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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Big Bang Theory: "The Pirate Solution"

Illustration for article titled The Big Bang Theory: "The Pirate Solution"
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Let’s talk comic timing. One of the things I’ve never quite liked about The Big Bang Theory is the way that Raj’s inability to talk to women feels like a plot device from a comic book the guys might love. It’s, essentially, Popeye, with alcohol standing in for spinach and talking to women standing in for physical strength. But the central device is just so weak – how has Raj gone this long without having to work with a woman in any capacity? – that it defies belief if you have to think about it too much. On the other hand, Kunal Nayyar is such a funny guy, and his comic timing is so good that a scene like the one where Raj interviews for a job that would involve working closely with an attractive young woman and has to down a drink to even get through the talk is a tiny little marvel. The way he flips the switch from bumbling guy, unable to talk, to suave scientist, inviting the girl into his hot tub, is both so precise and so perfectly timed that it almost overwhelms all objections.

I feel that way about nearly everything on The Big Bang Theory, an imperfect show that nonetheless overcomes those imperfections through several really great elements - like great comic timing - and plucky goodwill. Where I complained last week that the show has chosen to sacrifice storytelling in favor of characters and jokes, this week, storytelling came to the forefront as the show came up with a storyline that managed to actually have a reasonably well-thought out beginning, middle and end. And while a lot of that storyline was very, very funny, something about it also sort of defied belief. It’s like when Raj asked Wolowitz if he was able to talk when Penny was gone but clearly listening at the door. Funny, yes, but would anyone ever act like that?

On the other hand, I’m going to find it hard to be all that critical of the episode, just because that scene where Sheldon and Raj were working together (Raj was working with Sheldon, unless you listen to Sheldon, who insisted that Raj was working for him) was all kinds of hilarious, from the weird montage where the two thought hard about the problem to the strains of “Eye of the Tiger” to Raj mocking Sheldon by doing that thing with his fingers I still have no idea how to do. It was a great scene, where the two characters played off of each other in both expected and unexpected ways, and it was almost enough to make the rest of the episode work completely.

The storyline that Raj was being deported was the kind of thing this show would have to do inevitably, and the various jobs that Raj looked into to be able to stay in the country all made for nice little comic sketches (which I guess should be self-evident since I’ve already praised both above). On the other hand, most of the jokes about Raj having to go back to India were way too obvious, like how Raj would miss beef or his argument with Sheldon about Hinduism. That said, there was some funny stuff in here, mostly thanks to the work by the actors, like talking about his cousin, whom we might know as Dave from his job at a tech support line or Sheldon’s final bit of one-upmanship in the Hinduism argument. There are good jokes to be made about India, but it felt like Big Bang Theory just went through and found all of the most obvious ones for this plotline. On the other hand, the opening scene, where Sheldon insisted that Raj’s best option would be to become a pirate was hilarious for most of its running time.

By and large, that’s how I felt about this episode as a whole. There was enough funny stuff that I quite enjoyed it, but now that I’m thinking about it more critically, I’m picking up little flaws in it that didn’t seem all that big in the moment. Maybe that’s just a function of a show that always seems to be greater than the sum of its parts, but it also makes talking about the show hard to do without seeming like I hated it when I really liked parts of it (especially the scene singled out above). While the whole episode had a funny bit at its core, I couldn’t help but think of how How I Met Your Mother handled a similar conceit, with Robin possibly being deported in an episode last season. While I thought that episode was also hit and miss, the danger felt more real there than it does here, solely because Robin is a better developed character than Raj.

Asking for character development from The Big Bang Theory is probably something that’s just not going to happen at this point. The show probably also wouldn’t work if all of the characters became well-rounded, three-dimensional characters. It’s just that at this point, Raj and Wolowitz are such one-dimensional characters that attempts to flesh them out usually end up getting left behind in the episodes that follow. I don’t think either needs to be anything other than a two-dimensional sidekick, especially as Nuyyar and Simon Helberg handle the characters so capably, but it would be nice to get that one, extra dimension.

On the other hand, what might be holding this back is the other plot, which mostly seemed tacked on at the last minute and there to give the other three cast members something to do when it seemed like the episode was becoming awfully Sheldon and Raj heavy. Tossing Wolowitz into some sort of co-dependent third wheel relationship with Leonard and Penny had its moments, but it just wasn’t as good as what Sheldon and Raj were up to back at the office. The episode at least always had somewhere to cut to, but it continued this season’s trend of having at least one of the two storylines not work nearly as well as the other.

Again, though, once the show got involved with the Sheldon and Raj work together storyline, it was on a roll. Since that scene was such a big part of the episode’s midsection, just as the scene where Sheldon tried to convince Raj to become a pirate was such a big part of the teaser, that the episode managed to be really quite good despite its obvious flaws (hence the B+). I just wish that the show could come up with a way to toss all of its characters together in a way that didn’t reveal that some of them aren’t terribly well thought out at a conceptual level.

Stray observations:

  • I have a number of friends who thought this was one of the two or three best Big Bang Theory episodes ever, so I may just be cranky. Take the above with a grain of salt.
  • The “Eye of the Tiger” montage would be so much better if they didn’t undercut it with the much less funny use of the same song at the end.
  • I just don’t think “Bazinga!” is going to happen, show.
  • "He can either return to his native India, emigrate to another country that's willing to accept him or wander the high seas as a stateless pirate."
  • "Oh, Beef-a-roni. I'll miss you most of all."
  • "I'll take you out, I swear to cow."
  • "Would you like to hear more about it in my hot tub?"
  • "Like the subordinate male protagonist in countless aciton movies who disappears halfway through the second reel, I have returned to save the day. Odd. Usually he's met by cheers."
  • "I'm the boss. I make the jokes."
  • "Tomorrow, you're gonna get a card in the mail. Just throw it away."