Monday, February 7, 2011

The Big Bang Theory 4.14: "The Thespian Catalyst"

“Thank you, but cute is for bunnies. I want to be something with sex appeal. Like a labradoodle.”

“The Thespian Catalyst” definitely had some funny moments. I especially liked the plot involving Sheldon and Penny, because Jim Parsons and Kaley Cuoco have such great comedic chemistry. The plot involving Raj had potential to be funny and provide much-needed character development, and it did have some amusing moments, but it was unfortunately sullied by a cloud of homophobia. All Raj plots since pretty much the beginning of season 3 have had this problem, but it was more prominent in this episode than it has ever been before, and it really took away from my enjoyment of the episode. Even a fun Bollywood number (which I usually love) couldn’t save it.

The episode opens with Sheldon trying to teach a class as a guest lecturer. He is incredibly condescending to his class (big surprise), and the students appear to be bored out of their minds. This is confirmed by the rest of the guys who are monitoring Twitter chatter about Sheldon’s class for the sheer entertainment value of it. Not one student liked the lecture, some even going so far as to tweet “kill me now.” Penny stops by the apartment to get the new password for Sheldon and Leonard’s wi-fi and joins in on the fun. When Sheldon arrives home, he is obviously oblivious to how much his students hated the lecture. He goes so far as to call the lecture “triumphant.” Penny wants to give Sheldon the “good” news, but Leonard says he promised that honor to Howard. Howard has Raj show Sheldon all the tweets and blog entries on his computer. Sheldon throws a rather minor fit, storming off to his bedroom.

The next day, Sheldon tells Amy about his predicament via Skype. Amy tries to cheer him up by using a “whimsical” aquarium themed Skype background and acting like she’s swimming while making fish faces. I think it’s the funniest Mayim Bialik has been on the show thus far. Odd that she does her best work in an episode where she is only in one short scene. I also liked that the scene served to further differentiate Amy from Sheldon. I can’t imagine Sheldon making fish faces over Skype to try and cheer someone up. The best he can muster is a monotone “there, there,” and even that takes a lot of effort. Anyway, when the whimsy doesn’t help, Amy starts offering more tangible suggestions including using a laser to burn the memory out of Sheldon’s brain and taking acting lessons. Sheldon decides to go with the latter suggestion.

Since Penny is the only actress Sheldon interacts with on a regular basis, he asks her for acting lessons. And he almost doesn’t get his wish because he can’t hold back insults about Penny’s lack of a career. Penny is in the process of shoving him back out the door and into the hallway when he says he’ll pay her $40.00. That’s all Penny needs to hear to agree to take Sheldon on as a student. Predictably, their first lesson does not go well. Sheldon basically refuses to go along with anything Penny suggests they try. She wants to start with some movement exercises, but Sheldon insists he’s more comfortable just standing still. Penny then tries to move on to improve, creating the character of a shoe saleslady. Sheldon instead asks for frozen yogurt, and when Penny tries to turn her fake business establishment into a shoe and frozen yogurt store, Sheldon accuses her of being insane.

The second acting lesson is where the real meat of this episode takes place. Penny has assigned a scene study from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in which Sheldon has absolutely no interest. Instead, he wants to perform a scene from a Star Trek fan fic he wrote when he was ten years old. Penny is astounded that Sheldon could think his own childhood fan fic could be better than Tennessee Williams, but I guess it’s really not so surprising. Sheldon really is the ultimate narcissist. To make Sheldon finally get at least somewhat out of his comfort zone, Penny says that Sheldon will play his mother and she will play Spock (Sheldon had wanted to be Spock, of course). Sheldon’s impression of his mother actually isn’t half bad, and Penny’s attempt at being Spock is amusing too because it shows she’s been hanging out way too much with the guys! Things go haywire when Penny suggests that the character of Mary Cooper should at least be a little upset that Spock is taking her son to the 23rd Century. Sheldon starts having a conversation between himself and his mother and reliving painful moments from his childhood. Penny ends up having to call Sheldon’s mom to get her to break Sheldon out of it. This is definitely the best part of the entire episode.

Meanwhile, Raj spends the episode confronting his feelings for Bernadette. At dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, Raj makes a comment about a time he accidentally found himself in a gay bar and he still didn’t get hit on. When Bernadette stops by the table, Howard tells her Raj needs a girl. Bernadette says that shouldn’t be a problem because he’s cute. With that one comment, Bernadette sets off a barrage of fantasies that will take Raj through the rest of the episode. First he daydreams that Howard got a two year fellowship in Israel and asked Raj to keep Bernadette satisfied while he was gone. Then he daydreams about Howard getting hit by a truck and his dying wish being that Raj take care of Bernadette. The final daydream is a really cool Bollywood number featuring Raj and Bernadette. I would find most of this funny if Raj didn’t keep saying “I’m definitely not gay” every time he came out of a daydream. I think a Howard/Bernadette/Raj love triangle could be interesting all on their own. In the twenty-first century, someone questioning their sexual orientation should not be the basis for jokes.

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