Tonight’s BBT was as frustrating as it was funny… and it was fairly funny. I accept a certain amount of broadness in this show, because I feel like the particular mix of characters keeps that broadness in check, to a degree. They way each character will roll their eyes at their friends’ behavior gives the audience a set of surrogates; we know that they know that they’re behaving absurdly. Also each character—even Sheldon—has shown redeeming qualities over the course of the series. It’s why complaints that BBT just traffics in nerd stereotypes don’t really hold water. I mean, the show does, but it’s also more rounded than that.
But what are we to make of Leonard’s mother?
Played by Christine Baranski as a buttoned-up emotionless Lilith Sternin-Crane type, Beverly Hofstadter is so extreme in her chilly intellectual remove that—to me at least—she threw off the delicate Big Bang Theory balance. Perhaps if the character recurs, Beverly—like Lilith on Cheers and Frasier—will reveal greater dimensions. But from her “Leonard’s father and I had sex for the purposes of reproduction only” to her intense analysis of the apartment complex’s busted elevator, Beverly struck me as a big cartoony version of an intellectual, no more than thimble-deep. (Though I was glad to see someone mention the elevator again.)
I was also more than a little annoyed by the major plot development that “The Maternal Capacitance” baited us with and then yanked away. After Beverly drives Penny to drink by getting her to admit that she’s starved for her father’s approval, and after Beverly drives Leonard to drink by embarrassing him in front of his friends, Leonard and Penny and tequila all get more closely acquainted. Will this be the moment when Leonard and Penny sleep together, and renew their too-brief relationship? Alas, no. They hop into bed (her still in her bra, for some reason), but Leonard won’t stop talking about their reasons for ending up together, and the Freudian analysis turns Penny off. Thus endeth the plot development.
And yet I have to admit that even as I was annoyed by Beverly’s one-dimensionality and the cheap Penny-Leonard tease, I did laugh a lot at this episode, thanks largely to some yeoman work by the regulars. I liked Raj and Howard bickering like a couple in “an ersatz homosexual marriage” about whether they ever stand up for each other. (And I liked what Sheldon got out their anecdote about arguing in the comic book store: “You went to the comic book store without me.”) I enjoyed Leonard’s memory of building a hugging machine to compensate for his mother’s neglect. (And I enjoyed the capper to his story: “You know what the saddest part was? My father used to borrow it.”) And I laughed at Penny’s sheepish reactions to Beverly’s rigidity, as well as Beverly’s advice to Leonard that, “If you want to have intercourse with that girl, find out what kind of cologne her father wore.”
Mainly though, the key redeeming aspect of this episode was that it helped explain how Leonard tolerates Sheldon the way he does. Sheldon has so much in common with Leonard’s mother that he’s envious of his roommate’s childhood. (“I’m betting she never hit you with a Bible because you wouldn’t eat your brussels sprouts.”) As bothersome as Beverly is, the camaraderie between her and Sheldon almost made her presence worthwhile. I’d argue that one of the funniest moments in the history of the BBT came after Sheldon wondered what the odds were that two such extraordinary people could be brought together by someone as mundane as Leonard. After a query from Beverly and a short pause, Sheldon muttered, with an endearing bit of self-revelation, “I believe I’d like to do the math.”
-Did you see the Paul Collins piece in Slate on The Big Bang Theory? I confess I was a little disappointed in it. I’m a big fan of Collins’ book Not Even Wrong (which is partly about him coming to terms with his son’s autism), and I expected something a little more personal from Collins here. Instead he mainly rehashes all the usual info about and analysis of Sheldon’s apparent Asperger’s, and doesn’t add much new. Still, I’m glad to see the Sheldon-as-Aspie concept becoming more commonplace.
-Injured cats remain the standard for bad vocals.
-I liked Sheldon’s “Rock Band Face” when he was playing guitar in the open.
-Jar-Jar Binks jokes? Seriously?
-During the scene at the university lunchroom, I was driven crazy by the half-eaten plates of chocolate cake sitting in front of everyone. Those cakes looked delicious. Why weren’t they eaten?