Throughout The Big Bang Theory‘s nine-season run, there’s been a lot of talk about Meemaw, aka. Sheldon’s grandmother. Standing in contrast to his overbearingly Christian mother, Meemaw has always held a certain comforting place in Sheldon’s life, and therefore in the minds of everyone watching the show. Thus, The Big Bang Theory had a good chance to build a meaningful episode out of a visit from Sheldon’s grandmother, played by, as Caroline Siede quipped in “What’s On Tonight,” “professional on-screen grandma” June Squibb. So why does tonight’s episode, “The Meemaw Materialization,” feel so underwhelming? It’s certainly not Squibb’s performance, which finds a nice balance between sweet and sarcastic. Rather, it’s the belabored storytelling on display.

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The appearance of Meemaw is the worst type of guest appearance, where a long-mentioned character is finally given screen time, but there’s no real storyline justification for their appearance. Having her come and visit the gang ends up feeling like another box checked on a list that’s rapidly running out of boxes after nine seasons. When Sheldon gets a letter from his Meemaw, it provides few details. She lost her teeth, got some new teeth, found her old teeth (which are now her “church teeth”) and she’s decided she’s coming to visit. Her casual attitude towards the visit of course hides a deeper, but not exactly sinister, motivation. When Sheldon brings Amy over to meet his grandma and he disappears into the bedroom to look for a gift she brought him, she tells Amy that she’s really here to, in her words, “size her up.” It’s a fine, if age-old setup, where the “new” (Amy isn’t really new) girlfriend has to pass a vague test of compatibility before being deemed suitable for Sheldon.

In theory, that should set up a fair amount of jokes. There’s so much territory to be mined for solid punchlines, from how similar Sheldon and Amy are, to Amy once again having to compete for Sheldon’s affection. “The Meemaw Materialization” can’t muster up much in terms of comedy though. There are the requisite jokes about seniors, including one about butterscotch candies (get it?), and a few jabs at Amy, but none of it feels rooted in anything substantial. The Big Bang Theory has done a good job with evolving Sheldon and Amy’s relationship this season, exploring the ways in which it’s changed and been affected by past events. In contrast to those more fleshed-out stories, the Meemaw sections of this episode feel stale and not particularly rooted in anything we know about these characters.

Sure, there’s the throughline of Sheldon not being able to choose between defending his girlfriend or his grandmother—that type of isolation from conflict is exactly what Sheldon is known for—but little else is built upon reasonable or identifiable character dynamics. When the true nature of Meemaw’s hostility is revealed, which is that she’s worried about Sheldon getting hurt considering that Amy broke up with him once before, it’s not only underwhelming, but easily resolved. Any feelings of ill will between Amy and Sheldon have already been dealt with. That’s been the entire arc of the first half of the season, so to see the same emotional territory mined yet again means a whole lot of diminishing returns.

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That same undercooked storytelling extends to the episode’s other storyline. While Raj and Howard are fighting about Frozen in the comic book store, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, later revealed as Claire, overhears their conversation and interjects with her opinion. Later, when Raj sparks a conversation about the Saga series, the two hit it off. Claire reveals that she’s working on an animated sci-fi screenplay and Raj offers up that he’s a scientist. Thus, she asks for his help on the script, she gives him her number, and the two agree to meet at a later date.

Back at Howard and Bernadette’s house, where Raj apparently enjoys spending a lot of time, Howard gives him hell for even agreeing to see the woman considering that he’s dating Emily, while Bernadette doesn’t see the harm. That sets off a sequence of arguments about flirting while in a relationship and, more specifically, what Raj even wants out of a relationship and whether he thinks he has it with Emily. It’s a potentially fruitful area of conflict, but the complete absence of Emily throughout most of this season means that none of it feels important. In the span of one dinner with Howard and Bernadette, Raj considered breaking up with Emily, dating both women at once, proposing a threesome, or just calling Claire and telling her that he already has a girlfriend. The punchline, I guess, is that Raj falls in love with anyone who gives him the time of day and, despite his hopeless romantic nature, remains unsatisfied with what he’s found in his past relationships. For me though, the way in which Raj just cycles through these emotions rings false. If Emily is meant to be a big part of his life, especially with Laura Spencer being promoted to series regular, then why is their relationship so thoroughly underexplored? There’s no consistency to their story as a couple, no sense of depth or history. Part of that is the absence of Emily, but a lot of it comes down to the show choosing to ignore the dynamic of their relationship in order to trot out rote sitcom tropes and manufactured conflict. “The Meemaw Materialization” is filled with that kind of lazy storytelling.

Stray observations

  • I definitely laughed at Sheldon’s constant “that’s not her” at the airport and I’m not ashamed to say so.
  • Sheldon insisting to his Meemaw that she’ll like Amy: “You both have the same fashion sense.”
  • Good deadpan delivery of “that’s my best friend” from Johnny Galecki when Leonard hears that Sheldon insulted his work.
  • Raj is a “small dog enthusiast.” Dude’s got charm, no doubt.

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