When I got the call-up to cover The Big Bang Theory for Oliver tonight, I hopped over to CBS.com to check out the preview for the episode, just so I could get a feel for what to expect. Frankly, what I saw made me cringe a little bit.
I've never been a big fan of plotlines where Sheldon gets weird to the point of being completely out of character, and the entire shtick for this 30-second preview involved repeatedly asking the question, “What’s the matter with Sheldon?” Yeah, I know, his character is inherently weird, but… well, for instance, I’ve never been a huge fan of “The Pants Alternative,” generally known more colloquially as “the one where Sheldon gets drunk and gives a speech.”
Sheldon’s already funny just by virtue of being Sheldon. When you’ve got a comedic creation that’s as deep and nuanced as Dr. Sheldon Cooper, why set it aside just to score a few cheap laughs from having him act out of character?
As it turns out, I wasted a lot of time fretting over nothing. Not only were the out-of-character bits that bothered me delivered in such a fashion that they felt mostly earned, but, indeed, the entire premise of the episode involved Sheldon deciding to “embrace the chaos” and see what life would be like if he threw caution to the wind… but, you know, in a really cautious way. (He’s still really new at this, after all.)
Things go awry in the first few moments of the episode, when Sheldon discovers that his usual barber, Mr. D’Onofrio, is in the hospital. Ever concerned for the well-being of others, Sheldon’s first instinct is to wonder aloud, “Why do these things always happen to me?” D’Onofrio’s nephew, who’s running the shop in his uncle’s absence, offers to step in and do the haircut himself, but Sheldon’s not having any of it, partially because it would only serve to encourage the rampant nepotism in the barber industry, but mostly because the man clearly has no familiarity with his haircut records. Leonard tries to sway Sheldon to give the guy a try, but he’s out the door at the first sign of small talk, and Penny’s initial offer to do the deed herself only results in Sheldon politely (except not really) declining the opportunity for her to put her hill-folk skills into practice.
After failing to participate properly in a girlfriend/boyfriend sing-along—although, in fairness, I find it very hard to believe that he’s a big Bon Jovi fan, anyway—Amy suggests that Sheldon might actually look sexy with longer hair. This isn’t in and of itself enough to sell him on keeping his not-at-all-shaggy mane, as proven by the fact that his next stop is to visit Mr. D’Onfrio at the hospital and beg the comatose barber to wake up (“Move away from the light and toward the sound of these scissors”), but by the time Sheldon makes it back to the apartment, he’s decided to see what his life could be like without all the rigorous restrictions he’s put on himself.
No, I don’t believe for a second that Sheldon could just throw off the shackles of his obsessions and compulsions for the long haul. But I could buy into the idea that the loss of his barber would throw him into enough turmoil that he’d be willing to consider giving change a try, especially when his idea of getting a little crazy is to wear his pajamas out of order and play the bongos in the middle of the night. But letting Penny sit in his spot without so much of a twitch? Dismissing the much-vaunted roommate agreement…? No way. Uh-uh.
The other major storyline for the evening was Howard getting his NASA travel orders and heading off for his training, which proved to be a great spotlight for Simon Helberg, both because of the inherent comedy in Howard’s lack of manliness and, during his second call to Bernadette, the legitimate emotion in his voice when he declared that he couldn’t very well walk away from an opportunity like this. I have to say, I was actually moved when Bernadette showed up at the door of his hotel room, so much so that I was almost pissed when they broke the beautiful moment for the easy gag of having his mother’s voice bellow out from the other room.
Sadly, Raj was relegated to little more than cameo status this episode, only turning up long enough to make a reference to his hair salon that certainly did nothing to dismiss theories that he’s going to be coming out of the closet sooner rather than later, but I liked the chess game between Leonard and Penny, even if it seems more than a little unlikely that he never would’ve attempted to teach her chess until now.
To close, allow me to tug at my suspenders and say that, while I realize I’m just an outsider in these parts, even conceding to some imperfections in characterization here and there, this still struck me as a relatively strong episode.
- “I'm gonna go brush my teeth. It might take awhile.” Oh, Amy Farrah Fowler, you have such a way with words when attempting to couch your masturbatory activities…
- When Leonard made the reference to the Butterfly Effect, I was astonished that Penny didn’t make some reference to knowing about it from the Ashton Kutcher film.
- While funny, the joke about the bowel movement spreadsheet suffered from the fact that, had he really been maintaining such a thing and posting it on the fridge, we certainly would’ve heard it mentioned long before now.
- I laughed even as I cringed when poor, dehydrated Howard offered the all-too-descriptive comment, “My pee is like toothpaste.”
- Do we have a count on how many times Richard Feynman’s name has been dropped during the series at this point?
- I doubt if I'd be able to sell the powers that be on the idea, but, man, I'd love to do a Random Roles interview with Vernee Watson, the actress who played the barber's nurse. Longtime fans of the show may remember that she's popped up on the show a few times over the years, going all the way back to the pilot episode, but she made her movie debut in 1970's Cotton Comes To Harlem, and if we can trust IMDb, she's appeared in 101 different TV shows over the years. Hell, she was the voice of Dee Dee, one of Captain Caveman's Teen Angels! Are you telling me that wouldn't make for a kick-ass read? I say we start a petition…