S4E14: The Big Bang Theory hasn't had the greatest fourth season. We all know this. Everyone who recaps the show talks about how the show continues to let them down every week; and, well, it's true. The writers are using the same plots, same jokes, and same running gags (in fact, I can't think of a running gag on the show that wasn't established in the first two seasons). In Big Bang's defense, it's the second-rated comedy show on television, and over 10 million people tune in every week. So the writers probably don't really want to attempt anything new or potentially risky with such a large, established audience at the risk of losing viewers. Why fix something that's not broke? But at the same time, if you're someone who enjoys the show like myself, it's frustrating to watch it not live up to its potential on a weekly basis. But thankfully, after two mediocre episodes to kick off the midseason break, "The Thespian Catalyst" gave us some good, fresh, and quite funny moments. Was it Big Bang at its best? Well, no. But the episode was much, much better than most of season four.
"I'm not an act-er. I'm an ac-tour!"
Turns out, Sheldon isn't good at something, and that's public speaking. It's not the most shocking twist with his character but regardless, it's always fun to see Sheldon fail at something (especially since he tends to be great at everything). He decides to reach out to Penny with hopes that because she's an actress, she'll help him out. Sheldon has turned into a bit of a dickhead this season, and beyond that, he's been especially mean towards Penny and her career. It was refreshing to see him humbled, and more specifically, have to reach out to someone who he believes is much lower than him. Plus, it gave us an excuse to see Penny and Sheldon together, which always proves to be a successful formula ("Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur...").
"It's important to remember that in improv, you always say 'yes.'"
-Penny and Sheldon
I'm fairly certain that this entire episode was written around the idea of Sheldon doing improv which, of course, isn't a bad thing because to put it simply, Sheldon doing improv is hilarious. I may be ragging on this show quite a bit this season, accusing it of re-using jokes and only pushing the characters to a safe limit, but all of that aside, there are few shows (aside from probably Modern Family) that handle physical comedy on the same level that Big Bang does. And the main reason for that is simple: Jim Parsons. For nerd humor, the show may rely a little too much on mainstream, expected stuff (like Star Trek, using Flickr and Twitter, etc), but damn, nobody looks more like a nerd than Parsons. Sheldon's awkward, yet clever interaction with Penny was probably one of the best scenes yet this season. So much success of multi-camera sitcoms relies on the presentation of characters in weird and wacky way, and Parsons does this every week with Sheldon. Maybe I'm giving him a little too much credit (maybe not, considering he has an Emmy), but honestly, sometimes the dude is just funny to look at.
"Cute is for bunnies. I want to be something with sex appeal, like a Labradoodle."
So in the B-plot, we have a weird crush thing happening with Raj. Bernadette, being the sweetie that she is, supports Raj, who is suffering from some self-loathing and is in desperate need of a girlfriend (and it's about time, damnit. Dude hasn't been able to talk to women for almost four seasons now). Anyway, Raj's mind runs with Bernadette's kindness, and he goes through multiple dream sequences where he must "take care of Bernadette sexually." And hey! This was all pretty funny; well, at least the first time they told the joke it was pretty funny. Outside of Sheldon, Raj is probably my favorite character on the show, often responsible for cute little one-liners to end scenes. But it bothered me that in this episode, the show basically used the same joke three times. The first time, as I said, worked. The second? Well, it was literally the same joke as the first time. Then by the third dream sequence -- despite being an extravagant Bollywood scene -- the joke was so stale that it wasn't only not funny, but distracting. However, this B-plot did allow Big Bang to play around with Raj a little bit, who often doesn't feature subplots to himself. I really hope, for that poor guy's sake, he finds somebody soon. And I know this is the second time I've mentioned this, but they really need to do something about the whole needing-booze-to-talk-to-women thing. At least "The Thespian Catalyst" didn't make a big deal about it, and just had him casually sip a beer as Bernadette served the guys, so that's something, but overall, I'd like to see Raj pushed and do something more with the opposite sex than just feel awkward.
"I took the liberty of adapting a Star Trek fan-fiction novella a wrote when I was 10 into a one-act play."
Back to Sheldon and Penny, who finished their improv session and moved to the next section of their acting class: scene analysis. Of course, it wouldn't be Big Bang if the moment Sheldon picks up acting, he wants to do a scene within the world of Star Trek as his idol, Spock. And I'll be honest, I loved this scene. Earlier, I complained that the issue with Big Bang this season has been that it seemed to refuse to push its characters. The show just kept using the same plots and jokes, over and over. Well, this was a nice change. Sure, we've known before that Sheldon had a tough childhood -- And really, what kid genius wouldn't growing up in Texas. Zing! Eat that, Lonestar State! -- but I can't remember Sheldon ever directly addressing this, but more so just learning about his character history from the people around him. So when he gets caught up in his monologue, we actually start to feel sorry for Sheldon because he's telling us all about his life. This worked because Big Bang didn't try to make the moment more dramatic than it needed to be (at its heart, it's a comedic scene), but there was enough weight to Sheldon's words that they left an impact. It was just enough character growth, but still maintained the show's number one priority, and that's to make us laugh.
So cheers, Big Bang. Good episode. I'm fully confident that you'll disappoint me again, but I'll try not to worry about that until it happens.