Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Big Bang Theory 4.15: "The Benefactor Factor"

“I refuse to be trotted out and shown off like a prize hog at the Texas State Fair. Which, by the way, is something you don’t want to attend wearing a Star Trek Ensign’s uniform.”

Once again, an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” that I didn’t love. I just found it kind of crude overall, as opposed to funny. I find the concept of “laughing at geek culture versus laughing with geek culture” to be extremely important when evaluating an episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” and unfortunately, like most episodes I don’t love, “The Benefactor Factor” fell more in the former category than the later. This episode was more about embarrassment squick than geek-driven humor, and I don’t find that entertaining. Watching the boys essentially (and in Leonard’s case, literally) prostitute themselves out for the sake of their research was upsetting and not really funny. I’ve worked for nonprofits before, so I understand living and dying by grants, but in my experience, the most that’s meant is giving up a weekend to help write an application. I’m not naive enough to think this sort of thing never happens, but it’s not what I want to see when I watch a sitcom.

As many episodes do, “The Benefactor Factor” opens with the guys eating lunch in the university cafeteria. The guys are having a conversation about zombies when the university president graces them with his presence. The one thing I like about this episode is that the president was played by Joshua Malina, who is a veteran of the Aaron Sorkin shows “Sports Night” and “The West Wing.” It’s funny to see the dorky statistician from “Sports Night” as a university president now. Jeremy Goodwin has grown up! President Siebert tells the guys that the university is holding a fancy event for major donors, and he would like for them to attend. The idea is that they can tell the donors about the exciting research they’re working on, and the donors will become even more inclined to donate. Sheldon absolutely hates the idea (he equates it to livestock being taken to the state fair), but the rest of the guys seem willing to go with it.

As you’d expect, the fundraiser doesn’t go especially well for the guys. Sheldon has completely refused to attend at all, and the other guys just look around at the proceedings awkwardly. President Siebert introduces them to a major donor, Mrs. Latham. As you could predict, given that this is a “laughing at” the nerds episode, this doesn’t go well at all. As soon as introductions are made, things go south. Howard almost immediately runs to the bar. Then Leonard is incapable of describing his work. He can’t even answer Mrs. Latham when she asks about the first machine he turns on when he gets to the lab in the morning. Then Raj “has to tinkle” and runs off. What does it say about this show that the only continuity that really jumped out at me in this episode was Raj’s small bladder issues and use of cutesy words for urination?

Back at the apartment, Sheldon is Skyping with Amy. She thinks Sheldon should go to the fundraiser. Amy may have many of the same neuroses as Sheldon, but she does at least seem to push them in the background when necessary for practicality’s sake. I think that’s the real difference between Sheldon and Amy. Amy genuinely wants to change (she wants friends, she sees the benefit in fundraising), while Sheldon has determined that the rest of the world should bend to his needs. Amy finally succeeds in convincing Sheldon to go to the fundraiser by using a trick we’ve seen the guys, usually Leonard, use on Sheldon before. She appeals to his highly inflated sense of self-worth, asking him if he really wants to leave the future funding of his own research in the hands of others, especially Leonard, Raj, and Howard.

When we next see the fundraiser, things are even more chaotic. Sheldon, in his plaid suit, has arrived, and he is being batshit crazy as always. The particular manifestation of the crazy seems a little different than usual this time, though. Sheldon has magically transformed into an extreme germaphobe who refuses to even shake hands with the donors. Mrs. Latham has decided to focus her attention on Leonard, who is squirming like you’d expect. Leonard starts to loosen up a little when Mrs. Latham tells him that she donates to all these causes mostly because she enjoys making smart people feel ill at ease.

The next morning, Sheldon is eating breakfast and talking on the phone with President Seibert, who informs Sheldon that he is not to attend a university fundraiser ever again. Which is fine with Sheldon, I’m sure. After Sheldon hangs up, he receives another phone call. This time, it’s for Leonard, and the call is from Mrs. Latham. She invites Leonard out to dinner to give him another opportunity to tell her about his research. This outing presumably goes much better than their first meeting, and on the car ride home, Mrs. Latham tries to kiss Leonard. Leonard pulls away, and when he gets home, he’s kind of upset and confused. The guys are not very sympathetic, though. Howard doesn’t seem to think a rich woman trying to kiss a scientist is such a bad thing. Sheldon not only doesn’t think it’s a bad thing, he thinks Leonard should sleep with her. Sheldon really wants additional funding for his lab.

Mrs. Latham invites Leonard to yet another dinner the next night, and Sheldon enthusiastically gives Leonard a bad of supplies for the evening. Including a photo of Mrs. Latham at age 25. I have to admit I did find that pretty funny. Mrs. Latham tells Leonard that she’s sorry she made him feel uncomfortable, and she’s giving her donation to the physics department whether or not he’s interested in pursuing a physical relationship with her. Then she insinuates that the fact she has a rich husband means she’s really good in bed. I was disappointed to see Leonard finally give into her. He ends up doing the walk of shame back to the apartment the next morning. He also gets a round of applause from his coworkers at the university. I can’t even describe how wrong I found all of this to be, so I’ll just end here.

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