I wonder if the writers of The Big Bang Theory would have changed a line in this week’s episode if they’d written it a couple of weeks later.
While talking to Bernadette about the impending birth of her second child (which Bernie and Howard learn at the beginning of the episode is a boy), Raj says her son could turn out to be a little boy who is both “rough and tumble” and “sweet and sensitive.” Like him, Raj says.
When Bernie questions if Raj really believes he’s rough and tumble, his response is, “You bet I am, bitch.”
He apologizes immediately, but, boy, those words — that word — tumbling out of that character’s mouth, for the purpose of proving to his pregnant female friend how tough he is … it made me wince. There are a zillion things the writers could have had Raj say or do to try to prove his toughness to Bernadette, and that’s what they went with, a harsh statement that feels out of character, out of the blue, and completely out of touch. The episode was taped, so it was written well before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke. That is not to defend that dialogue at all; it’s to say that it piled on to what has been an increasingly disheartening couple of weeks, and made me think that a network sitcom should be a half-hour escape from that, at least.
This isn’t the first time TBBT has gone askew with its characters in terms of the way the men treat, and talk to, the women. And the women are capable of dishing out disrespect as unfortunately as they receive it. But Raj is supposed to be the “sweet and sensitive” one. While Sheldon and Howard are out in the desert, setting off a model rocket together and bonding over their poor relationships with their fathers, Raj is spending the evening with Bernie, helping her pack up the clothes baby Halley has outgrown, and busting out a sewing machine to help her redesign some of the castoffs for the new baby.
The Raj developed across the last ten seasons would not say something like that to one of his best friends, nor to any female, and the fact that he did is lazy, flip writing. And if I, or anyone else, is more sensitive to it right now, good. Recent events demonstrate we all could use more sensitivity to this, and systemic problems have to be addressed throughout the systems. If this seems like a really big deal to be making about one line of dialogue, it is, because it is a big deal. Ignoring it is at the core of why lazy, flip dialogue like that seems acceptable to writers who have proven many, many times, in some classic episodes of The Big Bang Theory, that they are capable of better.
So again, I wonder: If the writers were creating this script now, would they write that same line for Raj to say? I hope not.
In the episode’s other big story line, women are bonding with each other, but that leads to yet more bad behavior from one of the men. Leonard’s admittedly frosty mama, Beverly, begins communicating with Penny after Penny answers a phone call meant for Leonard. With the two women taking the time to really get to know each other, they realize they like each other: Beverly confides in Penny about her recent dating woes, and Penny chats with her mother-in-law about her job. The two truly connect.
Leonard’s problem with this is twofold: He’s jealous that his mother tells Penny she’s proud of her, and he’s upset that his mother likes Penny, because he married Penny to hurt his mother. That’s something he actually says to Penny while throwing a hissy fit about the women’s new friendship.
All’s well that ends well — for Leonard anyway — as he confronts his mother about why she’s never told him she’s proud of him, and she finally does say she’s proud of him for whom he married. Penny, meanwhile, is still married to a baby who begrudges his mother and his wife a friendship that fulfills something both are missing from their relationships with other people.
As for Sheldon and Howard, they are the one genuine bright spot. Howard is fretting that because his father abandoned his family when Howard was young, he is unqualified to teach his son how to be a good guy. Sheldon asks Howard if he can drive them home — he’s had his driver’s license for a few years, he reveals — and while nervous at first (or maybe pretending to be, for his friend’s benefit), Sheldon gradually gains more confidence behind the wheel as Howard encourages him and praises him when all goes smoothly.
“You’re a good teacher,” Sheldon says. “Your son is going to be lucky to have you as a father.”
It is easily the nicest thing Sheldon has ever said to Howard — one of the nicest things he’s ever said to anyone — and it probably makes up for the fact that Sheldon soon thereafter gets pulled over by a cop for driving 112 miles per hour.
• Bernie’s doctor asks if Halley is hoping for a little brother or sister. “Well, she’s 9 months old, so unless it jingles or is in my bra, she doesn’t care,” Bernie says.
• “And to anticipate your next questions, roasted pork and sideways missionary.” Beverly, to Penny, after telling her she spent the previous evening with a man, eating Cuban food and having unsatisfying intercourse. Penny: “Sure, sure. Because you were full.”
• Sheldon got his driver’s license exactly three years ago, he tells Howard, when he was on a bit of a “license kick.” “I’m also a commercial fisherman,” he says.