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The Big Bang Theory: "The Alien Parasite Hypothesis"

Illustration for article titled The Big Bang Theory: "The Alien Parasite Hypothesis"
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Let's talk Amy Farrah Fowler and Sheldon's relationship. I'm kind of sick of the show taking half-hearted steps toward the two being a couple, then backing off just as quickly, and the end of tonight's episode was almost the last straw. I like the PERFORMANCE behind the Amy character, but I'm not sure I like the writing, where the writers haven't done much to make her anything other than "Sheldon With A Double-X Chromosome." And that's fine. I can see a version of this show where that's a character type that works. But Mayim Bialik's performance is so obviously better than the material she's being given at this point that it suggests no one really has any clue what to do with that general concept and has been reduced to turning her into a subject of weird, scientific study.

Take, for instance, tonight's A-plot, wherein Amy's attracted to Zack, one of Penny's meat-headed ex-boyfriends. The idea, I guess, is that Amy has suddenly and completely involuntarily entered "heat" or something very close to it. The scene where Amy first sees Zack, while hanging out with Bernadette and Penny, is well-played by all three actresses, particularly Bialik's little, tossed-off "Hoo!" calls. There's really not a lot to this beyond what the actresses are bringing to it, but I enjoyed seeing it all the same. What happens from there is a little baffling, honestly. Are we to believe that Amy is either so unaware of or so in denial of her sex drive that she can't quantify what happens when she looks at Zack? Are we to believe that Sheldon is completely incapable of realizing that him having sex with her is a possible solution to the problems? I get that the answer to both of these questions is, "Well, they're so unfamiliar with it!" and I can go with that up to a point. But what's happened to The Big Bang Theory since season two is that the show too often takes good characters and turns them into cartoons.

Honestly, it's a pretty understandable thing to do. When you have a bunch of strong actors, like this show does, the temptation to give them broader and broader and broader and goofier and goofier and goofier business must be sorely tempting. And I can see why. Jim Parsons is always a lot of fun when he gets on a roll, and, as mentioned, Bialik is good at playing the slightly unrestrained version of Amy. But too often, the characters get reduced to something completely without nuance, to comic sketches of the people they've been in episodes with more meat to them. It's one thing to have characters who are joke machines but mostly behave realistically. It's another to have characters who behave in increasingly wacky fashion for the sake of making the plot keep going. The Big Bang Theory usually stays on the right side of that line, but I'd say the main plot in tonight's episode didn't work in this regard.

What's odd about this is that the show usually has this problem with its B-plots, and tonight's B-plot was just fine. It's another example of the show treating the characters as fundamentally silly, by having Howard and Raj keep escalating a series of challenges to determine who of the two would make a superhero and who would make a sidekick. But it's a fun sort of story, and I enjoyed seeing Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar in a storyline that was worthy of their talents, something that's been sorely lacking this season. Sure, this is ultimately just a long series of silly sight gags, culminating in a wrestling match that never ends. And sure, the answer to the question of who'd make the better superhero is obviously Raj. But the story has a sort of inherent logic, in that it starts in a believable argument these guys would probably have, then keeps escalating, off into a goofier and goofier realm. I doubt I'm going to be sitting around, years from now, saying, "Remember when The Big Bang Theory did that episode where Howard and Raj competed to see who would make the better superhero?" but the storyline did work well as a non-distracting break from the main action.

Because, I dunno, the main action just didn't work for me, outside of scattered moments. I could try to over-analyze this and probably make all of you drive your heads against the wall, but, in the end, I just didn't find very much of it funny. I guess when it comes right down to it, it feels like the show's going too often to the, "Sheldon does something funny by himself or in a scene with one other character" well. That's what made the show so popular, so it's easy to see why the technique is used over and over and over, but it feels like this material has gotten lazier and lazier, as the writers have realized how good Parsons is at whatever they throw at him. Parsons is the Emmy winner for actor in a comedy, and they never really push him. He gets a big comic setpiece in every episode, but it's always right in his wheelhouse, and it feels safe and predictable. We know more or less what he's going to do all of the time, and that takes away some of the surprise that used to drive the humor on the show.

And this brings us back to the final scenes, where Amy tests her attraction for Zack and finds it lacking after she realizes what an idiot he is. (Though, to be fair, she says that shaking his hand should hold her for a while.) Then, she tries to hold Sheldon's hand but rejects this experiment as unsatisfactory. Sheldon does nothing for her and she does nothing for him. And I'm not exactly clamoring for a romantic relationship between the two, but if that's the case, then why is she even on the show, outside of being kind of fun to watch now and then? The Big Bang Theory is a show that doesn't like to make changes to its status quo. That much is obvious. The one time the show DID make a change to its status quo, it was the most poorly executed storyline of the entire series. And to give Sheldon a girlfriend would likely neuter much of what's made the character so popular. But by writing a character into the show who has no real reason to be there outside of eventually being Sheldon's girlfriend, the writers have boxed themselves into a corner.


Stray observations:

  • Man, Leonard just gets shit-all to do nowadays, doesn't he? He's always getting roped into a Sheldon storyline or a Howard and Raj storyline, and halfheartedly at that. I get that world-weariness is part of the character's shtick, but it seems heavier and heavier this season. Give the guy something to do, outside of a storyline where he stands on the edges of something wacky and essentially says, "Oh, these crazy nerds I call my friends!"
  • Even when she has next to nothing to do, Melissa Rauch is a damn national treasure.
  • Then again, there's a good chance I'm just far too cranky tonight. Did you love the episode? If so, why? (And feel free to tell me just how stupid I am for disliking it.)
  • "No, no … but in this case, yes."
  • "I obviously have the flu, coupled with sudden on-set Tourette's Syndrome."
  • "I have potential for sexual arousal." "A cross we all must bear."
  • "It's illegal to spay a human being."
  • "Good grief. It's like trying to talk to a dolphin."
  • "Follow your endocrine system."
  • "Leonard wake up! You're missing some very excellent superhero quips!"