S4E11: Something I really love about multi-camera sitcoms is their silliness. Perhaps it’s the canned laughter, but shows in this genre don’t ever really feel very realistic. And that’s okay, because they’re not meant to. More so, a multi-camera sitcom is there to provide an escape for the viewers. The writers (most of the time, I’m sure someone can give me an example) don’t discuss big, philosophical themes in a show. Any trouble with relationships is often cleared up within the half hour. The jokes and gags are just what they are: jokes and gags. And sometimes, this is the type of entertainment we like. We don’t always need big, satirical episodes from Community or a constant, rapid fire of jokes from 30 Rock. Sometimes, we just need to sit down on the couch, turn on the television, listen to a few silly jokes, see some funny gags, and simply, just be entertained for awhile.
And that’s what The Big Bang Theory does, or more accurately, used to do. For me, it gave me an escape where I could just chill out and laugh at the silliness of the ensemble — Sheldon’s weirdness, Leonard’s pathetic-ness, Howard’s creepiness, Raj’s goofiness, or Penny’s frustration. And when TBBT utilizes all of these parts, it’s a very funny show. Fortunately, last night, TBBT went back to this recipe and gave us its best episode of the season.
So in “The Justice League Recombination,” we’re presented with a fairly common sitcom plot. Penny is back with her boyfriend, Zack (that dumb dude from earlier this season). He shows up, and the guys make fun of his stupidity (with some pretty funny lines, by the way. To Zack learning about starfishes on the Discovery channel, Sheldon: “Was the starfish wearing boxing shorts? Because you might have been watching Nickelodeon.”) Zack slowly realizes the guys are making fun of him, so he retreats back to Penny’s. The guys apologize, and realize that he’d make a great Superman for the New Year’s Eve comic book store costume party, which they plan to attend as The Justice League. He accepts, in turn making Penny Wonder Woman. So they all plan to go out but before they do, Penny realizes that Zack has become better friends with the guys than her, so she pouts. After everyone trying, Leonard is the only one who can convince her to come out. So she does, they go the party, win, and Penny kisses Zack on New Year’s, but wishes she was kissing Leonard instead.
I don’t really have a problem with this plot. Yeah, sure, we’ve seen it before (and I can’t count how many times this ensemble has dressed up in superhero costumes), but really, who cares? I’m not trying to downplay the importance of plot within television, but with a show like TBBT, no one is watching for the gripping storytelling. We’re watching for funny jokes and gags. And so, because this episode was full of those, I’ll let the cliche story slide — almost. Not before I make this one complaint. The scene where Leonard and Penny talked was not very good. I mean, there’s only so much acting one can do in a multi-camera sitcom, and I think the Kaley Cuoco and Johnny Galecki handled it about as well as you could, but still, this scene stuck out. I do credit the writers for not spoon feeding us exactly what Penny was upset about, but whatever, it still just felt like a weird scene.
Anyway, I don’t want to let that one quip with the episode tarnish the entire half hour, so let’s press on. Let’s talk about one of the most successful guest spots the show’s done with Zack. Now Zack is a classic sitcom character — a dude who’s too stupid to really understand anything. And typically, these type of characters don’t really work in shows because we’ve seen them so much, and any action they take is very, very predictable. But, with TBBT constantly making jokes about nerdy things and talking about how smart all of its characters are, surprisingly, Zack’s comic relief was actually funny. I don’t know if it’s because the guy was so stupid that it was ridiculous, or if it was just the balance against the rest of the ensemble, but regardless, it worked. And it proved, once again, why TBBT is an ensemble show.
For example, if the writers would’ve taken this episode in a different direction and say, paired Zack with Sheldon for awhile, it wouldn’t have been nearly as funny. Sheldon poking fun at Zack would’ve felt unbalanced, awkward, and Sheldon would’ve come off as a real jerk — not just the lovable, goofy jerk we know him as now. But because the writers kept the gang together, allowing each guy to get a jab in at Zack’s stupidity, instead of pushing Zack out of the group and ostracizing him, it felt like they welcomed him more, because they poked at him as they often poke at one another. So that’s why — even though he’s the best part — when TBBT decides to make an episode all about Sheldon, it doesn’t work nearly as much as an episode like this, because we’re overloaded with one type of humor.
But, let me just say that I thought Sheldon embodying The Flash was one of the funniest gags the show has done in awhile. Seeing him “pace” back and forth throughout the apartment — which really, was him jogging — was a clever play on his character, and really showed how much Sheldon commits to things, whether it’s solving an extravagant mathematical equation or just acting like a superhero. (Plus, his increased knocking on Penny’s door gave me some belly laughs).
So this week, it was nice to see the show return to its best form (this episode felt like it came from Season 2). For the first time this season, I genuinely enjoyed tuning out and watching this show for awhile. Also, I’d like to say thank you to the writers for a New Year’s Eve episode, the holiday often forgot by television series. But anyway, hopefully, the writers realize what they did differently this week, and continue to push in that direction. Considering the first half of this season, I’m not getting my hopes up, but regardless, TBBT can head into the midseason break with its head up.