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One of my recurring complaints with this season of The Big Bang Theory has been that, while the show has done a good job of exploring Amy and Sheldon’s relationship dynamic post-breakup and reconciliation, many of the other relationships on the show have suffered because of it. More specifically, the romances between Raj and Emily, and Bernadette and Howard, have felt like little more than afterthoughts. Thus, whenever the show has turned a little focus on them, most of the storylines have felt contrived or hastily shoehorned into the larger story being told. Tonight’s episode, “The Positive Negative Reaction,” works towards rectifying that problem.

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The episode essentially picks up right where last week’s left off, with Bernadette planning to tell Howard that she’s pregnant. After the revelation at the end of the previous episode, The Big Bang Theory could have easily dragged out the reveal, but the show instead takes a more direct approach, and that’s a smart choice. When Howard comes downstairs for breakfast, Bernadette eating a grapefruit at the table, he finds a note on his coffee mug that says “WE.” Writing on the back leads him to the next note that says “ARE,” and then finally to “PREGNANT.” What follows is really the key to whether the episode works or not. It’s clear that Howard is going to freak out about the pregnancy; it’s part of his nature to worry about responsibility, and plus, there’d be no comedic premise if he didn’t freak out.

What makes the storyline work so well though is that Howard’s initial reaction is pure joy. He’s beyond excited to hear that he’s going to be a father; that him and Bernadette are going to be parents, and it brings a charm back to their relationship that hasn’t been there in quite some time. Ever since Howard and Bernadette got married the show has struggled to retain the sweet nature of their relationship. Instead, The Big Bang Theory has delivered dated trope after dated trope, painting Bernadette as the nagging wife and Howard as the clueless husband. Sure, that dynamic has always been present in their relationship, but there’s always been a lot more to it.

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What “The Positive Negative Reaction” ultimately does right is explore just what these two bring to the relationship. The show does that by separating the group. When Howard has a freak out and then goes to tell the guys that he’s going to be a father, he has another freak out, worrying about how he’s going to support a child financially and whether he’s a good role model. “I don’t even eat my own vegetables,” he says. Eventually the guys talk him down and take him out to celebrate, where Sheldon gets drunk while the rest of them listen to Howard talk through ideas of how he can make some more money. He’s convinced that he needs to come up with some big idea to secure his family’s future. Back at the Wolowitz house, Bernadette shares the news with Penny and Amy, going through similar motions as the guys. She’s excited about the kid, but more nervous after Howard’s reaction. Add to that all the things the doctor says she can’t do—“maybe you need to get a new doctor,” suggests Amy—and she’s starting to panic a little.

Many of these beats are familiar. They’re tried and true feelings that insert conflict into an otherwise joyous occasion. They work on an emotional level because they’re true though. What really works though is the fact that “The Positive Negative Reaction” isn’t about dwelling on those insecurities, but rather moving past them and onto something positive. I’ve said before that some of the best episodes of this show are when it’s a pure hangout show, one where the characters just spend some time together, no gimmicks. Tonight’s episode is very much a hangout episode, but anchored in smart shifting character dynamics. Everyone gets their moment, from Sheldon worrying about how the baby will change the dynamic of the group to Leonard and Penny wondering about having their own babies at the end of the episode. The Big Bang Theory uses the forthcoming baby to have the characters reflect on their lives, and that kind of narrative purpose is always welcome.

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Really though, what holds this episode together is the fact that the show once again discovers why Howard and Bernadette are together. They bring out the best in each other, and they understand each other. Their reconciliation at the bar, where Sheldon is doing a passionate, drunken karaoke rendition of “Let Freedom Ring,” is sweet because it shows us why these two people decided to spend their lives together. After weeks of The Big Bang Theory ignoring the more emotional aspects of Howard and Bernadette’s relationship, “The Positive Negative Reaction” starts to make things right.

Stray observations

  • “We’re going to get to board planes first!”
  • “All Apple does is change the size of things and we keep buying them.”
  • Sheldon’s drunken “hey, how you doin’?” was the laugh of the night.
  • “You’ll get to buy toys and small clothes!” “I already do that for Howie.”
  • Amy’s “I know about sex now” shtick was another great recurring laugh.

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