Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Big Bang Theory 4.01: "The Robotic Manipulation"

“You realize, Penny, that the technology that went into this arm will one day make unskilled food servers, such as yourself, obsolete.”

So because I generally find sitcoms a little easier to blog with my insane schedule, and I do love me some nerd humor, I’m adding “The Big Bang Theory” to the MTVP line-up this year. I’m also starting to realize why I didn’t make the choice to blog this show last year. While, on the whole, it is very funny, and it seems to mostly celebrate nerd culture instead of putting it down, there are definitely episodes that don’t have much in the way of substance. This would be one of those episodes. Pretty much the first third of this episode takes place while the gang is eating take-out in Leonard and Sheldon’s apartment, and the next third takes place in Penny’s car. Shows like “Seinfeld,” and “HIMYM” on its best days, have something to say about the mundane bits of everyday life, which makes episodes that are limited in scope, such as the episode of “Seinfeld” set entirely in the Chinese restaurant, or even this week’s “HIMYM,” which was mostly the gang sitting around MacLaren’s talking and acting silly, work on a deeper level. “The Big Bang Theory” is not trying to comment on everyday life, therefore episodes like this end up just being boring.

As I already alluded to, the episode begins in the living room of Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment. Chinese food is on the coffee table, and Howard is attempting to use a robotic arm to unpack the food packages from the bag. A quick aside: I really want to know how these guys (and gal) can afford to eat a constant diet of take-out. I’d love for my personal menu to rotate between Chinese, Thai, and Indian take-out. That would be food heaven for me. But I’m a poor part-time public interest attorney/full time grad student, so that expense is out of the question. This group contains post-docs, an engineer, and a waitress. I don’t see how they could afford it much better than I can. Anyway, the robotic arm Howard is using is something he designed for use on the International Space Station. I could go on a nerd rant about how something like that would never be used on the ISS and compare it to the “Canada Arm” on the Space Shuttle, but I’ll spare you. Yeah, I’ve been to Space Camp three times. Moving on.

Anyway, Penny joins the guys for dinner, and things start getting slightly interesting when Sheldon gets a text from Amy. It seems like Penny has only been interacting with the guys on a limited basis since her break-up with Leonard, because she is extremely surprised to find out about Amy’s existence. Howard describes Amy as “Sheldon’s girlfriend,” and Penny immediately goes into “aww, how cute, Sheldon has a girlfriend” mode. Sheldon adamantly denies that Amy is his girlfriend, although they’ve been texting and e-mailing on a regular basis since they met in last season’s finale. Sheldon obviously doth protest too much, because all of a sudden he busts out with the fact that he and Amy have talked about having kids. Penny promptly does a spit take, which I think was one of the funniest moments of the episode. Sheldon’s reasoning makes sense for him- he and Amy think their DNA would produce extremely superior offspring, but Penny suggests Sheldon spend a bit more time with Amy in person before making such a decision.

Next thing we know, Sheldon is doing his signature knock on Penny’s door. Amy has agreed to a “date,” and Sheldon wants Penny to drive. This has potential for awkward hilarity that the execution doesn’t quite live up to, although it does provide some laughs. Penny and Sheldon in Penny’s car is always awkward, and things go from awkward to worse once Amy’s sitting in the back seat. The writers seem to want to take every possible opportunity to show that she’s Sheldon’s female doppelganger, even having her complain about the car’s check engine light being on. Penny devotes a lot of time to trying to orchestrate conversation between the three of them, and it doesn’t go well.

Things take a more interesting turn once they get to a restaurant, and Penny remarks that it’s Sheldon’s firs date. This turns the conversation to how much everyone has dated, and Amy asks if Penny is a slut. Penny claims that she isn’t, but then Sheldon starts calculating how many men she has likely been with. Then the conversation turns to Amy. When Sheldon says that yes, electrical stimulation of the brain as part of a scientific experiment could be considered a sexual experience, it turns out that Amy is very experienced. Which was supposed to be funny, but it was just strange. The next day Penny and Sheldon run into each other in the hall, and Penny wants to know if Sheldon still wants to have kids with Amy. Sheldon says that he definitely does. Then Penny reminds him of what his devout evangelical Christian mother would think of having a non-marital child through in vitro fertilization. Sheldon promptly changes his mind and says he doesn’t want to go through with it after all.

The B story in this episode was jus ill-advised all around. It’s one of those rare occasions where the show laughs at nerds instead of celebrating nerd culture. Howard takes his robotic hand home, and after he programs it to give him a shoulder massage, he gets…other…ideas about how the hand could be used. As soon as I saw Howard’s face light up with the idea, I knew it couldn’t end well at all. Leonard and Raj get a frantic call from Howard, and they arrive at Howard’s house to find that the robot got stuck. None of the guys’ ridiculous suggestions for how to resolve the situation seem like good ideas, so Howard ends up at the emergency room. The receptionist there suggests Howard just turn the robot on and off, and that works as far as getting him unstuck. At the very end of the episode, Leonard gets another panicked call from Howard that it happened again. I just thought this plot was kind of gross and not as witty as the show can be when it’s at its best. There are great ways to do nerd humor, and there are crass, belittling was to do nerd humor, and this was the latter.

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