“The Application Deterioration” is really the story of two completely different versions of The Big Bang Theory. There’s the charming, loose, funny version of the show, the one that never delves into cynicism and finds little moments of meaningful character progression within each episode. That version, if not exactly fresh or exciting, is at least pleasant to watch, which is exactly what a network sitcom should be. Then there’s the other version, the one that’s emotionally twisted and lacking in any insight. “The Application Deterioration” finds real heart and solid punchlines in its story of Sheldon, Leonard, and Howard applying for a patent. When it comes to the story of Raj and his romantic woes though, The Big Bang Theory turns into an absolute trainwreck.

Let’s start with the good stuff though. After coming up with a navigation system for drunk people in the previous episode, Howard, Leonard, and Sheldon set about applying for a patent for their “infinite persistence gyroscope.” Because the University employs Sheldon and Leonard, they have to apply for the patent through the faculty. The process is easy enough, but they come up against a problem they didn’t expect: it’s University policy to own 75% of the patent. The three guys are taken aback by this revelation. They were already imagining swimming in the profits from their patent, so to realize they’ll end up splitting a 25% share is devastating, especially coming on the heels of Howard’s panic about providing for his growing family.

Eventually, the three leave the office and look at applying for a patent on their own, but there’s no way to get around the University, and because Howard isn’t technically an employee of the school, he wouldn’t even legally be a part of the patent. So, the guys come up with a new plan. Sheldon and Leonard will get the patent through the school—they really don’t have a choice—and will make up a contract to split any profits three ways. What follows is some of the funnier stuff The Big Bang Theory has done this season, as Sheldon, Howard, and Leonard trade punchlines that never veer into nastiness. Instead, there’s Sheldon getting excited about writing up a contract, and then getting even more excited when he has to work on an addendum. There’s Sheldon’s signature contract font, Shelvetica, that even Leonard agrees is “easy on the eyes,” and Howard’s excitement about the whole thing.

The bottom line is that the storyline works because it’s low-key charming. There are no nasty barbs and no out-of-character moments. When Bernadette shows up and seems hesitant about the partnership, there’s a chance for things to go off the rails, but it doesn’t happen. Instead, she brings up some reasonable points—much to Howard’s annoyance—and gets him to reconsider the contract. That leads to a suggestion from Penny. She says that Sheldon can add in a clause that guarantees he won’t bully Howard or diminish his ideas. It’s a nice touch, capped off by the revelation that Sheldon added another clause, this one diverting 25% of his profits to a scholarship fund for Howard and Bernadette’s baby.

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The sweetness of that storyline stands in stark contrast to whatever the hell is happening with Raj these days. The Big Bang Theory seems to have no idea how to handle Raj’s love life, perhaps because it spent the first few years of its run refusing to allow Raj to talk to any women. Now, the show is stuck trying to create romance out of thin air, and it just isn’t working. Practically every scene with Raj tonight is painful to watch. His dilemma in this episode is whether or not he wants to get back together with Emily after she leaves the Valentine’s Day gift she was going to give him on his doorstep. Things are complicated by two factors: first, the girls don’t want him to get back together with Emily, despite hearing her teary pleas on the phone, and secondly, Claire has called him again, saying that she’s broken up with her boyfriend and that she’s up for a date if Raj still is.

Everything about the follow through and exploration of this dilemma is misguided. First of all, why would Emily even want Raj back? He broke up with her right before Valentine’s Day because he briefly talked to some random girl in the comic book store. Raj is the type of guy who thinks he’s a hopeless romantic, a real Nice Guy, but deep down he’s emotionally unaware and often dismissive of the women around him. He’s needy and jealous. But here’s “The Application Deterioration” suggesting that Emily is the one who needs Raj back, that Emily is the one in the wrong, that she’s the crazy one. Don’t get me wrong, Emily is a little loopy, but The Big Bang Theory’s inability to see how toxic Raj can be is beyond frustrating at this point in its run.

Unpleasant is really the only word I can think of to describe the Raj scenes in this episode. There’s the horrible POV shots of the women making decisions for him, followed by an annoying car sequence where he repeatedly calls Emily and Claire because he can’t decide if he’s going out on a date with Claire or going over to Emily’s apartment to comfort her. Eventually he chooses Emily because he is a stupid, selfish man. The fact that Claire even takes the time to field his numerous calls and advise him on Emily is baffling. At this point, Raj’s love life is a narrative black hole, swallowing up all the goodwill that the rest of “The Application Deterioration” earns.

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Stray observations

  • “She’s pregnant, not a bloodhound.”
  • “Dumb as a bag of geologists.”
  • “Oh baby, it’s addendum time!”
  • For once Bernadette wasn’t a nag and Howard wasn’t a whiny child. Instead, they had a playful dynamic. Hurray!

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