Friday, December 25, 2009

Holiday "Classic" Recap: The Big Bang Theory "The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis"

“Do you realize what this means? All I need is a healthy ovum and I could grow my own Leonard Nimoy!”


I was a little torn about what holiday episode to spotlight on the blog this year- there are so many great ones. “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” from the second season of Grey’s Anatomy is heartfelt with the edge that made the early episodes of that series so great. “The Christmas Show” from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is one of my favorite episodes of television overall. For a much maligned show, “The Christmas Show” was absolutely a stand-out episode and used all of Aaron Sorkin’s skills to full effect. On Monday night, however, CBS broadcast this episode of The Big Bang Theory, and my decision was made. I loved this episode when I first saw it last year, and I still love it upon rewatch, mostly because of Jim Parsons’ performance as Sheldon. This is actually the episode he submitted for Emmy consideration last year. The A story of the episode is fairly middling for the series, but the B story, where Sheldon struggles to buy Penny a Christmas present, is what makes the episode truly special.

Leonard and Penny drama never makes for the best episodes of The Big Bang Theory (which I believe is part of the reason that the early episodes of this season were comparatively weak), so here’s a quick run-down before we get to the good stuff. Dave Underhill, one of Leonard’s physics idols, is visiting the university where Leonard and the rest of the guys work. Not only is Dave a super genius, he’s also extremely “cool,” in the conventional sense. He rides a motorcycle, and he’s a womanizer. Although he was originally bitter about Dave rendering his own work obsolete, Leonard is starstruck when he actually meets the guy. As Raj and Wolowitz say, Leonard develops quite the “man crush.” He even tries riding Dave’s motorcycle, although it falls on his leg before he can even get it started.

Things go from bad to worse for Leonard when he and Dave run into Penny in the hallway as Dave is helping Leonard home after the motorcycle “accident.” There’s an instant connection between Penny and Dave, and suddenly Penny is all about science and wanting to know everything about what Dave does for work. Poor Leonard whose “leg is killing [him]” had been trying to take Penny for a tour of the university for the past two years. Eventually, Leonard has had enough, but he chooses the worst possible time to confront Penny- she just found out that Dave is actually married. Leonard manages to worm his way out of getting in trouble for putting his foot in his mouth, and Leonard and Penny’s friendship survives another week.

Far more entertaining and endearing is Sheldon’s struggle to find the perfect Christmas present for Penny. In Sheldon’s world, giving a gift is actually giving an obligation (he has to figure out a return gift of similar value and reflective of the proper level of friendship), so he kind of freaks out when Penny tells him that she bought Christmas gifts for the guys. It’s a typical Sheldon rant, delivered with perfection by Jim Parsons. Raj and Wolowitz think this is hilarious because Sheldon is freaking out at somebody other than them, but they get stuck taking Sheldon to the mall to purchase a reciprocal gift.

The guys end up in a Bath and Body Works-type store, and when Wolowitz suggests Sheldon simply buy a gift basket, Sheldon is stumped about the proper size of gift basket to purchase. He tries to ask for help from a store employee, but predictably, just ends up freaking her out. Sheldon wants to know what exactly gifting a particular basket would signify about his relationship with Penny, and he gets a little too specific about examples of potential meanings. Sheldon eventually comes up with a plan that is acceptable in his strange little world. He buys a bunch of gift baskets, all in different sizes. After he opens Penny’s gift, he’ll pretend he has “digestive distress” so he can run off, look up the price of the gift, and give Penny the gift basket that is the closest in value to her gift. The visual of Raj and Wolowitz carrying the myriad baskets up to Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment is hilarious.

It’s the end of the episode that really makes it a classic. Sheldon opens up Penny’s gift, and it’s a napkin. It’s not just any napkin, though. Leonard Nimoy used and autographed it when he ate a meal at the Cheesecake Factory where Penny works as a waitress. Sheldon is completely flabbergasted, not only that Penny got him Leonard Nimoy’s autograph, but that she got Leonard Nimoy’s DNA (from using the napkin). Over-the-top Sheldon moments like this are where Jim Parsons really shines. Still almost speechless, Sheldon bolts to his bedroom, presumably to get Penny’s gift. He returns carrying all of the gift baskets and drops them in front of Penny. When Penny starts to protest, Sheldon says that all those gift baskets aren’t really enough. He then does his best to hug Penny, something that Sheldon never, ever does. I think the moment can be appreciated by even a casual fan of the show, but a regular viewer who understands just how deep Sheldon’s neuroses run can realize just how special and rare a moment like that is.

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