The Big Bang Theory Recap: Shrugs, Not Hugs

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Simon Helberg as Howard, Kunal Nayyar as Raj. Photo: Michael Yarish/WARNER BROS.
The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory

The Emotion Detection Automation Season 10 Episode 14
Editor's Rating 2 stars

A little more than halfway through season ten, I’ve gotta be honest: It’s taking some effort to focus on these Big Bang Theory episodes lately. If the writers are out of ideas, I’m running out of ways to express why I’m feeling so lukewarm about them. And speaking of feeling …

Sheldon got his hands on an MIT experiment, a machine/app combo that recognizes which emotions people are feeling and displays an emoticon that corresponds. It’s the main story in an episode that — were that machine reading my reaction — would net it that weird shruggy face that requires you to stop and go into your System Preferences just to display it (an annoying process, by the way, that deserves the shruggy-face emoticon itself). It’s a perfectly okay sitcom plot, but one that might have packed a lot more punch if we hadn’t spent the last nine-plus years talking about Sheldon’s lack of emotional awareness. The upshot of this particular discussion of Sheldon and His Emotions is that he doesn’t really need such a device anymore, because he can read the emotions of his friends rather well on his own. When he makes rude comments about Amy looking weird without her glasses or being a sad sack, it’s not that he doesn’t know those comments make her sad … Sheldon’s just gonna be Sheldon. There are just some things no MIT concoction will change.

He is comforted, ultimately, by the fact that he is more adept than he had thought at knowing how those around him are reacting emotionally, and that’s something. But the storyline is part of the larger problem with TBBT this season, which is that, short of the birth of little Halley Wolowitz, almost every story feels like it’s been done before, and in pretty much the same way or ways. Sheldon and his emotional cluelessness? Been done — been done that he’s working on it, and been done that he’s gotten better with it.

One of the things the show has always done reliably and exceptionally well is whip up fun props. I slap another shruggy face emoticon on the emotion-detector box, though, which was comically oversized (without actually making me laugh) and woefully under-designed. I don’t buy that Sheldon, who usually cares so much about aesthetics, would have trusted what essentially looked like a black box with two tin cups glued to the front to gauge the emotions of those around him. In other words, if you’re gonna take us down this tired, dusty storyline road, at least bring your prop A game.

As for storyline B, Penny and Leonard are fighting (again), because one of them thinks the other is taking their relationship for granted (again). Penny has invited her brother Randall, the recently paroled drug dealer, to stay at Casa Hofstadter while she tries to help him get a job at her company. Leonard’s ticked off that she didn’t consult him about this beforehand, while she points out that he didn’t consult her about turning Sheldon’s old bedroom into a gaming room (and is unamused when he suggests his plan to place a scented candle inside would have made it their gaming room). The solution: Penny will uninvite her brother, but she’s going to tell her dad that Leonard is the one who doesn’t want Randall to stay with them. You know, the truth. Or, as Penny puts it, “I’m going to throw you [under the bus] so hard I might actually win a stuffed animal.”

I’m also mad at that storyline because it initially hinted at the possible return of the always great Jack McBrayer, who guest-starred as Randall in the season ten premiere. Don’t toy with me like that, TBBT!

Then there was the episode’s final storyline, in which Raj — after yet another breakup — decides to invite some of his exes to his apartment for a live version of a comment card, so he can find out why none of his romantic relationships work out. It’s a pretty funny idea, and the fact that Howard joins in the session to take notes for Raj should have ensured it was the best part of the installment, but … not so much. It doesn’t help that none of Raj’s exes — including Lucy, two Emilys, and a Claire — were particularly compelling to begin with. But there’s nothing fresh about the information he gleans from this meeting, which is ultimately an exercise in self-abuse. The women broke up with him because he’s needy, a mama’s (and daddy’s) boy, and vain, plus there were issues in the bedroom — all reasons we the audience and Raj the dumped were privy to at the time of each breakup. Making this, yet again, seem like little more than a reason to poke fun at Raj’s perpetually single status, which the writers have been doing all the way back to before Raj got past the selective mutism that prevented him from speaking in front of women.

The Raj storyline even ends with a nod to one of the other running Raj jokes: that he and Howard may be destined to be a romantic couple. To try to cheer his buddy up after all his exes leave his apartment, Howard tells him that if, in 30 years, Raj is still single and things haven’t worked out between Bernadette and Howard, they can marry each other. Raj says his first reaction to that scenario would be to pursue Bernie, but when Howard tells him Stuart has already called dibs on her, they start discussing the ins and outs of a Wolowitz-Koothrappali pairing, and Raj begins to nag Howard about his health.

Time to go into the System Preferences folder again.

THEOR-EMS

• “I’m sure he’ll appreciate carrying his samples in a briefcase instead of his colon.” Leonard, on the possibility of Penny getting her brother a sales job at the pharmaceutical company where she works.

• Leonard, looking at Randall’s résumé: “He really worked with the Drug Enforcement Agency?” Penny: “He didn’t know it until he was cuffed, but yeah.”

• Amy makes “beefloaf” for dinner, because Sheldon is troubled by the nonspecificity of meatloaf.

The Big Bang Theory Recap: Shrugs, Not Hugs