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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Big Bang Theory: “The Hawking Excitation”

Illustration for article titled The Big Bang Theory: “The Hawking Excitation”
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The Big Bang Theory is whipping out the celebrity cameos as the season winds down, and this week’s episode features another nerd get for the series: Stephen Hawking. Howard gets an invitation from the office of Stephen Hawking to be the technician on Hawking’s wheelchair while he works at Caltech for a few weeks, and Howard plans to introduce Sheldon to his idol. That is, until Sheldon immediately insults him and Howard decides to use his new job to teach Sheldon some humility.

The group has been making fun of Howard’s lack of a PhD for years, but Sheldon is easily the worst offender, and Howard forces him to perform ridiculous tasks to pay for years of bullying. Turning someone into a personal slave in exchange for something they want is a classic sitcom plot, and “The Hawking Excitation” doesn’t do much to stir up the formula. Howard makes Sheldon polish his bin of urine-spotted belt buckles, parade around the work cafeteria in a French maid’s outfit, and go dress-shopping with his mother, and while it’s nice to see Sheldon taken down a peg, the humor’s very juvenile for most of the episode.

The theme of the second half of this season seems to be everyone versus Sheldon, with each episode ultimately proving that everyone’s attitude toward Sheldon is completely justified. For his last trial, Sheldon isn’t asked to do any embarrassing physical tasks, only to give Howard a compliment, but it’s the hardest thing demanded of him. He caves and tells Howard that he’s very good at what he does, but that what he does isn’t worth doing. It’s a back-handed compliment, but as Leonard reminds Howard, it’s the only kind of compliment that Sheldon gives, so he should run with it. Because he’s a better person than Sheldon, Howard reveals that he gave Hawking Sheldon’s paper three days ago, and that Hawking wants to meet Sheldon.

When this series leaves the boys to their own devices, the stories tend to devolve into generic sitcom scenarios, and the women don’t appear until the last third of this episode. It’s the second episode in a row with no Amy, which is simply unacceptable at this point. Mayim Bialik is too strong a talent to waste, and Amy could have added some dimension to the opening scenes of the episode. Her relationship with Sheldon brings out a different side of him, and it would be nice to see her react to Howard’s statement that Sheldon is condescending to everyone.

Penny accidentally finds herself the person Sheldon turns to to discuss his friendship issues when she runs into him in the laundry room cleaning Howard’s man panties. When Sheldon asks her if she thinks that he’s condescending, he pauses and rewinds to make sure Penny understands the word “condescending.” She gets the picture, and also completely understands where Howard is coming from, although she’ll say whatever it takes to get Sheldon off her back. When Penny tells Sheldon what he wants to hear—that Howard is wrong—he only hears the words and ignores her body language, facial expression, and tone of voice. Sheldon doesn’t understand nonverbal conversation cues, just one of the many things his brain is not programmed for.

When Bernadette learns about Howard’s scheme, she feels bad for Sheldon and argues with her fiancé. He says that it’s the same thing as Sheldon’s cruelty over the years, but Bernadette responds, “It’s not the same thing. Sheldon doesn’t know when he’s being mean because the part of his brain that should know is getting a wedgie from the rest of his brain.” The part of Sheldon’s brain responsible for empathy just doesn’t work, and it’s wrong to hold that against him. Unless there’s a way to benefit from it. When Howard’s mom reminds Bernadette that she’s taking her dress shopping the following day, Bernadette calls back: “I’m sorry I can’t make it, but Sheldon’s gonna go with you!” It’s the funniest moment of the episode, and it left me cackling so hard I had to pause the TV. Melissa Rauch is so good at switching from adorable to ruthless immediately, and Bernadette’s shifting feelings toward Sheldon take advantage of that ability.


When Sheldon meets Stephen Hawking, he compliments Sheldon's brilliant mind, but points out an error in his arithmetic that unravels the entire foundation of his paper. The big pay-off of the story is Stephen Hawking saying, “It was quite a boner.” I leave you with those words of wisdom as we head into a three-week break, when everyone should check out that one show on NBC, because it has a really great episode this week.

Stray observations:

  • Like most offensive things, Howard’s Stephen Hawking impression is really funny.
  • When Howard gave Leonard and Raj gears from Hawking’s wheelchair as souvenirs, I fully expected Howard’s storyline to end with him being fired because the wheelchair fell apart.
  • Jim Parsons in a maid’s outfit shows how much bigger he’s gotten in the last couple years. It also shows his pasty, pasty thighs.
  • “Yeah, yeah, I know. He’s the wheelchair dude who invented time.”
  • “When I correct people, I am raising them up.”
  • “I pee-pee proofed your belt buckles.”