Christine Baranski and Jim Parsons
Think about Friends and the two primary love stories that happened on that show. Both the Ross and Rachel dynamic and the Monica and Chandler dynamic had the underlying foundation of friendship. Ross and Rachel, though, not being enormously close at the beginning of the series, entered into a romantic relationship fueled by sexual desire, low self esteem, fits of jealousy, and temper tantrums. It was after that original break up and several close calls over the years that you began to see a maturation of the relationship, cemented in the birth of the baby that only happened due to a moment of what I’m sure is self pity on both their part, and the eventual realization that frankly, they had been a couple the entire time, though they tried to deny it. It was an evolution of character, for sure, but it was annoyingly long and painful over ten seasons that the writers literally had to write the ending they did, or else they would have been shot at like wild dogs. The Monica- Chandler relationship, though, was less melodramatic in tone, more real, a natural evolution of an existing friendship that was already pretty close, and as mature as a relationship can get because, after all, it’s Friends.
Why do I bring up a show that is in constant reruns but has been off air for six years? Well, as I was watch this week’s episode of TBBT, I was struck by the balance that Chuck Lorre, Bill Prady, and the writing staff are bringing to the Leonard- Penny relationship. They have formed a friendship that appears pretty solid, sweet, caring, and gentle, but the obvious crush Leonard has on Penny hangs over them both. It’s not the total focus of their relationship, but neither ignore it. At the same time, both characters show a surprising impulsive nature. Penny’s is more obvious ( this episode having a prime example), but Leonard’s impulsive behavior is more damaging to his immediate interests. he cannot for the life of him keep his mouth shut, and it interferes in his goals. He cannot shut off his brain, and therefore he ends up spouting of what really should be part of his inner monologue.
Needless to say, this episode ends up giving a lot of food for thought about Leonard as a person. Tie what I just wrote into this weeks Slate article ( and I must say, a pretty good one) about Sheldon having Asperger’s. I’m not overly familiar with the diagnostics of Asperger’s, just what I’ve read on Wikipedia, but I share some of those traits- active but odd, certain routines, pursuit of narrow interests, disjointed, quick speech patterns. and I know I’m not the most empathetic person in the world, and I am a ginormous klutz. I do not believe I have Asperger’s, as there are many of the characteristics I do not have. I always considered myself a raging misanthrope, a cynic, a pessimist, a fatalist. Chuck and Bill insist Sheldon is not an Aspie, and Jim Parsons ( genius- there is a person I wouldn’t mind having a conversation with) tows the party line pretty well while acknowledging there is no way Sheldon could be anything else but one.( His answers in the Variety series were a tightrope act without a net on this issue.) This plays into this weeks learn about Leonard episode as we finally figure out the reason why Leonard actually puts up with so many of Sheldon’s quirks and is always prepared to knuckle under.
Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Dr. Beverly Hofstadter. Some may call her an analytical cold fish. I call her Sheldon in a dress. Leonard calls her “mother”.
First off, my kids want Rock Band ( I admit, I do as well, but the price tag is enough to make you pause). This weeks cold open has the guys playing the zeitgeist consuming game. It was funny, but not as funny as last week’s episode of Sheldon abandonment. Leonard’s phone call to his mother wasn’t as funny as say- Sheldon’s phone call with his mother in episode 2-7 The Panty Piñata Polarization. But when Penny runs into Beverly at the broken elevator, we get an idea of why Sheldon doesn’t faze Leonard, as Dr. H launches into a theory of the passivity of the tenants due to the dust on the sign and tape blocking the door ( and I must say that in theory, she is absolutely correct, but in practice, fixing it means no more stairway walk and talks). Penny asks an innocuous question about Leonard when he was little ( ” I think you meant young, he’s always been little.”) that turns into a therapy session with a neuroscientist as Penny blubbers on about no longer being ” Slugger” to her dad. Sobbing Penny leaves Dr. H by Leonard’s door, and his mother informs him that all he needs to do to get Penny into bed is find out the brand of cologne her father wears. Who knew it’d be that easy?
This leads to a scene similar to one we’ve seen played out by Sheldon and Leonard a couple of times dealing with sustenance. Leonard tries desperately to please his mother with tea, but the oolong, loose tea, steeped three minutes, milk warmed separately, a teaspoon of raw sugar cup is cold, like mom. Sheldon is clearly taken with Dr. H, whom he sees as an ideal mother- analytical, smart, emotionally efficient, not prone to hitting you with a bible because you don’t eat brussel sprouts. Although a particularly disturbing side of Sheldon comes out when he gets excited by the prospect of viewing the Power Point presentation of her paper on her sex life with Leonard’s father ( and poor Leonard for having to deal with that issue, because he’s clearly been forced to observe it).
Leonard ends up taking Mom to work, where Howard and Raj have way too much fun at Leonard’s expense. Apparently, Leonard is the black sheep of his family, a lowly physicist, while his younger brother is a tenured law professor at Harvard, and his sister is on her way to curing diabetes. Leonard gets them back by telling his mother that Raj can’t speak to women unless he’s drunk and that Howard still lives with his mother. Raj’s case piques her interest a bit, but Howard’s amuses her more than anything- ” An adult Jewish male living with his mother is so common as to be sociological cliché.”, then deduces that they both have a pathological fear of women that they hide by developing an ersatz homosexual marriage ( leading Leonard to crow ” You brought your husband to work!”) This sets up a classic old married couple style fight between Raj and Howard involving Howard always having to speak for Raj around women, an incident at the comic book store, and the fact Raj says that Howard never wants to talk about what’s really the issue at hand. What does Sheldon get out of this exchange? ” You went to the comic book store without me?”
Leonard, having decided that alcoholism is a valid career move, goes to Penny, and the two of them get wasted on white wine while Sheldon goes to the hospital for a brain scan with Dr. H. The two clearly Vulcanesque people have drawn the conclusion that they are exceedingly comfortable together, and are shocked that someone ” as workaday” as Leonard is their link. This leads to a scene where Sheldon and Dr. H have a discussion about doing… something, needless to say, it’s filled with sexual innuendo, which is disturbing coming from Sheldon.
Leonard and Penny have moved on from white wine to tequila shots. Drunk, Penny allows Leonard to lick salt of her neck ( he gets very into it, I must say), and after his shot, discovers his lime in Penny’s mouth. Make out session begins ( he spits that lime out and it got some major air, dudes), and it moves into the bedroom, where those impulsive behavior issues come into play. Penny impulsively decides to sleep with Leonard. Leonard impulsively tells Penny that sleeping together is a Freudian nightmare that he’s frankly okay with. That gets him kicked out of bed, out of the apartment, and he returns across the hall to find his mother and Sheldon singing along to Rock Band. That’s what he was trying to convince her to do.
The closer was a bit of a downer considering how funny the show was in the middle. Dr. H goes to leave, giving an obligatory hug to her son ( if you can call it a hug at all). Penny and Leonard have no bad feelings about the night before ( and they never, ever have to talk about it). On the way down the stairs, Penny again falls into the trap and ends up sobbing about her parents, prompting Dr. H. to ask her to fly to New Jersey and have a brain scan. Penny sniffs ” Will it help?”. ” Well, it would certainly help me,” Dr. H intones.
TBBT had it’s cast on fire this episode- everyone got a good line in, it was balanced evenly between the three leads, the two supports, and the guest star. Johnny Galecki, who had been reduced to being the reactionary to Penny and Sheldon the past season finally got a half hour to shine. Sure there were outdated pop culture references that weren’t funny a decade ago ( JarJar Binks? Really? Although Simon Helberg’s impression was spot on. His gift for mimicry surprises me every single time), but I don’t care that much. I love this show.
Sheldon quote of the night: ” I’d like to do the math.” How exceedingly perfect.
Read Full Post »