Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Big Bang Theory 4.17: "The Toast Derivation"

“They were having fun wrong.”

“The Toast Derivation” was a moderately funny episode of “The Big Bang Theory.” I think it was a little too disjointed to be considered among the series’ best, however. Not only did the episode devote time to every regular character in the series, but several guest characters as well (and one cameo from LeVar Burton). It was just too much to fit into a little over twenty minutes of television. I think that without some of the little side detours that seem to have been blatantly included for the sole purpose of fulfilling certain actors’ contracts, this could have been a really interesting, thoughtful exploration of Sheldon’s place among his group of friends. That subject was dealt with a bit in this episode, but in a very simplistic way. I guess maybe I always want “The Big Bang Theory” to be more than it really ever has been.

The episode opens with Sheldon in his apartment trying to order pizza for the usual Thursday night happenings with the guys. He’s getting frustrated because the person he’s talking to doesn’t understand the Italian phrases with which he peppers his order. He thinks the employee is Chinese. Which I guess is supposed to be ironic and funny, but it was really just kind of stupid. Leonard tells Sheldon that ordering pizza is pointless, because everyone’s meeting at Raj’s for dinner. Mostly because Priya is there and Leonard wants to spend more time with her. Sheldon is upset, which isn’t surprising. He gets very irritated whenever his routine is broken. First he says their Thursday night pizza is “tradition,” then he starts to worry that Raj and Priya are going to serve strange food. Like haggis.

Leonard finally manages to drag Sheldon along with him to Raj’s, but Sheldon is most definitely not happy about it. He’s unhappy he has to find a new “spot.” He’s unhappy that dinner is fajitas, which means he has to put the ingredients together. When Priya breaks out a pitcher of margarita’s, that’s Sheldon’s last straw. He think’s it’s become too much like a party, I guess, and Dr. Sheldon Cooper doesn’t do parties. Except he does every Halloween and New Year’s Eve, or did the writer of this episode not remember that? Anyway, upset by the party atmosphere, Sheldon starts to head home but instead finds himself…at the Cheesecake Factory bar. He orders a “Water. Neat. With a little umbrella.” and unloads his “troubles” on Penny. While they’re talking, Sheldon receives a phone call from Amy, who just joins in the conversation. Amy speculates that Leonard is the center of their social group, not Sheldon.

Sheldon is not going to stand for not being the center of the universe let alone not being the center of a social group. The next day, as Leonard leaves for yet another evening with Howard, Raj, and Priya, Sheldon is putting out snacks in the apartment. Leonard is confused about this, considering the night’s festivities are once again happening elsewhere, but Sheldon explains he has a new group of friends coming over. He’s recruited Stewart from the comic book store, Kripke (Sheldon’s annoying lisping nemesis from the University), Penny’s menu-selling ex-boyfriend Zach…and LeVar Burton. Well, Sheldon’s invited LeVar Burton via Twitter, but Leonard doesn’t think he’ll actually show up. Sheldon finally comes to the same realization after the rest of his new “friends” have been at the apartment for a while, so he has everyone make introductions, which are quite awkward. Stewart still hates his life, Kripke is still Kripke, and Zach doesn’t remember what he does for a living.

Meanwhile, Bernadette and Amy show up at Penny’s door, determined to take Penny out for a girls’ night of dancing. Penny is a little reluctant, still insisting that she’s fine with Leonard dating Priya and doesn’t need any sort of distraction, but she eventually agrees to join them. We don’t actually see any of this girls’ night. The episode confines itself only to the getting ready. As Penny’s getting ready, Bernadette and Amy press her on her feelings about Leonard and dating. Penny continues to insist that she’s fine and doesn’t need to lose herself in casual hookups, but then the girls find that Penny still has the preserved snowflake Leonard brought back for her from the North Pole. Then Penny finally decides she needs the distraction of a night out. I thought this plot was really unnecessary. There’s all sorts of interesting character work being done with Sheldon in this episode, but with Penny, it’s a sort of throwaway rehash of what her plots have been for just about every episode this season- Amy and Bernadette reminding her that she misses Leonard. Why can’t the female characters on this show exist outside the men they date. I think that Amy (*gasp*) comes the closest to this ideal, but not completely.

Sheldon’s new group of friends is kind of a disaster from Sheldon’s perspective, at least. Zach’s telling a story about hooking up with a chick in a hot tub, and Stewart and Kripke are much more interested in hearing about that than anything Sheldon has to say. Sheldon proposes a vintage video game night, but the guys aren’t having it. Kripke’s going to go get his karaoke machine out of his car, Zach’s getting beer, and Stewart’s getting a shower (he lives in the comic book store, and use of the shower was Sheldon’s bribe to get him to come to this gathering). Sheldon is not happy for two reasons, I guess. First is that this is turning into something that looks an awful lot like a party, and we know that this week, at least, Sheldon doesn’t like parties. Second (and most importantly), none of the other guys are paying attention to Sheldon.

Our usual boys and Priya are over at Raj’s fully enjoying their Sheldon-free evening. Then they go to make a toast, and Leonard mentions that this is the first time in a very long time that they’ve been able to toast without Sheldon giving a lecture on the history and meaning of the toast. It’s obvious the boys kind of miss his annoying presence. Just as they make this realization, Sheldon shows up at the door. He’s left his new “friends” because they were “having fun wrong.” Priya offers Sheldon some chili, which he promptly insults for containing beans. I’m sorry, but I still don’t get why these people are friends with such a miserable creature. Despite disapproving of the food being called “chili,” he eats it up anyway. Ah well, the episode’s tag was quite funny, at least. We get a LeVar Burton cameo! He shows up at Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment, sees a half naked Stewart singing karaoke with Zach and Kripke, and hightails it out of there, vowing to never respond to a Twitter invitation again.

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