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The Big Bang Theory: "The Thanksgiving Decoupling"

Illustration for article titled iThe Big Bang Theory/i: The Thanksgiving Decoupling
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Season 7 of The Big Bang Theory has been so consistent that it’s been easy to forget just how inconsistent the series has been throughout its run. Before the show decided to grow up this season and spend time exploring the emotional lives and personal motivations of these characters, the quality would vacillate wildly from episode to episode, making it one of the most unpredictable comedies on TV for the wrong reasons. At the start of “The Thanksgiving Decoupling,” it seems very likely that this is going to be one of those particularly rough episodes of The Big Bang Theory, the likes of which we haven’t seen in quite a while.

To begin the bad, there’s Sheldon making comments about how being forced to go to Mrs. Wolowitz’s home for Thanksgiving is akin to African slaves being pulled from their homelands and being forced to labor under the yoke of the white man. The uproarious laugh track during these lines makes the scene especially awkward, and Amy’s berating of Sheldon for comparing this menial annoyance to one of the greatest tragedies of all time doesn’t help to diminish the ill-conceived nature of the humor. (This is one of those instances where I would love to see how the scene plays without a laugh track. It’s probably incredibly uncomfortable.)


To make matters worse, Sheldon refuses to let go of this highly offensive track of thinking, making comments about how the car ride to Mrs. Wolowitz’s house is like being forced onto a slave ship and how Amy’s demands that he stop being such a little shit make her the equivalent of a slave master. When they arrive at the holiday festivities, Sheldon says that there’s probably someone slaving away in the kitchen, but thankfully that’s the last of this remarkably unfunny stream of jokes. Sheldon spends the rest of the episode in surprisingly poignant territory as he bonds with Bernadette’s father while watching the Thanksgiving football game, an activity his father forced him to do before working on his homework as a child.

Howard has no valuable input into the game his father-in-law loves, but Sheldon’s experience as a child has made him a football savant, putting him in Mr. Rostenkowski’s good graces. When the man learns that Sheldon lost his father at the tender age of 14, he becomes even more enamored with his nerdy viewing partner and asks him if he would like to share a beer with him, the beer he was never able to share with his dearly departed old man. They have more than just a beer, though, resulting in drunk Sheldon (which is probably the best Sheldon), a crass, sloppy figure who compliments his girlfriend and slaps her ass when he tells her to grab him a drink. Amy’s sly smile after the impact of Sheldon’s hand on her behind is one of the episode’s funniest moments, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she turns to alcohol for her next strategy to increase the intimacy in their relationship.


The decoupling of the episode’s title is in regards to the news that Penny and her ex-boyfriend Zack (Brian Smith, one of those stock CBS studs with the charisma of cardboard) got married during a holiday trip to Las Vegas years ago, a storyline that depends on Penny being really really stupid. She’s never been the brightest bulb, but thinking that Vegas weddings are just fun, fake tourist attractions is pushing it even for Penny’s dimwitted character. (For one, I find it incredibly hard to believe that Penny wouldn’t have been paying attention to Britney Spears’ Vegas wedding fiasco of 2004.) Leonard is particularly hurt by this revelation because of all the times he’s asked Penny to marry him and been denied, and he takes out his frustrations on his girlfriend, who thought she was having some harmless fun in Sin City.

Angry at Leonard because he won’t stop being mad about her secret marriage, Penny tells Zack to come over so that they can get the annulment paperwork taken care of, leading to a conversation spotlighting how the exceedingly dumb husband-and-wife are probably the perfect match for each other. After some initial reluctance, Zack signs the paperwork and sticks around for dinner, quickly putting a cap on the very far-fetched storyline. While the plot does provide some insight into how Penny feels about Leonard always making her feel stupid when she does something wrong, there has to be a better way to do that without actually making her that stupid. Beyond the pleasant twist in Sheldon’s thread after one hell of a misstart, there’s not too much to celebrate in this Big Bang Theory Thanksgiving.


Stray observations:

  • Howard’s mom spends the entirety of this episode upstairs with gout and shouting whenever someone mentions food too loud. The joke of Mrs. Wolowitz has gotten pretty stale.
  • I enjoyed Bernadette’s progression of justification for why Howard should spend time with his father-in-law: he loves you (no), he cares for you (no), I do crap for you all the time (yes).
  • Penny: “Want of understanding? What does that even mean?” Amy: “Ding ding ding! We have a winner!”
  • “Wouldn’t be a Thanksgiving without an Indian providing the food.”
  • “My my. The plot, like my gravy, thickens.”

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