Episode 19 - The Zarnecki Incursion
2 April 2011
Synopsis: Sheldon's World of Warcraft account is hacked and all his possessions are stolen. He is furious and asks the gang to help him track them down. Leonard is keen to help and first ignores and then lies to Priya. The gang finds the culprit and drive out to his house to demand Sheldon's stuff back. But Todd Zarnecki won't give them their stuff back and their car breaks down on the way home. Meanwhile Penny is getting frustrated by Priya's presence and it is she who they call to come pick them up.
The Good: This wasn't a particularly funny or interesting episode in certain ways but I thought it was really enjoyable. The key for me was the tone. For once Sheldon wasn't a pest, annoying everyone with his selfish needs. Instead he was an innocent victim and all his friends rallied around him to make sure justice was done. Sheldon finally got to play the most likeable role I can imagine for him as he rallies the geeks against the bullies of the world.
I feel sit coms are ideally suited to having their characters be the heroes of the piece. Particularly punch-line sit coms like The Big Bang Theory. With a studio audience watching it only feels natural to create the sense that the people you are watching are worth cheering on. Having a quest or mission is also something that suits sitcoms as it gives the episode a focus and a natural beginning, middle and end.
With all of that in place suddenly all the little jokes that weren't especially funny on their own were working in service of an enjoyable plot. Sheldon using a napkin to protect himself from germs when everyone puts their hands together to signify the start of their quest. Sheldon grimacing each time Howard yells to his mother as they patiently wait for Wheel of Fortune to finish. Leonard has sitar music as his ringtone for Priya and Sheldon pointing out the accurate advertising of Shamu as "literally tonnes of fun." All these little moments just seemed so much more enjoyable to me because the plot and characters were hitting the right tone every step of the way.
I felt this tone extended to Penny too. She stood in understandable contrast to Priya in being instantly sympathetic to Sheldon for his loss. Remember that she was once hooked on online role playing games (203). So by virtue of spending so much time with the guys she understands what the loss represents and feels genuinely sympathetic. In the end of course she also completes the group. She willingly comes to their rescue and makes sure that justice is done. It's a role that suits her well.
I am also very pleased with the way Amy and Bernadette have become her new gal pals. It allows for us to finally spend time with Penny and explore her emotions in a way we never could when one of the guys was around. Her complaints about Priya were entirely relatable too. She complains about all the socialising influence that she had on Leonard and how Priya is now reaping the benefits. I believed every word of that far more than I believe in her feelings for Leonard.
To be fair the odd line was genuinely amusing too. Upon hearing Todd Zarnecki's address read out Sheldon dramatically cries "The name and the address drip with evil!" Leonard then jokes that "I bet he's some loser who lives with his parents!" much to Howard's embarrassment.
The Bad: They were all harmless on their own but the writers slightly overdid the Raj is feminine stuff with lines about pilates, dancing, Beyonce and so on.
Comic Highlight: Although the writers still reach for the cheap laugh too easily I think they are starting to get a handle on Amy's character. She seems to be playing it now as Sheldon but with a desire experience the social world. So when Penny offers her a drop of coffee liquor in her ice cream she responds "Ah! Here's the Alcohol and drug peer pressure mother warned me about. I was starting to think it was never going to happen. Yes please!" I think if they keep going down that route the results will be funny.
In Conclusion: One of the things I love about sitcoms is the shameless escapism of just cheering on goofy things. It's been frustrating to see The Big Bang Theory use so much irritation and argument in their stories when co-operation can be this much fun. With the expansion of the cast and a bit of growth from Sheldon it feels like the show is slowly embracing this a little more warmly. Its encouraging news and I hope for more of it.
Add your comments on this episode below. They may be included in the weekly podcasts.