I'm not by my nature a laugher. (I think I've explained this in more detail and with almost exactly the same opening sentence, apparently, here.) I can usually appreciate when things are funny, and I'll often smile or smirk at a joke if it amuses me, but I don't really laugh out loud all that much. It's probably all the Midwesternness clogging up my blood, but I definitely have a tendency to become a bit detached from all but my most favorite comedies. I realize this definitively makes me the worst person in the world, and I realize that no one who is this emotionless should ever be allowed to write anything, but you guys are stuck with me at this point. Anyway, the point is that I've almost never laughed out loud at The Big Bang Theory. I might have on a few occasions, but almost never at multiple gags within the same episode.
Well, this episode changed all of that. I laughed long and loud at a lot of jokes in this episode, and that laughter, as it always does, would have made up for even the worst story flaws or character moments. Fortunately, however, the episode itself was pretty well constructed, too. This is the best episode of The Big Bang Theory since … well, probably since late season two, honestly. It's quick and funny and enjoyable, in a way that befits how big of a hit the show has become. Everybody's working perfectly within the ensemble, the jokes are coming at a rapid pace (and are actually funny), and the big guest star works pretty well with the rest of the cast. There's nothing too sophisticated here. I mean, the whole thing concludes with the cast dressing up as superheroes yet again. But the episode overall is just an enjoyable bit of TV fluff and a great way to send the show into its holiday break.
"The Justice League Recombination" revolves around one of my favorite TV reversals: the nerds who are bullies to the types of people who might bully them. My favorite example of this is probably the 30 Rock episode "Reunion," where Liz was so cutting to the popular kids in her school that they all carry psychic scars from having to be around her, and this episode isn't quite to that level (though few things would be). But it is amusing to watch this show toss a really, really dumb guy into the midst of all of these smart guys and have him sink or swim (mostly sink). Zack is not the world's greatest comic creation, but on a show where there's rarely an opportunity to do "can you believe this guy is this dumb?" jokes, which have been a sitcom staple since the earliest days of the medium, he's a lifeline to the writers, who give him a bunch of good dumb guy lines, then let the other guys snicker about how much smarter they are than him. It's a fairly basic setup, but it drives what becomes the rest of the episode: Zack starts to hang out with the guys more than he hangs out with Penny.
It's perilous to try to build too much around the character of Zack. There's no real long-term future for him on the show, like there is with, say, Bernadette. It's fairly obvious that this series is going to end with Leonard and Penny happily together, and there's no earthly reason any of these people would hang out with Zack outside of him dating Penny. But the show has done a good job of bringing the character back, and I mostly bought that Penny and Zack have started dating again between last episode and this one. From that basic idea, the show zips merrily along through a variety of ideas. The guys hurt Zack's feelings by being mean to him, so they decide to apologize. This ends up with Zack accompanying them to the comic book store (where he reveals himself to be an Archie comics fan with at least a passing understanding of the comic's recent, bizarre multiverse storyline), then turns toward Zack taking Leonard's place as Superman within the group for the New Year's Eve costume contest, just as Zack has taken Leonard's place in Penny's heart, or so he thinks. From there, it's pretty much straight downhill to the scene where Penny kisses Zack but wishes she were kissing Leonard.
But it's a fun ride, nonetheless. My one quibble would come from the scene where Penny admits that she's only dating Zack to have someone to be with on New Year's Eve. I guess that's vaguely believable, but it also goes a little farther toward making Penny someone who's just so sad she doesn't have a MAN than I would like. Penny works best when she's a feisty, feminine counterpart to the five guys in the main cast, and this scene was not her finest hour. Still, it's such a tiny scene, and if the show is going to have Leonard and Penny get back together again, I'd rather the two just talk it out, than have all sorts of relationship histrionics (which I can only assume are coming). Big Bang rarely does drama well, and in such a funny episode, this scene simply stuck out.
Everything else, though, is a testament to how much better this show's ensemble works as an ensemble. This is a case where I had barely realized just how much I missed something until I had it staring me directly in the face. These characters are all fairly fun off on their own, and sure, it's great to get a weekly Sheldon moment of some sort or another, but they're much, much better as a tightly knit comic ensemble, and the show has rarely used them as such in recent seasons. Tonight, the characters are largely stuck together (well, Bernadette and Amy sit this one out), and that makes the action that much more dynamic. There's always a character there to toss in a funny line or do something amusing, and having Zack as a mutual enemy or friend creates ample opportunity for the guys to work together in funny fashion.
But all that matters is that the episode has lots and lots of laughs in it. I've been growing kind of tired of the show, which has been stuck in the same gear for a long time now, and tonight's episode almost singlehandedly refreshed my interest in the series, both as one that I'll keep watching and covering and as an example of the multi-camera sitcom format. What I hope is that the series was just tossing a bunch of wacky stories at us for the first half of the season (and much of last season) in an attempt to make sure the audience it had would sustain itself. Now that it's sure, maybe the show will move back toward what made the show so lovable in the first place: interactions between these characters. I'm not holding my breath, but if The Big Bang Theory improves from here on out, this will be a good episode to point at as a dividing line.
- "(It) does not violate the rule against homemade cards because I made it at work."
- "Was the starfish wearing boxer shorts? Because I'm pretty sure you were watching Nickelodeon."
- "It's what we do. We give each other a hard time. Hey, Sheldon, you look like a praying mantis." "That was very hurtful."
- "I was thinking specifically of the gentleman over there, moving his lips as he enjoys the latest exploits of Betty and Veronica."
- "Invisible plane sold separately."
- "Amy Farrah Fowler doesn't believe in wearing costumes. She isn't the free spirit I am."
- "Penny, there's no 'I' in Justice League."
- "Obviously, we're no longer a Justice League. We have no choice but to switch to our Muppet Baby costumes."
- "We're the Justice League of America. There's only one thing we can do. Turn around and slowly walk away."