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- TV Series: The Big Bang Theory
- Episode: The Robotic Manipulation (Season 4 Premiere)
- Starring: Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, and Mayim Bialik
- Written By: Steven Molaro, Eric Kaplan and Steve Holland
- Directed By: Mark Cendrowski
- Network: CBS
The Big Bang Theory: The Robotic Manipulation Review
Digging The Shamey
By Rob Vaux
September 24, 2010
The Big Bang Theory Review
© CBS/Bob Trate
The Big Bang Theory is basically Mania’s great white whale. We’ve been trying to crack it as review fodder for years and somehow the stars just haven’t aligned in our favor. It’s not really genre, it lasts only half an hour, and--to paraphrase a colleague who, for decorum’s sake, shall remain nameless--you can’t really say much beyond “it’s really funny.” But never let it be said that we shirk a challenge, or indeed fail to charge berserker-like into its raging, foamy maw. This is our kung fu and it is strong. We’re taking that whale down.
Our strategy adopts a two-pronged approach: standard observations on the storyline itself and discussion fodder for the various bits of geekery on display. (We’ll take as a given that the show brings The Ha-Ha every week; should that ever prove otherwise, we shall promptly inform you of the shortcoming.) Hopefully, the plan will provide enough interesting material to avoid the terrifying pitfalls in our path.
Season four picks up a few months after season three left off: Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco) are still negotiating their post-relationship relationship, while Sheldon (Jim Parsons) may have found his soulmate. Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik, the once and former Blossom) maintains the same barely functional social skills and intellectual disdain for the rest of humanity as Sheldon, which means the two are basically made for each other. Sensing an arena where she holds the cards. Penny reluctantly agrees to chaperone them on their first date.
Hilarity, naturally, ensues… as it does in the primary subplot, in which Howard (Simon Helberg) gets his schwantz caught the tender machinations of a robotic arm. The second part of that equation makes its own gravy: if you can’t laugh at a horny little man undone by his own mechanical creation, you clearly have no soul. Helberg’s subtle physical comedy lets the humor flourish naturally, while director Mark Cendrowski briskly negotiates the fine line between cheeky toilet humor and ill-conceived sleaze.
The meat of the show, as always, lies with Sheldon, and here, “The Robotic Manipulation” really shows its colors. It needs to develop a meaningful social interaction for him without disrupting the character’s basic asocial tendencies. The show’s writers seemingly embrace the obvious path while still turning it on its ear. Sheldon and Amy would far rather text than speak face to face, but rather than lead into easy jokes about Internet-based misunderstandings, their copious remote exchanges feel like a perfect fit. So too does their date, in which both partners appear perfectly comfortable with awkward silences and bizarre sociological extrapolations. It’s Penny who plays the straight man, trying to parse the baffling new rules arising from a seemingly ordinary romantic dinner. The results score more than their share of comedic bullseyes, and rescue the premise from a shaky early gag about the new couple breeding intellectually superior children to one day rule us all like gods.
Speaking of which, Big Bang scores a quiet, but notable coup on the geek front too. How, exactly, does Aquaman poop? Raj (Kunal Nayyar) posits the question without leaving us an answer, and for those attuned to such issues, it should prompt a number of sleepless nights. The remainder of the episode goes fairly light on the fanboy material (though I’d never noticed the subtle décor of Howard’s room, which adopts the same nerd chic as the other guys, only with all female characters). It does, however, prompt the question of where Amy’s fangirl allegiances lie… and if her stance on, say, Kirk Vs. Picard or the casting choices in the Spider-Man reboot might end up destroying her flowering nirvana with Sheldon. The Big Bang Theory doubtless has an answer, but it doesn’t need one to keep us tuning in. Good jokes, as always, constitute their own reward, especially when they’re as sharp as they are here.