The Big Bang Theory: I Fought the In-Law and the In-Law Won

Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) and Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg). Photo: Michael Yarish/CBS
The Big Bang Theory
Episode Title
The Line Substitution Solution
Editor’s Rating

Penny and Sheldon bonding moments … what Big Bang Theory fan can get enough of ’em? This time, the friends decide to multitask during breakfast by sharing areas of expertise with each other, thus expanding both their knowledge bases. Using flash cards, Sheldon tests Penny’s scientific knowledge with photos of the pi symbol, a Venn diagram, and the symbol for helium. And to get Sheldon more up-to-speed with the really important things in life, she tests his recall of celebritydom by challenging him to identify photos of Taylor Swift, Bill Nye the Science Guy (or “creepy old dude from Dancing with the Stars,” as Penny refers to him), and Khloe Kardashian.

How does he remember which one is Khloe? “If it looks like Kim, it’s Kim. If it looks kinda like Kim, it’s Kourtney,” he says. “If it looks nothing like Kim, it’s Khloe.”

It’s all fun and games until Leonard interrupts, tricking Penny into picking his mom up at the airport under the guise of giving his wife the opportunity to try to bond with his frosty Ma.

And try Penny does, even in the face of psychiatrist Beverly asking about Leonard’s sexual prowess (“Maybe we start with our favorite books and work our way up to my husband’s sex organs,” Penny suggests for topics of conversation) and showering attention and praise on the relationships of Shamy and the Wolowitzes, who she wants to write about in her next book. Penny can’t get a bit of love from her in-law, and when she becomes so frustrated that she just can’t keep quiet about it any longer, she wants to know why Beverly has insulted her all day, and if she even knows what an insult is.

She does. “One example would be your marrying my son and not inviting me or even telling me the wedding was taking place,” Mama Hofstadter says, guilting her son’s wife like only a mother-in-law can, and getting Penny to agree to stage another wedding ceremony while Bev’s in town (even though she admitted she wouldn’t have attended the quickie Vegas nuptials if she had been invited).

That’s what we have to look forward to in next week’s season finale, which will also include the introduction of Leonard’s father.

In Sheldonland, Mr. Cooper finds out Leonard, Raj, and Howard are going to stand in line for a special screening of The Avengers, led by Joss Whedon, but he’s already promised to go shopping with Amy. What’s a comic-book-loving, sorta-reformed selfish boyfriend to do? Hire Stuart as his relationship stand-in, of course. Howard tells Sheldon people hire others to stand in lines for them, and to run other errands for them — doesn’t it seem a little weird that Sheldon doesn’t know about this, what with TaskRabbit and all the time he spends on the interwebs? — so he decides to hire Stuart to be him, at least for the duration of the shopping excursion, while he heads off to the movies.

Amy Farrah Fowler, unsurprisingly, does not react well to this switcheroo of shopping companions, so she hires Stuart to be her, long enough for him to march into the movie theater and tell Sheldon what a jerk he is on her behalf. Sheldon then re-hires Stuart to deliver a bouquet of flowers as an apology to Amy, and when that gets the door slammed virtually in Sheldon’s face and literally in Stuart’s, Sheldon hires someone else — an Uber driver — to take him to Amy to deliver an apology personally. It’s a clever little adventure for Shamy, and proves in the end that Sheldon has come a long way since they met; early relationship Sheldon wouldn’t have apologized, or even recognized why he needed to, and Amy shares with Beverly that she appreciates how much he’s matured. As she says, “He’s come a long way. Or a short way very slowly, so it feels like a long way.”

Not that there isn’t plenty of strange, annoying obsessions left in the old boy. Stuart’s multiple payouts for the day could have been avoided had Sheldon not insisted on adhering to his “line etiquette” policies (“No cuts, no buts, no coconuts”) and just allowed his friends to save him a spot for The Avengers. Of course, that would have meant him missing out on a squabble with a fellow line-dweller (played by Workaholics star Blake Anderson), who did join the movie-ticket line in a spot saved for him by his friends. That annoys the dickens out of Sheldon, which leads him on a rant that includes a reference to Rosa Parks that “denigrates the memory of a great civil rights pioneer,” as Leonard points out; attention that Howard deems even more embarrassing than Raj’s Stick Chair (see below); and another line-waiter on-er calling out Sheldon for having someone hold his spot. All in a day’s work, or leisure time, for Sheldon.


  • Sheldon is not the only one expanding his knowledge of all things pop culture. Leonard walks in on Penny and Sheldon’s breakfast flash card game and asks each of them to test him. He correctly identifies Sheldon’s “atom of hydrogen” and his wife’s “Adam of Maroon 5.”
    A special nod to Raj’s latest prop comedy, or rather comedy prop. His furry little dog Cinnamon has always been good for a giggle (remember Cinnamon in a stroller?), and that gigantic teddy bear he bought for Bernie and Howard’s baby earlier this season allowed Raj-portrayer Kunal Nayyar to show off some physical comedy chops. But my new favorite Raj prop is the Stick Chair, a portable stick that unfolds to reveal a tiny seat you can lean on. The Stick Chair is to sitting what the fanny pack is to holding things, and only Raj would proudly remove such a gadget from his backpack and use it in a crowded line of comic book geeks. Come to think of it, despite its obvious potential as a weapon — “stick” is right there in the name — this would be a pretty nifty item to have at Comic-Con.
  • Leonard to Raj about how he looks sitting on the Stick Chair: “So, when the aliens brought you back, they just left the probe in?”
  • Stuart is perfectly willing to go shopping with Amy, whether it be at Old Navy or Build-a-Bear. Besides, as he tells her, “Sheldon gave me money for Hot Dog on a Stick.”
  • Amy on Sheldon: “I called him ‘babe’ once … he asked me to get a drug test.”