everyone lives in a decent house/apartment with rooms large enough to be a soundstage and has an ever-revolving wardrobe even if they have no visible (or invisible) means of support.

I also despise the Howard/Howard's mom scenes. They're not just shrill and unfunny, but the gag itself feels like one that I've heard many, many times before.

Ever read Portnoy's Complaint? The Shrill Emasculating Jewish Momma And Her Neurotic Sexually Dysfunctional Son is a comic stereotype that had whiskers when Philip Roth exaggerating it to breaking point FORTY YEARS AGO! Get some new (and marginally less offensive) material, guys!

Why don't I just go there and say three words: Stereotypical. Jewish. Momma.

Tyroc said...

I agree with the complaints about Howard and his mom (and how the stereotype of both is borderline offensive.)

But I thought the episode in general was kinda funny. But maybe that's only because I watched it right after I watched the train wreck that was "How I Met Your Mother" this week.

Anonymous said...

I'm just gonna pour on more Sheldon love and say what I really like is that he's completely aware and completely happy with who he is. He understands exactly how he fits, why he fits there and is in no hurry to "evolve." Making a super awesome mega theoretical physics game IS his idea of a fun afternoon. He's living his dream. And he knows that's far better than most anyone else.

And on rare times when he realizes he should change because it will make things better- like knowing more when to talk about sex stuff about the actual participants, he goes about it exactly the way that he knows works for himself.

-EmeraldLiz

DolphinFan said...

There's no question at all that Jim Parsons is the show's big gun--but it's also fair to say that Sheldon lends himself to standalone humor better than the other main characters, and that his dysfunctional brilliance brings out the best in Leonard, Howard and Raj. Leonard is relatively normal and honestly likable (his relationship with Penny is kind of a parallel to the character on FREAKS AND GEEKS who could plausibly date a popular cheerleader) and the scenes with Howard and Raj are often-hilarious because they're pretty much straight life partners by this point--the scene where Raj couldn't quite sell the "Howard and I are just friends!" bit with his parents was hilarious.
And honestly, the stuff with Howard and his mom neither works nor bothers me; they don't use it in every or even most episodes, and it comes across as cheap shorthand to fill a minute or two in episodes that otherwise have all of the story time filled in. Annoying but ultimately irrelevent.

Evamarie said...

Re:Lastly, I still don't understand how Penny can afford such a nice apartment on her own.

Forget it, Kenrick, it's Chinatown. :) This is TV Land, where everyone lives in a decent house/apartment with rooms large enough to be a soundstage and has an ever-revolving wardrobe even if they have no visible (or invisible) means of support.
~~~~~

There have been many episodes where she has her cable bill cut or her electricity out. She had to get money from her ex that time. She also gets her internet from the boys via their wireless.

I really liked this episode. I also found the fight actually realistic. I've witnessed fights like that.
I did spend most of the episode wanting to crawl into the screen, hug Sheldon, and then play his physics game.

The Bgt said...

it made me giggle.
still love the characters.
loved the little insight at Sheldon's traumas.
absolutely enjoyed it!

Anonymous said...

Alan,

I see what you did there with the "Almost Famous" comparison.

Now, let's all sing a verse of NanoDancer....

Puff

Pamela Jaye said...

This is TV Land, where everyone lives in a decent house/apartment with rooms large enough to be a soundstage and has an ever-revolving wardrobe even if they have no visible (or invisible) means of support.

well actually, Alex and Izzie, who are third year surgical residents, apparently barely make $30,000 between them. (though at the beginning of season 5, they made enough to be able to afford to share the apartment that Callie & Cristina are sharing (which Callie ostensibly couldn't afford later). And yes, I googled. They should be making something like $46,000, each.
If I was Izzie, I'd take the $8 million back.

I've never figured out how Penny was supposed to afford to live there.

However, apparently I watched too much TV Monday, as I couldn't remember most of it, and had to go rewatch.

Wow - arguments everywhere.
It's amazing Sheldon has managed to live in an argument free zone thus far in the series.
And for my part, I hope Leonard and Penny don't break up.

Alas I missed game rules monologue in car cause the only available tuner gets twitchy whenever the network throws graphics on the screen, and the audio goes with it.

Pamela Jaye said...

Seriously, I want to find whatever member of the "BBT" writing staff who dreamed up Howard's mom and/or the one who keeps arguing to include these scenes, and I want to lock him in a room where he can do nothing but hear those two actors yelling at each other for at least 72 hours.

Remember the good old days when you could say stuff like that, knowing it could never happen?*

Now @billprady is on Twitter.

*well, being a TV critic, maybe not

(Howard's mom drives me up a wall, but she's not "on' that often, so I'll live)