If you think jokes about getting splinters from sex with ventriloquist dolls are funny, then boy does The Big Bang Theory have an episode for you!
Actually, it’s just the one joke, but that doesn’t make it okay. It certainly doesn’t make it a funny episode, as TBBT continues its limp to its tenth-season finale. With just two more episodes remaining this season — followed by the dozens more that’ll come from the show’s two-season renewal — this week’s main story line focuses on Penny and Leonard, who make less and less sense as a couple as the show puts more and more focus on them.
While at a bar during a ladies-night gathering with Bernadette and Amy, Penny runs into her former boyfriend Zack (guest star Brian Thomas Smith), the less-than-brilliant ex she once accidentally married in Vegas. (Don’t worry, it was annulled in season seven.) Zack mentions he’s engaged, and before their brief reunion ends, he suggests Penny and Leonard have dinner with him and his fiancée.
The bride to be, sadly, doesn’t show up at the restaurant. She had an emergency, but when Penny asks what it was, Zack says he doesn’t know … because he didn’t ask her. So seeing that relationship in action seems like a missed opportunity for some laughs. The catch-up dinner does include some jokes about Sheldon’s antisocial behavior, because apparently no occasion can be free of jokes about Sheldon’s antisocial behavior, even though we’re ten seasons into that behavior and those jokes. Or maybe it’s because we’re ten seasons into those jokes, which flow far too often and with the same punch lines, that we’re still getting so many of them. Things to think about — especially, ahem, if you are among those writing the jokes.
Anyway. Also among the dinner conversation: Penny’s job sitch. She’s doing well as a pharmaceutical rep, Leonard is quick to point out, but Penny emphasizes that she doesn’t love the job. In fact, she kinda hates it. So when Zack mentions that the menu design company he works for — a company which his dad owns — is looking for someone to head up the sales department, Penny takes note.
What ensues is a passive-aggressive battle about whether Lenny’s insecurities about Penny working with her ex trumps her excitement to take a new job that would replace one that’s making her miserable. They both talk it out with friends — Raj tells Leonard that Penny is going to leave him for someone better-looking eventually, anyway, so why not have it happen now (with friends like these …)? After several such scenes, as well as one where Leonard implies that Penny isn’t smart, the marrieds decide she will take the job with Zack’s company.
Do you see the problems with this decision?
Oh, did I not mention that there has been no formal offer of a job? Or that Penny has asked no questions about the position, the salary, or the benefits? Or that this job has been mentioned by a person who didn’t know that when you get married in a Las Vegas wedding chapel, it is a legal marriage? Well, none of those factors are what prevent Penny from going to work for Zack. When she calls to tell him she’ll take this job she knows nothing about, he tells her she can’t. Why? Because when his fiancée got wind of the possibility of Zack’s ex rollin’ into his workplace every day, she nixed it pronto.
Which means all that anxiety was for nothing, except that it provided Leonard an opportunity to show off his worst traits. Let’s count ’em off: He cares more about his insecurities than he does about his wife being miserable at her job, he feels free to say things that are easily interpreted as him saying his wife is dumb, and his relationship is so bad that his friends don’t even think they’re necessarily meant to remain together. Good times on a sitcom!
As for the rest of the gang, Sheldon’s poor performance while playing video games against teenagers has him seeking out new mental and physical challenges to juice up his brain. He turns out to be good at baking croissants, but bad at juggling and riding a unicycle. Amy dares to suggest that spending less time on video games and comic books would free his brain up to focus on his desire to win a Nobel Prize, but the suggestion just sends Sheldon off to learn how to walk on stilts.
Those juggling lessons and the unicycle loan come courtesy of Howard and his circus-related hobbies, which Bernie mocks endlessly. When Howard tries to turn it around by asking his mother-in-law about Bernie’s childhood hobbies, he learns about Tammy Jo St. Cloud, the ventriloquist doll Bernie used as her beauty pageant talent. Howard is certain he’s finally got a topic for endless ridiculing of his own, but Bernie adopts Tammy Jo St. Cloud’s voice and reveals that she likes to poke fun at Howard, too. Though Tammy Jo also offers Mr. Wolowitz a chance at a ménage-à-trois of the human-human-wooden-doll configuration, hence that splinter joke we need never mention again.
• Howard: “The circus arts are physically and mentally demanding. Have you ever tried to juggle?” Bernie: “Yes. I’m juggling my love for you and embarrassment of you right now.”
• Zack thinks Sheldon is like the Swedish Chef on The Muppet Show: “I don’t know what he’s saying, but it’s funny.”
• Raj suggests Sheldon learn to speak Hindi if he wants to challenge himself. Turns out Sheldon taught himself the language when he was 8. Raj still hasn’t learned it.
• The most clever thing Zack has ever said across appearances in eight TBBT episodes: “As we say in the menu business, ‘I can’t do this without me ‘n’ u.’”