Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Big Bang Theory, "The Gorilla Experiment": I am so smart! S-M-R-T!

A quick review of last night's "Big Bang Theory" coming up just as soon as a racially stereotypical plumber eats my dust...

Another funny episode, as per usual. It's nice to see Bernadette (aka Howard's Girlfriend Bernadette) integrated into the group, and to see that she's at least learned to identify Howard's jokes, if not understand them, as that seemed a bigger stumbling block to the relationship than the Megan Fox issue. Simon Helberg had a great time playing a smug, content version of Howard, even if that was revealed to be a bit of a facade from a guy who's still not secure about his ability to get and keep a woman.

And the Penny/Sheldon interaction was gold, as always. This was a really strong episode for Kaley Cuoco, from Penny's playful taunting of Sheldon in the opening scene to Penny's exasperation at Sheldon's teaching methods.

The teaching scene was also a reminder of the opportunity they missed to not actually show Sheldon teaching Leonard about football under similar circumstances in "The Cornhusker Vortex," which instead spent most of its time on the less funny spectacle of Leonard awkwardly trying to show off his new knowledge.

But then, I wonder (as Todd VanDerWerff did with this episode) if Leonard isn't starting to feel a bit extraneous to his own show. Not a slight against Johnny Galecki, but the strongest episodes tend to be ones that put Sheldon together with Penny, or some other combination of Sheldon, Penny, Raj and Howard. The Leonard/Penny-focused episodes particularly seem like the weakest, though of course that relationship does lead to a lot of the Sheldon/Penny material, since Penny mostly tolerates Sheldon because she likes his best friend.

Every comedy needs a straight man, and Leonard does sort of work as a bridge between nerd world and the real world (though he's still a little too far on the nerd side), but I've definitely noticed a pattern - The Inverse Hofstadter Ratio? - where the more central Leonard is to the stories, the less entertaining the episode is.

What did everybody else think?

40 comments:

Tom said...

My favorite bit was seeing Sheldon do his level best to condescend to what he assumed was Penny's childish level of understanding -- by telling her the tidbit about the origin of the word "planet," for instance. Funny stuff.

And all fans of Howard owe it to themselves to go see the Coen Bros.' "A Serious Man" to see Simon Helberg's performance. He only has one scene, but it's a doozy.

Watts said...

I'm planning on seeing A Serious Man tomorrow night - will definitely look forward to Helberg now.

I still wish Howard had a girlfriend that not only recognized his jokes, but also found them downright funny. Even better, I wish he'd find one as funny as he is. I guess that's not what Howard wants, though. Pretty and sweet are tops on his list, it seems.

Alan, I think the thing you're trying to describe about Galecki is best known as "The Mosby Axiom."

Alan Sepinwall said...

Alan, I think the thing you're trying to describe about Galecki is best known as "The Mosby Axiom."

Except that Ted has been central to some outstanding HIMYM episodes, notably last night's season-best outing. I'm sure there have been some good Leonard-centric episodes, but none come to mind at the moment.

Tausif said...

The Bernadette thing of not being able to just laugh at a joke is going to become grating if it is continued for an extended period of time like Raj's silence around women.

I like that they are making Wolowitz grow-up. Hopefully that means that next they will tackle Raj's problem of selected mutism around women.

Anonymous said...

I was disappointed by the Penny/Sheldon teacher/student thing. They missed a golden opportunity to show how easy it is to teach physics under the right circumstances. With all the metaphors, easy experiments and real world examples you can use to illustrate the physical world (and given that Penny was eager and Sheldon's supposed to be a, well, genius) I can't believe they didn't bother going into some sort of mentor/student/karate kid type plot. Instead all we get is Penny is dumb, Sheldon is smart. Haha.

For a show that used to appeal to the science geek in me, I feel let down lately.

-K

MC said...

I think that at times, Leonard is used as the heart of the show with his sincerity, especially in season 1 and some of season 2 while he was persuing Penny. The scenes with Penny's very large ex-boyfriend (I forget his name) specifically come to mind.

I think that this season, Leonard has come off like he's always upset or annoyed or something to that affect. Somebody help me out here but it just seems like something is off with him.

I think something they missed out on last night was at the end of the ep once Penny brilliantly rambled off her newly learned knowledge, was for Leonard to acknowledge how (and I'm assuming here) happy it made him feel to know his girlfriend took such an interest in what he was doing, or made the effort she did.

Obviously a couple like Penny/Leonard is not a typical couple however they both care about eachother for their own reasons, and I feel like they've gotten away from that ever since they got together. It's that caring interaction between them, not just seperately, that made them plausible to be together to begin with. Now that they are together, why isn't that even more prevelant instead of practically non-existent?

It's kind of like we saw with Ted, that when he's the kind, sweet Ted, we just love that side of him. I feel like Leonard is like that in a way. His character just isn't likeable when he seems always pissed off.

Oh, and I just wanted to agree with such a great point you made Alan regarding how the fantastic interaction between Sheldon and Penny is a result of Penny's relationship with his best friend/roomate. You hit the nail square on the head because truly, the only reason there really is any interaction between Sheldon and Penny, is because Leonard shows such an interest in her, therefore, making her a part of their lives.

Watts said...

Fair point, Alan. I'd like to see some non-romance/non-Penny Leonard storylines. I've heard Christine Baranski is coming back for more episodes, maybe then?

I agree with Tausif, I'm ready for Raj to evolve around women. That could be very interesting.

belinda said...

I think it might be the Reverse Mosby Axiom - in that for me, Ted is the best when he has genuine feelings for someone/ when he's in a relationship, and is more annoying when not.

The reverse is true for Leonard - he's less funny and more boring when he's in a relationship - this season, his stories mostly only involve Penny for the most part (and they're just not a compatible couple, funnywise). And unlike Penny, there have been very few Leonard-Sheldon plots, and that's the time when Leonard is the funniest, and does come across as being nicer and more sincere (to put up with someone like Sheldon).

S-M-R-T! I love that it was a genuine mistake on Castellaneta's part while singing this.

Mark said...

Enjoyed this ep as a nice follow-up to the outstanding HIMYM.

Is Bernadette a micro-biologist or a waitress at Cheesecake factory? Both?

Also, I agree totally with Alan concerning Kaley's performance last night. Great job, just keep her away from Tiger Woods.

My only complaint is when Sheldon went through a list of all-time great physicists he left off probably the greatest of them all--Albert Einstein

Anonymous said...

I love that Sheldon actually is a great teacher! I'd have loved a teacher with that sort of perspective and depth of knowledge on things. His only flaw is realizing that us peons need things in even smaller bite sized bits and pieces in the form of a coloring book version of what he knows.

-EmeraldLiz

Anonymous said...

If CBS wanted people like me to watch these shows live, they wouldn't keep trying to shove Accidentally on Purpose down our throats. Even one bad Accidentally joke is enough to ruin an average HIMYM episode for me, and turn me off from watching BBT until the next day.

Then again, given BBT's live ratings lately, I doubt people like me matter much to CBS.

J.J. said...

Have they ever explained exactly why Howard lives with his mom?

I understand, in a show about geeky characters, they wanted at least one who would give them an excuse to make jokes about a stereotypical loser geek type still living with his parents. Not to mention all of the overbearing parent and mama's boy material it afford them.

But Howard's gainfully employed. And, for years, he obviously fancied himself as someone who should be bringing ladies back to his place... so he's not the sort of geek who is so caught up in his geeky passions that he can't imagine some ways to make use of his personal space.

So did I miss some explanation for why he doesn't have his own place? Like did they ever tell us he's still paying for whatever impressive education he got? Or something along those lines to explain why he's the only one of the main characters who can't spring for an apartment? They certainly don't make it seem like he likes his mom so much that he can't leave.

Karl Ruben said...

I agree with anonymous/K above; how great wouldn't the teaching scene have been if Sheldon actually had taught Penny something besides parroting a byzantine way of saying "Leonard is totally ripping off those Dutch scientists"? I think it's been established that Penny isn't really stupid, she's just an average high school graduate with no education beyond that. I think Cuoco's (and Parson's) stellar performance tonight deserved less lazy writing than that.

And even if it's true that Galecki is becoming more and more sidelined, I think it's fair to recognise that he did very well with what he was given last night. He does the whole exasperation-bubbling-barely-under-the-surface thing brilliantly.

Vanessa said...

I feel like the writers don't know what to do with Leonard now that he's shown some maturity. It's like Chuck Lorre can create good characters and situations but has a difficult time letting his characters evolve in any way. Which is why they couldn't show Sheldon being able to teach Penny anything of substance. Penny can't learn science and Sheldon can't learn people skills and that's just the way it's going to be. I admit Sheldon has learned a few things but he has so much to work with.

Lefty said...

Sheldon would be an awful teacher. He has no sense of scale and doesn't care about the objectives of the student.
I like Sheldon but his tests would be brutal because he has too much detail.
Why does Bernadette have a second job? Or is she a student among the research geeks? None of the other guys are students.

Do not expect to make a career in microbiology because there is, obviously, no money in it. They will end up as waitress at the Cheesecake Factory.
Physicists are rich, even if they room together for some odd, sitcom-needed, reason. In a building where a waitress can afford a nice single apartment, why are they sharing a two-bedroom?
It's not close to the college (or maybe Sheldon just does not like to walk).
I thought it was "kind of a bastard" move by Leonard to text Bernadette what Howard said to him. He's not much of a friend to Howard. He makes fun of him. He's taken his girlfriend (at least once). He doesn't help when Howard has a NASA issue.

Sam Sevr said...

kind of off topic but is it just me or is the stoner friend (Davis??) on Accidentally on Purpose Howard's long lost older brother?

Anonymous said...

There's one consistent pattern on this show. Every character is at their funniest when they pair up with Sheldon. Penny, Leonard and Raj. I don't remember a Howard-Sheldon centric episode, but I'm sure even Howard would be funnier and more lovable if they paired him with Sheldon.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who was confused about Bernadette. I was wondering, is she a waitress or is she a microbiologist? Apparently she is waitressing to put herself through grad school where she is studying microbiology. But what confused me is that in some episodes she seems just ditzy and giggly and in this episode she suddenly has all this physics knowledge. But she admitted to faking the giggly with Howard because she doesn't get his humor. My favorite parts of the show now are whenever they have Sheldon and Penny together. She is smart and the more time she spends around Sheldon the more she learns to exploit or poke fun at his quirks. Meanwhile, Sheldon has shown growth in that he is very slowly becoming aware of people other than himself. He is learning what sarcasm is and when to use it. These two characters both annoy the hell out of each other and also genuinely care for each other. I like it. As for Leonard, I find him the most forgettable character in the bunch. Wolowitz and Raj often get good lines and have had interesting stories. But Leonard only seems as interesting as the people around him. Heck, even his mom is more of a character than he is.

erin said...

I thought Kaley Cuoco's facial expressions throughout the show (especially her pursed lip snarky look) were hysterical. And the fact that she was parroting Sheldon's belief that Leonard's experiments ripped off the Dutch had me rolling. Maybe it was lazy, but it was still funny. I do think they haven't explored why she and Leonard are really together, as there aren't too many sweet/tender moments between them. but i get enough laughs out of the show either way!

mrsb said...

I was glad I was not the only one questioning the Cheesecake Factory/microbiologist question.

Though I do not think that giggly always has to be separate from smart. I think that's just a stereotype. I'm sure there are plenty of smart, giggly women, just like there are plenty of beefcakey, smart men.

It's amazing how much Kaley Cuoco has grown as an actress, and how much Penny has grown as a character. I seriously hated her the first few episodes, but she's now one of my favorite characters!

Mike F said...

the curse of the straight man strikes again...of course, its funnier when they mix it up...but the show only makes sense with Leonard as the emotional and plot-specific center of the show

same for HIMYM with Ted

same on Entourage with Vince

same in Sex in the City with Carrie

same with Ross on Friends

same with Jerry on Seinfeld

Tom Galloway said...

Based on my experiences, Sheldon should have been either a fantastic teacher or a horrible one. Horrible, in the sense that he understood basic physics concepts so quickly as a child that he literally doesn't know how to explain them to someone who just doesn't do that. Fantastic in that some geniuses genuinely enjoy figuring out interesting and innovative ways of explaining and teaching concepts because they love their field that much.

Odds are a bit in favor of him being horrible though due to his general lack of empathy.

Anonymous said...

Leonard is the eye of the storm -like Dave Foley on NewsRadio. He has a distinct personality and a sly sense of humor, but plays straight man most of the time so the others can run wild. He's the heart of the show and Galecki does a fine job with him.

srpad said...

"I love that Sheldon actually is a great teacher!"

Actually the show pretty much proved he wasn't. Penny didn't learn anything. It was clear, to me at least, that they finally gave up and she just memorized the sentences.

Henry said...

I like Bernadette and how understanding she is, even if Howard gets to be a bit of a creep around her. It'd be nice if she did more than the sweet, innocent tone of voice.

I understand what is being said about Leonard, but I think he's doing okay as the straight man-type nerd. Even in the world of nerd-dom, they exist.

Henry said...

I did wish that Penny would do that moment of self-realization after her complex explanation of why Sheldon sits in his Spot. Like last season, when she realized that she flawlessly reeled off a Star Trek reference.

But I did LOVE that Sheldon used Penny as a cipher for the final scene. And that she gave up after spewing all of the information.

Anonymous said...

@Karl good point well put

@ Mark when Sheldon was listing physicists he was telling her the ones related to Leonard's project. Since Leonard's project turned out to be about subatomic particles he was correct to mention the intellectual line through Niels Bohr and Schrodinger (he could have mentioned Heisenberg and got few uncertainty principle jokes in but I digress). Einstein spent the latter half of his career working to disprove quantum mechanics which was supported by Schrodinger's line of work. I believe through vetting is due to the fact that they have consulting physicist for the writing of the science in the show (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120613274):

Mr. BILL PRADY (Co-Creator/Executive Producer, "The Big Bang Theory"): My pleasure to be with you, Ira.

FLATOW: Tell us how ideas get generated for the topics you're going to discuss.

Mr. PRADY: Well, one of the things that's been very important to us from the beginning was that the science that our characters are doing be real science. So we've been working with a professor of astrophysics named David Saltzberg, who's at UCLA, to vet the science that we're doing, to make sure that we give them real projects, that the dialogue, that the things they say, you know, is the kind of thing that if you were an actual physicist watching the show, you wouldn't be screaming at the television, that's not how we talk.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Right.

Oh, this is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. I'm Ira Flatow, talking with Bill Prady.

And do you leave holes in the script to say: We need some science in here. Let's go get it.

Mr. PRADY: Well, we actually do it a couple of ways, Ira. Sometimes, if we just need a little bit of, you know, little incidental dialogue about, you know, honey, how was your day at work? Well, we had a big problem with the something-something machine. We'll actually leave a little hole that says science to come, and Dr. Saltzberg will plug something in for us.

Sometimes, though, a piece of science is a big, integral part of the plot, and so we'll consult with him beforehand and say, you know, what -you know, give us something that Leonard might be working on, something Sheldon might be working on, something where they might be approaching a breakthrough, or the area where they're - they've hit a - you know, they've gone down a blind alley or something. And we'll talk ahead of time, and he'll help us develop.

Sheldon pages homage to Einstein when he discusses the success of Einstein's concept of the cosmological constant with Kripke in the episode where Kripke leaks laughing gas into his office while Sheldon is being interviewed on Talk of the Nation.

Anonymous said...

I love Sheldon. But Penny ruins this show for me. Why do they need a big boobed, bleach-blond, airhead taking up space on this show? I would have liked a more modern and less common female sitcom character.

Sheldon's scenes with anyone are funny because he is a brilliantly performed and written character. But I like him with Penny the least of all. The Penny charscter also sucks the life out of the Leonard character and she is just an annoying bitch around Howard and Raj. She works the best with Sheldon but so does every character

ghoti said...

My favorite episode is "The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis" which pairs Raj and Howard with Sheldon and Leonard with Penny.

Of course it leads to the classic scene with Sheldon and Penny at the end, but that episode had a very natural and sweet interplay between Leonard and Penny that was lacking from previous episodes.

Leonard's feeble attempt to ride a motorcycle and Penny's unfortunate encounter with David Underhill's cell phone camera were really funny and the way those things brought the characters closer together was brilliant.

If Leonard is extraneous, it's not because there's no place for him in the show, it's because the writers are slacking. Galecki can do it!

ghoti said...

Wow! If you don't like Penny, I think you may be watching the wrong show.

I think Kaley Cuoco is one of the best comic actresses on TV. She took what could have been a nothing character and shaped it into a real human being.

She is the straight woman in this show, and she does that job with an edge that makes her funny in her own right - not just a balnk slate for the other crazy characters to bounce jokes off of.

Almost all of my favorite classic moments involve her and the brilliant Jim Parsons. I can't imagine his character running roughshod over this show without having his real-world equal Penny there to keep him grounded.

Andrew said...

I thought this was one of the strongest episodes of the season right behind the Will Wheaton episode. I agree with Alan about the secondary nature of the supposedly lead character, Leonard, in some of the best episodes of the series. But at the same time, I don't think this is very concerning point since the supporting cast is so entertaining.

Also as a man of science, I do find it a little irking that they couldn't have done a better job of showing that physics really is not too hard, especially @ the newtonian and beginning Magnetism levels. But I guess this show plays on the alien nature of nerds involved with this subject interacting with the real world. But at the same time, Chuck finally learned some kung fu and I doubt my interest will wain at all because of that understanding.....if you could follow that. :P

But yes, in the mist of the strongest season so far. I think the writers have figured this show out.

mrsb said...

@Anonymous:

#1 If they got rid of all the bleach blond, big boobed airheads in Hollywood, the population would go down dramatically.

#2 This show is, for better or worse, a show that deals with stereotypes. Though the guys all have their wonderful points, they are the geekiest of the geeks. Uber smart, badly dressed, weird senses of humor and all.

It makes sense that Leonard's dream girl is somewhat of a stereotypes as well.

I think the point is that they all break out of their stereotyped roles, becoming real people to each other and to the audience.

DAA said...

I feel that the writers made a mistake when they decided Penny and Leonard should become a couple. The Sheldon and Penny characters are strong enough, and have enough chemistry, to be the basis for a show on their own. If the plot lines shifted and Sheldon and Penny were to be in a relationship, that would create a world of great comedic opportunities that just wouldn't work with the current Penny/Leonard storyline. I'm hoping that like Friends and HIMYM, there will be an opportunity for romantic relationships to change without impacting the overall friendships between the main characters.

The last few episodes have been among my favorites and I think it is because of the Sheldon/Penny centric storylines. Another interesting item is how these storylines have opened the door to a future Sheldon/Penny relationship. Sheldon saw Penny undressed when she slipped in the tub. Sheldon has come to Penny's rescue more than Leonard ever has (loaning money, driving to the hospital, helping with her business, and teaching her about physics).

When I see the scenes with Sheldon and Penny having a "soft kitty, warm kitty" singalong, I am struck by how intimately Penny knows Sheldon's character. You never see these kinds of intimate, touching moments between Penny and Leonard. Their bedroom scenes are more humor based and have never had any real romantic quality to add to the relationship.

I'm hoping the Penny/Leonard relationship is just a temporary plotline and we can eventually move on to the more interesting possibilities if Sheldon and Penny become a couple.

erin said...

Can I say that I STILL laugh whenever Sheldon busts out "Bazinga!" Still. He's just so amused with himself when he does that, it's adorable.

Pamela Jaye said...

@Watts thanks for mentioning the Mosby Axiom, as I was trying to determine whether it fit, considering HIMYM is supposed to be by Ted, about Ted, where TBBT is not as singular (or at least was not intended to be)

gma said...

I thought it was one of the better episodes so far this season, as several were just lame or stupid. My son who likes physics laughed, and said that Sheldon starting with ancient Greece was an apt starting point. The Sheldon-Penny interactions are always funny. Less of Leonard - yes, but they do need a "straight" man.

As to the "sharing an apartment" comment -- jobs for physicists apparently are not abundant, and if you assume that the characters are junior faculty ... most academics don't make large sums of money - tho Penny's apt. on a waitressing salary ... but tis a sitcom, and not reality. It is great that the science is accurate.

Now, anyone wonder why Howard dresses like he lives in the late 1970s?

Pamela Jaye said...

I've been singing Soft Kitty to my duck (soft ducky)

Being the sister of a near genius let me explain that it's very hard to keep up, even when I can get him to teach me anything.
That will teach me, for teaching him to read when he was 2.

I, on the other hand, will draw you a picture if necessary. (I stink at science, but if you need someone to explain facebook or twitter...)

Riddler said...

I know, a little late in the game, but the blue shirt that Sheldon wears at the end of the episode (a blue star looking thing) is from the new Green Lantern series and the symbol means. . . Compassion. A bit of an ironic nod to the comic book nerds.

(And I can't ignore all the Green Lantern shirts, comments and posters shown in the episode.)

vic said...

Liked, did not love the episode, but it was fun. I like seeing Leonard slowly getting a bit "cooler", at least compared to the rest of the guys. That and because of Howard's girlfriend, we see less of the brewing gay relationship between him and Raj (it was fun, but I want to see Raj get another couple strong episodes that focus solely on him).

Penny I like, mainly because they've rounded her out in this season compared to the first. I mean, obviously her looks played a big part in her getting cast, but personally, I think she's no longer there just as eye candy.

@Tom: Loved A Serious Man, especially the ending. It was funny, as the cinema I went to had room for maybe 60 people, and it was pretty full. That said, while I did say it was funny, I think those of us that are Jewish found it a bit funnier than the rest.

When I think about it, it's probably one of my favorite Coen' comedies, easily rivalling Lebowski.

Kimmy said...

To me, I thought there were funny lines, but not as good as some of the other episodes.

Kaley Cuoco's talent is amazing. Jim Parsons ad Kaley Cuoco's scenes together truly steal the show. Johnny Galecki's Leonard was so much better the previous two seasons. I can see him as the geeky, "I'm calling Frodo" character. I don't see him as Penny's boyfriend. Which for me, makes the other characters more real on the show!