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The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory is a comedy about two physicists Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper who live and work together in Pasadena, California. They live a comfortable geeky existence until attractive wannabe actress Penny moves in across the hall. CBS 2007-???

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Episode 13 - The Love Car Displacement

21 January 2011

Credit CBS

Synopsis: The gang head to a Science Conference. Penny comes along because of the spa facilities and soon regrets it when Sheldon kicks her out of the car and she is forced to share a bed with Amy. Bernadette and Howard argue after he sees her very large ex-boyfriend.

The Good: I did enjoy the gang changing scenery for an episode and the opportunity for hotel hijinks. There were fun moments along the way such as Howard and Bernadette's car karaoke, Raj's desire to watch Bridget Jones (see Comic Highlight for more Raj) or Sheldon listing his credentials.  

The Bad: However this was a messy story which tried to cover a lot of ground but ended up achieving nothing. This was a clear reminder of what is wrong with the way the producers approach The Big Bang Theory. There were two plots which needed to be addressed here, one was Howard's jealousy and the other was Penny's feelings for Leonard.

Howard isn't a fully formed character. We get hints of a sweeter nature within him sometimes but we've never fully drawn out how he feels about Bernadette. Does he really love her? Does he really value her? Or would he drop her for someone hotter? Or would he drop her because the writers have no interest in seeing him play any other part than "Sleazy geek"? Here he gets understandably jealous and self conscious when he meets her old boyfriend, a handsome giant of a man. Howard accidentally (but again understandably) implies that he assumed Bernadette's old lovers wouldn't be that handsome. So she is of course offended and they argue. The story needed a resolution and it doesn't take a TV critic to see what it should be. Howard needed to apologise to Bernadette and tell her that his feelings for her are so strong that it scared him to come face to face with someone who could take her from him. I have no doubt the audience would have given a loud "Awww" and we would all find Howard a little more likeable. Instead we got no resolution which leaves you feeling like nothing in the show is worth investing in if there is never a payoff.

Similarly Penny's vague interest in Leonard was rekindled by suddenly having to share a hotel room with him. There was no resolution or even a hint of definition given to her feelings for him. In fact she seems somewhat cruel for wanting to sleep with him to satisfy her temporary desires when he clearly still loves her. Leonard was once more made to look pathetic and desperate by essentially begging for sex and then assuming it meant they were getting back together.

The writers did attempt to tell some smaller stories to give the episode more depth but they also fell foul of poor thinking. Amy is now claiming to be Penny's best friend. Not just claiming but embodying the role by genuinely assuming she can now share intimate thoughts and indeed a bed with her. At no point have the writers established that this is who Amy is. When we met her she viewed all relationships in an even more utilitarian way than Sheldon. At least he acknowledged some affection for his friends where she behaved very robotically. Now we are supposed to accept that she has delusions of intimacy with Penny and is willing to jump into a relationship that she doesn't entirely understand. The writers haven't taken the time to establish how Amy's social dysfunctions really work and the jokes suffer as a result.

The whole gang then ended up on a Science and Society panel together which I found very odd. Why would they be allowed to run their own panel? And indeed surely they are from such a variety of disciplines that even a vague "Science and Society" title wouldn't really require three theoretical physicists on it? It's hardly the worst crime against plausibility but it was a flimsy setup to allow the gang to air their dirty laundry in public.

Comic Highlight: The panel did descend into the type of simple comedy which works on a basic level as everyone was off in their own little world leaving Sheldon to frown and look confused to good effect. Howard and Bernadette began discussing his potential inadequacies and Amy speculated that they were talking about penis size much to Sheldon's confusion. The argument continued with Howard throwing his own insult back at Bernadette by asking her "What I'm not hot enough to be with Angelina Jolie?" Raj had been drinking in order to participate and at this point he said "I'd like to weigh in here...no."

In Conclusion: A wasted opportunity but not a surprising one.

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  • :-)

    Posted by The TV Critic, 03/02/2011 10:33am (9 years ago)

  • OK, maybe a little bit needy...

    Posted by Malcolm, 03/02/2011 7:19am (9 years ago)

  • Hello Malcolm, thanks so much for the comment. No problem with the length, it’s very nice to get a full perspective on where someone is coming from.

    And quite a perspective, it sounds like you know the show better than me at this point.

    You are absolutely correct about character development being unlikely with such a successful show. And again spot on to see “Two and a Half Men” as the obvious clue as to what we can expect in terms of development. I suspect TBBT could end up running for ten years at this point. TAAHM seems likely to continue despite Charlie Sheen going to rehab. I think TBBT has much more to offer as a show so why couldn’t it go on and on and on.

    Sometimes I have to question whether I should be writing about a particular show or not. I don’t write about procedural shows (House or Law and Order etc) because I would end up saying the same thing over and over – that I think they should break the procedure and do something different. I recognize that with TBBT I’m in danger of arguing the same point week after week. And as we just established it might be counterproductive for the producers to actually change things too much.

    But I continue to write because the show gets so infuriatingly close so many times to giving me what I’m looking for. I think all five main characters can be likeable or even lovable and I remain convinced that just a tiny bit of characterization could make the show twice as good. So I keep arguing.

    By the end of your post I felt you had argued a similar case to the one I would about the lack of characterization. Particularly the point about never seeing Penny’s attempts at acting. I think the portrayal of Leonard and Penny continues to bother me because I don’t remember a couple getting less exposure than this on another sit com. You mention Ross-Rachel and JD-Elliot. I feel like I could fill in a sheet of paper with incidents from their time together or a list of things they have in common etc. Whereas Leonard and Penny had so few scenes where there was a real sense of why they were a couple, what they liked about each other specifically and so on.

    I do think Leaonrd looked needy. Even if you can excuse individual lines he said, at the panel he just assumed they were getting back together. If he were just horny why would he assume that? He comes across like he assumes that because he is so desperate for it to happen.

    Thanks again and I hope we hear more from you…

    Posted by The TV Critic, 02/02/2011 8:24pm (9 years ago)

  • It was only recently that I came across this website and have enjoyed reading your reviews of those US shows which air in the UK. Here, the first half of BBT season 4 (Eps1-12) has just ended, but the second half, which includes this episode, will not start until June. After reading the review and comments here, I searched online and watched it in its entirety to see what was generating the anger. There are several points with which I agree, especially the unreal panel, but, following on from the incredibly weak Ep12, I found this one very enjoyable.

    Since they got together and then broke up in season 3, Leonard and Penny will always be a difficult route for the writers to walk - on again, off again like Ross and Rachel/JD and Elliot, or simply going back to being just friends. Either route will have its critics. I think we are likely to see them remaining friends with occasional intimate moments before they get together permanently in the final episode, which may be 3 or more seasons away. In this episode I liked the all too brief discussion between Leonard and Penny about their break up. Regarding the portrayal of Leonard, when Sheldon asked them both to confirm they would not be having coitus, my take on Leonard’s huge smile as he said ‘no’ over Penny’s ‘yes’ was that he was just horny, not needy. Again, taking up Penny’s later offer of sex did not seem needy to me, as what man would have considered, even for a second, turning down sex. Regarding Penny, we know that she still has feelings for Leonard, and I thought the tentative way she said that violating the neutral zone would not be the worst idea was actually an attempt to get back with Leonard, and her rider ‘for just one night’ was a cover. I certainly did not see it as cruel. She was sober this time, and Leonard may have seen this as a chance, but only a chance, to get back with Penny. Being a sitcom, this attempt had to be frustrated, so enter Raj, and this frustration could have explained her annoyance the next day. As I see it, were this not a sitcom, she would not even have been in Leonard’s room. The obvious thing for her to do when she could no longer share Amy’s bed was to bunk in with Bernadette, but this clearly has less comedy potential.

    How the writers have handled Howard and Bernadette has been inconsistent. In S3, she arrived in Ep5, to drop off the radar following Howard’s luvvy-duvvy call to her in Ep15. Then in Ep21 Howard casually replied to Raj that he had broken up with her ‘weeks ago’. I assumed this was just the sleazy guy surfacing again with a lie to his mate in an attempt to justify accepting the sex Dr. Plimpton was offering on a plate. Unless Howard had avoided all contact with Raj since the supposed break up, Raj would surely have been the first to know and would not even have pointed out ‘you have a girlfriend’. We learnt in S4Ep4 that they really had broken up, but, as they all eat at the Cheesecake Factory every Tuesday, was that really the first time their paths had crossed in the months since then? Their current argument cannot be left unresolved, but it does not have to be straight away. I am not certain that a quick ‘awww’ from the audience would be enough to dissolve Howard’s ‘creepy candy coating’, nor whether the writers would want that to happen. I am fond of Bernadette’s character (and Amy’s), but am concerned as to how the writers will deal with these two in the longer term. 1 girl and 4 guys is a very different dynamic from 1 couple, 1 guy with a girl who is his friend, 1 guy and girl who were a couple (and probably will be again), and a single guy who cannot speak to women. I suspect the extra women will just disappear.

    I agree with your comments throughout these reviews about a lack of character development. There has been some small growth in Leonard, as he is now able to criticize Penny, albeit mildly, eg. pointing out how rapidly her mind changed when she saw a freebie was on offer, how her toilet routine was an eye-opener, and that she has big hands. He realises she is not perfect but, like her tardiness, driving ability, stuffed animals and her temper (S3Ep7) as well as her ‘high-pitched irritating laugh’ (S3Ep3), that is what makes her who she is, and they are all faults he could live with. Much of this growth came from Penny’s own advice to him in S2 not to always go along with what the woman wants. If they are not to get together now, Leonard really should be given some realistic love interests rather than grotesques like Joy from Ep5, and can they please not vanish suddenly as Stephanie Barnett did in S2. Amy’s Truth or Dare question to Penny in Ep8 came way too close for her comfort, and it will be interesting to see how she reacts to it becoming a real possibility. Can we also see the writers getting Penny back to tolerating the guy’s foibles, as she did in earlier series, rather than curling her lip each time? A tiny bit of success in her dreams of becoming an actress would not come amiss. Perhaps we might see some movement with this aspect on Thursday’s new episode, but I find it difficult to believe that Sheldon would take advice from an apparently unsuccessful actress when he would not even consider taking her advice on dating.

    I see several factors which restrict the writer’s options to pursue character development, even if they wanted to. The first, which has been touched on by others here, is an understandable desire not to turn off existing viewers. From a TV executive’s viewpoint, the sole purpose of a program is to make money, and how much money boils down to the viewing figures. If character development leads to a significant net loss of viewers the show may be dropped and the writers are out of a job. If it is present at all in a sitcom, character development is likely to be slow and steady. He is in his 8th season of Two and a Half Men (which I still like btw), but Chuck Lorre seems very happy to keep things exactly as they are, with the same lothario, tightwad loser, lazy kid, cold mother and shrew of an ex we had in the first season.

    Another factor is simply the brevity of each episode. Checking all their lengths I found the shortest is S2Ep22 at 17m51s. After removing credits and those flying atom links, the actors were only present for 16m42s. The longest episode is the pilot at 21m58s with actors on screen for 21m03s. This particular episode, at 21m26s, is actually the longest since the pilot, with actors on screen for 20m12s. Incidentally, there is little evidence here to suggest a successful series is shortened to make way for more adverts. The average length for S1 is 20m02s and S2 is 20m05s. S3 dropped to 19m40s, but S4 is currently averaging 20m01s. The average for all episodes is 19m56s, with the actors on screen for around 18m45s in what many might regard as a half hour program. A further feature of US sitcoms with their plethora of writers seems to be that almost every line must be made funny. This will militate against including set up and character development lines which are not funny in themselves but increase the impact of a later joke, possibly several scenes later.

    One character that is woefully underused has to be Raj. When Penny was relegated to the ‘Love Car’, facial expressions alone conveyed his views to her perfectly. In the Christmas 2009 episode (S3Ep11) the writers did not give him a single line, just a whisper in Howard’s ear and a smile to Penny, which, of course, he did consummately. It would be nice to have him speak to women without the need to knock back alcohol, but it is half way through the fourth season so any change at this stage seems very remote.

    I apologise that this comment is so much longer than you usually get, but I felt it important to spell out why I saw this episode so differently from you and Michael, and also to cover other issues you have raised in earlier reviews of my favourite US show.

    Posted by Malcolm, 02/02/2011 3:51pm (9 years ago)

  • Hey Michael, I'm glad you expressed your anger here. Obviously I agree and I don't think it would take a lot to tell the same stories without making Leonard look so pathetic :-(

    Posted by The TV Critic, 23/01/2011 8:05pm (9 years ago)

  • Sorry to repost this, but I made some mistakes in the first "psychotic" attempt, so I try to send you a more correct one:

    This time, I even have to downgrade your rating, because the waste of...well, everything, made me really angry.

    The mentioned panel was at best a bad excuse for some lazy writers who weren't able to find a more plausible explanation for the road trip.

    Obviously, they needed a setup for the crew to drive together to a hotel and play musical beds for some comic occurences. And maybe even a setup for being embarrassed in public in the end.

    And not only did they offend every thinking viewer and/or fan by this lazy piece of writing, Amy is completely out of line, Howards understandable rage isn't solved, Leonard is degraded to a pathetic loser and Penny doesn't seem to care anymore about Leonard or morals at all.
    She offends him in opening scene and easily changes her mind about spending time with "the geeks" when being bribed with the spa.
    She expects it to be no problem for Leonard to sleep in the same bed, she doesn't recognize the neutral zone even if she proved some basic nerd knowledge earlier, and worst of all: She would use him for some kind of one night stand even if she was upset with still having feelings for him just a few episodes earlier.

    I could go on with my rant, but in a nutshell:

    No joke or comic highlight could outshine the crappy fundament of this episode.

    What a shame.

    Posted by Michael, 22/01/2011 4:46pm (9 years ago)

  • This time, I even have to downgrade your rating, because the waste of...well, everything, made mwe really angry.

    The mentioned panel was at best a bad excuse for some lazy writers who weren't able to find a more plausible explanation for the Road trip.

    Obviously, they needed a setup for the crew to drive together to a hotel and play musical beds for some comic occurences. And maybe even a setup for being embarrassed in public in the end.

    And not only did they offend every thinking viewer and/or fan by this lazy piece of writing, Amy is completely out of line, Howards understandable rage isn't solved, Leonard is degraded to a pathetic loser and Penny doesn't seem to care anymore about Leonard or morals at all.
    She offends him in opening scene and easily changes her mind about spending time with "the geeks" when being bribed with the spa.
    She expects it to be no problem for Leonard to sleep in the same bed, she doesn't recognize the neutral zone even if she proved some basic nerd knowledge earlier, and worst of all: She would use him for some kind of one night stand even if she was upset with still having feelings for Howard just a few episodes earlier.

    I could go on with my rant, but in a nutshell:

    No joke or comic highlight could outshine the crappy fundament of this episode.

    What a shame.

    Posted by Michael, 22/01/2011 4:41pm (9 years ago)

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