‘The Big Bang Theory’ Recap: The Engagement Reaction

S4E23: Usually, The Big Bang Theory is best when it embraces itself as an ensemble. If that focus is lost, not only are the jokes not very sharp or quick, but instead of a story, we get a bunch of stuff just kind of happening with no real sense or purpose other than setting up the next joke, for the next joke, and so on. This week’s “The Engagement Reaction” started with an ensemble-based plot, but once it abandoned that, it sadly fell apart.

“Fine. Thank you for asking. I love you so much.” -Sheldon

The episode open with the gang sitting at the Cheesecake Factory waiting to order. Sheldon takes a drink of water that’s actually Leonard’s, and as soon as he realizes it, he freaks out because, well, Sheldon hates germs. Because he’s a scientist! Because he’s anal! Because he’s clean! Ah! I’m not going to rag too hard on this moment, but man, I just didn’t really find it that funny. Granted, Sheldon kind of saved it with his “I love you so much” line directed at Leonard’s concern for his well-being, but still. One of the major problems that Big Bang has fallen into this season is, simply, making broad and easy jokes. And because Sheldon is the clear star of the show, he’s the character often presented as “the funny guy.”

Sheldon is an interesting character, but when the writers don’t give him anything more than “Ew! Germs!” or “Nerds!” or another stereotype on a consistent basis, he begins to lose that “interesting” aspect. For example, let’s compare him to another character in another show that could easily become flat, but hasn’t yet: Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation. Yes, I know that they are completely different characters, but what makes Ron Swanson so funny is the specificity of his certain quips and quirks. The writers don’t just say, “Hey! He’s manly!” Instead, they give him manly things to do (like own his own woodshed). And with each episode, those quips and quirks get more and more specific (like the way he celebrates his birthday, etc.). But what’s happening with Big Bang and Sheldon is that Sheldon has become a caricature of himself. His character traits are no longer that funny because instead of doing very specific nerdy things (like creating his own version of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” with “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock”), his characteristics have gotten more broad (like this weeks “Ew! Germs!”). In short: it’s frustrating.

“My family is the history of heart disease.” -Howard

Anyway, so Howard finally tells his mother about his engagement to Bernadette, and she has a heart attack. The whole gang goes to the hospital in support — but quickly, the whole plot just turns into an opportunity for Sheldon to get freaked out by more germs. Sure, there was the actual plot of Howard thinking that his engagement gave her the heart attack, and even though I’m assuming that was the A plot, it felt so far removed from the rest of the show that it was hard to take seriously — and in turn, take Bernadette’s anger seriously once we found out that wasn’t the cause, but that it was actually some bad deli food that Howard got his mother.

It was annoying because the episode spent so much time with Sheldon running all over the hospital, or with Penny-Priya discussing Leonard, or Leonard-Raj discussing Penny-Priya, there was no focus on the plot at all. And when the plot finally came to its climax — or at least, what was supposed to be its climax — the emotional response, at least from me, was non-existent. If “The Engagement Reaction” hadn’t separated the ensemble up into little groups, or at least had relied on some humor that was a little less broad, the main idea for the plot — Howard’s mother suffering from a heart attack and Howard blaming it on Bernadette — could’ve evoked a much stronger emotional response. But, instead, we’re just left with a dumb tag of Sheldon trapped in containment, playing some type of D&D game with his friends, because, remember? THEY’RE NERDS IN CASE YOU MISSED IT. OH YEAH IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY, TOO. GET IT???