To say this was an appalling episode doesn’t quite cut it. It truly was dreadful, a dreary re-enactment of the scavenger hunt episode with everyone getting hacked off with Raj only this time no one sprung a single decent line. If Raj carries on like this, he won’t have any friends left. Even his supposed new pal Stuart was only invited to play a dead man; I can’t see why the comic store owner stuck it, he must be even more desperate for mates than Raj. I don’t want to talk about this story line. It was horrendous. Half way decent acting couldn’t save it and nor could an Affair to Remember rip off. Terrible stuff. The adventures of Sheldon and Howard in Texas were not much better. Their relationship hasn’t got much better. Sheldon’s confrontation with his Mum was a better storyline, but really, smutty jokes about his Mum having sex all over the house and suggestions she’s a religious hypocrite? Guys, is that the best you can do? I think I only laughed once during the whole episode [Stuart says Penny and Leonard are the best couple he knows; cue indignant cries of ‘Hey’ from Amy and Bernie]. One to forget. Terrible, terrible, terrible…
You wouldn’t think buying a dinner table could provoke such fun. This was a hilarious episode that struck out on two familiar fronts: Leonard attempting to assert himself over Sheldon and Howard trying to act the heroic astronaut. Both stories provided good moments, were well played by the cast and cannily written. The interplay between the foursome of Leonard-Penny-Sheldon-Amy was excellent as each man attempted to win his argument with the other, backed up and then coaxed to antagonise by his partner, but both of whom ultimately back down and allow the old order to win the day. This showed some of the assertive, mature fun loving Leonard we saw in the early episodes to this season. He’s playfully teasing his friends, he’s making decisions, he adores his girlfriend and sparkles when he’s with her (both in posture and in dialogue) and he’s able to make and win coherent arguments. I like this version of Leonard; it’s much more adult than they whiney stammering childlike persona we usually see. Similarly it was nice to see Sheldon reboot the regulated ordered half of his self [‘I’ve allowed myself to become an emotional human being. This has to stop now!’] and also pleasant to see him lose an argument. Normally at this point I’d hark on about why Sheldon has to gain the upper hand even when he is clearly in the wrong for in the final scene while Leonard has the table and everyone agrees it’s a great addition to the flat, Amy and Sheldon prefer to eat on the sofa, eventually persuading their friends to revert to TV dinners. But that would be to miss the point of the scene and gloss over the clever writing, which all along in the episode has been demonstrating how both friends have been altered for the better by first their friendship and then by their partners. Sheldon doesn’t win out by being mean or unscrupulous, as he sometimes has recently, and while he may say ‘sometimes the baby wins’ he too has missed the point. The real winners are Amy and Penny and to a lesser degree Bernadette, who have molded their men and enabled them to become something resembling effective aware beings. It isn’t Sheldon’s intransigence which allows him to win, but the pull of familiarity, of friendship, the bond between the girls as much as the boys; his speech was the exact opposite of what he professed not to want to be: emotional. That could only happen because of the difference Penny and Amy have made to his life. Putting aside the psychobabble, the story had some great scenes and some wonderful lines [‘You… and your fancy genitals’ – ‘Fancy sounds like a compliment’; ‘Sheldon doesn’t like replaned wood, he thinks the previous owners will come back and use it’] and the acting from everyone was spot on. The second story (all the episodes seem to have two threads now, such a huge cast are the writers juggling) was equally as successful. Howard and Raj enjoyed another bout of male bonding over a magic bond remote control before Howard gets a dreaded call from NASA. I liked that this story felt so close to reality. Howard knows he’s an American Hero, so he’s compelled to act like one and has forgotten how traumatic his ‘heroic’ outer space experience was. Simon Hellberg was great again, playing the befuddled best mate, the smooth talker and the nervous wreck with equal aplomb. He displayed all these qualities in the confrontation scene, where Bernadette, Raj and Mike, with a little help from NASA, show him the error of his decision. Some of the lines were a joy and the character interplay excellent. It was nice the writers hadn’t forgotten Penny’s auditions but I was disappointed there was no immediate follow up to Raj’s speculative date with the vet from the previous episode, but these days the producers seem to prefer to drag storylines out a little. None the less this was an excellent episode, insightful, funny, well written and performed. Who’d have thought you got all that from buying a dining room table?
Penny gets her big break and then doesn’t and we finally get to see why the writers have hinted constantly this season that Penny drinks excessively. All in all it seems a bit of a long winded way to reinforce Penny’s and Leonard’s foibles. By the end of it all Penny’s failed career as an actress hasn’t been resolved; neither has her relationship with Leonard. All we learnt was what we already knew – ok so we relearnt it. Penny is insecure: she drinks to boost her confidence, she probably wants to be an actress for the same reasons, the improbability of it (as expressed rather poorly by Leonard) only hits home at moments of intense disappointment. I remember back in Season One she held a party and her ex-boyfriend made a spectacle of himself and she rued all the stupid affairs she had with stupid men. She was drunk then as well. Leonard also hardly changes. He’s saying all the right things, but while he may empathise his words hardly comfort; blessed with an analytical mind he calculates Penny’s problem by probability not desire, even inferring she is no more talented than Howard Wolowitz. There may have been moments of humour in this tragedy, but I missed them. Penny’s reactions are suitably sharp and Leonard’s bumbling is well up to standard. I particularly enjoyed the line ‘I should have let Sheldon come’ which neatly encapsulates his hopelessness. Penny’s drunken proposal was met by the audience with the same astonishment as Leonard – this isn’t how it was supposed to be, is it? The look on Johnny Galecki'’s ace was wonderful, a chaotic blend of uneasy and mystified. You really felt for the dude. At this point my sympathy for Penny virtually evaporated [at least for this episode] after all it was only at Thanksgiving a few stories back that she got divorced following a drunken Las Vegas Elvis Chapel marriage. Has she no shame or, worse, any memory? This whole story was, I guess, designed to provoke conflict between the pair – which it did – sadly, unlike many times, it produced no jokes. Sheldon’s desperate attempts to understand and create humour fell flat as well. However with the best swathe of the dark comic he did succeed at the very moment he chose to display true friendship. This was very Sheldon-like. He finally cracks the code, but has no idea when or how to apply what he’s learnt. It was a touching conversation between the two friends which for once felt very real and wasn’t spoilt by the joke, in fact a bit of light relief was probably required after all the torrid arguments and soul searching. I have nothing to say about the dreadfully empty friendship between Raj and Stuart. Give me Leonard and Penny’s vitriolic arguments over these two long faces any day. A good episode, but for all the wrong reasons.
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