Episode 17 - The Precious Fragmentation
14 March 2010
Synopsis: The guys buy a box of random memorabilia and find an actual ring from the movie Lord of the Rings. They each want to do something different with it and end up quarrelling. They decide to each hold onto the ring and the last one to let go will keep it.
The Good: There are so many plots this show can steal and keep itself fresh for years to come and this is one of the most obvious. Take one of the biggest movies of all time and have the characters crack jokes about it.
As you would expect there are laughs to be had. Something as simple as Sheldon explaining that the writing on the ring is "not Elvish, it's the language of Mordor written in Elvish script" is hilarious. The sheer geekiness of knowing that combined with his serious delivery is a nice gag, actually funnier than having the four guys recite the famous "One ring" engraving out loud. Later we have Sheldon complaining that he never gets his way in the group. An outrageous statement which Leonard immediately contradicts by pointing out that he always gets his way. Sheldon of course retorts "I'll stipulate to that if you give me the ring." Then there is the use of Sheldon's Meemaw (Grandmother) as a way to unsettle him. It's consistent with the show's past and his believable anger makes it seem like it really bothers him. Finally Sheldon runs out of different ways to say incite the need to pee having exhausted "babbling brooks" and "dripping faucets" and pauses before adding "peeing."
The Bad: Here's an overly complicated irony for you. The ring gives men huge ambition but actually brings them ruin. Where as The Big Bang Theory is deliberately un-ambitious and that brings huge success. The show is one of the great television success stories of the last few years getting higher and higher ratings. The reality is that the big success in a medium as broad as television is going to be with the show which can be the broadest. In other words it benefits The Big Bang Theory to be simple rather than edgy. To keep its characters the same rather than give them much development.
Or to be more specific, instead of producing a witty satire about Lord of the Rings it is safer to just have Penny punch Sheldon or the guys to stand in a silly circle doing ballet moves. Seeing Sheldon invade Leonard's bedroom is easy comedy. It's obvious to see the humour in his meddling but it's not hilarious. Raj bringing his lawyer cousin in to talk to the guys is easy comedy. He is negotiating over nothing and the show would rather present silly arguments than write clever situations which can make you really laugh hard.
It's hardly a damning criticism to point out that the limited ambition of the show is leading to great success. But let me just point you to an episode of South Park (613) where the same idea was used to much more ambitious effect. There the producers parodied Lord of the Rings with the aim of making you laugh as much as possible. Of course animation gives you more options in terms of satire but by comparison this episode was very staid. Another example of the show's lack of pizzazz would be its choice of locations. Shows such as Friends or Frasier would often create new locations (despite the need to accommodate a studio audience) for their characters to visit for the sake of extra comedy or a sense of reality. The same can be said of current shows like Modern Family or Parks and Recreation. Where as each episode of The Big Bang Theory feels a bit like they are wedded to using as few locations as possible which of course creates that Groundhog Day feeling that each episode is just one long argument between five people over whatever they have found that week.
Comic Highlight: As the guys ascend the stairwell clutching the ring Sheldon argues that he will win because of his limitless patience. "I once spent two and a half hours on hold with Hewlett Packard customer service, just to complain about their customer service."
In Conclusion: A decent episode by the mediocre standards the show has set itself. You know what silly arguments are coming and they play out just fine. But I still dream of where the show could go if it wanted to.
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