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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled iThe Big Bang Theory/i: “The Convention Conundrum”
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The Big Bang Theory is a series about four men who won’t give up the pop cultural attachments they’ve had since childhood, choosing to define themselves by how they relate to these nostalgic elements. While some people grow out of the things they loved as children, these four nerds have only amplified their passion for video games, movies, comic books, and TV shows, to the point where some of them favor these material things more than personal connections. If Sheldon had to pick between Star Wars and his friends, there’s no doubt that he would choose Star Wars. Leonard and Howard have to control their geeky obsessions now that they’re in intimate relationships with people that don’t share the same passions, but they still revert to little kids depending on the focus of their infatuation.


This week, the focus is on San Diego Comic-Con, which ultimately gives everyone, including special guest star James Earl Jones, an excuse to act immature. When the four guys fail to get SDCC tickets, they have to find a new way to fill the void, which means starting a new convention in Sheldon’s case and scalping passes in Leonard, Howard, and Raj’s. While the boys are indulging their arrested development, Bernadette, Penny, and Amy decide to do something specifically adult, going to afternoon tea before realizing that’s something that little girls do with their drunk mothers. The women’s subplot proves to be a place for some significant discussion about the nature of aging and at what point do people ever start to feel “old,” but the rest of the episode suggests that it’s just fine to remain young at heart for as long as possible.

All this Comic-Con business is really just an excuse for the writers to have James Earl Jones do a bunch of goofy shit, and when you have an actor like James Earl Jones available, that’s not too bad of a strategy. Jones is clearly down to do just about anything, including spending the end of the episode wearing just a towel in a steam room. (Everyone crossing their fingers for shirtless modern-day James Earl Jones, this episode is for you!) Leonard thinks that Jones is going to dump soy sauce on Sheldon’s head when he’s asked to attend the new convention, but despite playing one of the greatest villains in cinema, the acting legend is a big softie that just wants to have some fun with his fans.

When Sheldon walks up to him, Jones slips into his intimidating lower register and says, “Let me guess. You like Star Wars.” When Sheldon replies with a nod, Jones exclaims that he also likes Star Wars and asks Sheldon to join him at the table, beginning a wild night that takes the pair to a carnival and Carrie Fisher’s doorstep before ending with a relaxing schvitz that Sheldon isn’t completely comfortable with. (They also stopped at a strip club off-screen, a scene that I would have loved to see.)

The fact that this show is able to get both James Earl Jones and Carrie Fisher shows just how much nerd currency The Big Bang Theory has, and the writers make great use of the two high-profile guest stars. Jones is delightfully relaxed on screen, and he creates an instant chemistry with Parsons that makes it easy to believe that this is how he acts with his fans in real life. Jones ends up being the savior of this group of nerds by offering to be their host for SDCC, although it looks like Sheldon will have to repay the man’s kindness by joining him on a trip to Tijuana. It would be great if Jones made good on his promise and appeared on a future episode, preferably the season finale, so that the cliffhanger can have Sheldon getting abandoned by James Earl Jones in Tijuana.


The Jones material is a lot of fun, but this episode goes deeper than just the voice of Darth Vader being silly on screen. After getting tea, the three women head to the bar, where they ponder the nature of their adulthoods and if they’re really all that different from their intensely juvenile male partners, adding some introspective depth to the story. Bernadette still buys clothes from Kids Gap, Penny laughs at old people when they fall on the street, and Amy’s never had sex, so just how adult are they? It’s the kind of discussion that the men on this show rarely have, and it’s another example of how this show greatly benefits from its female characters, who give the writers an opportunity to comment on the behavior of the four men while opening new storytelling avenues. The women may not have the most high-stakes subplot, but it adds just enough substance to elevate “The Convention Conundrum” beyond nostalgic comedy bits.

Stray observations:

  • The four men were going to go to SDCC as the four different Hulks: Howard as Lou Ferrigno, Leonard as Eric Bana, Sheldon as Edward Norton, and Raj as Mark Ruffalo.
  • People Sheldon wants to invite to his convention: Anyone Who Played Uncle Ben. Also, Anyone Who Shot Uncle Ben.
  • The Raj, Howard, and Leonard subplot is basically just an extended PSA about the dangers of buying scalped tickets. They don’t buy the passes. The end.
  • “Guys, this is really sad. And in a different way than it was 20 minutes ago.”
  • “The wife is in New York, and I’ve got a Lion King residual check burning a hole in my pocket.”
  • Carrie Fisher: “It’s not funny anymore, James!” James Earl Jones: “Then why am I laughing?”

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