Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Big Bang Theory: Naughty or nice?

CBS's The Big Bang Theory has gotten away a bit from its roots of four guys sitting around, being nerdy, dreaming about girls they could never have. Six seasons in, one is married, two are in serious relationships, and the fourth is feeling more and more isolated and lonely.

This week's episode, "The Santa Simulation," brings a reminder of the old, but without forgetting the new. Sheldon (Jim Parsons), Leonard (Johnny Galecki), Howard (Simon Helberg), and Raj (Kunal Nayyar) plan a Dungeons & Dragons night, much to the disappointment of their lady friends. It's a little sad, because everyone needs their own outlets, and couples don't have to spend every evening glued at the hip. However, since we do see the guys together a lot, just not geeking out quite this much anymore, it doesn't feel as cruel as it might that the girls object to being left out.

To get even, Penny (Kaley Cuoco), Bernadette (Melissa Rauch), and Amy (Mayim Bialik) get dolled up (or, rather, two of them do), parade in front of their men, and then head out to a bar to get drinks. No one is going to cheat on anyone, but they will be eye candy, not for their boyfriends and husband, but for strange dudes. If their guys won't pay attention to them, they'll get it somewhere else. Or at least, that's what they'll let the boys think is happening.

It's a testament to how much the characters have grown that Leonard and Howard don't jump off the couch and following Bernadette and Penny to the bar in "The Santa Simulation." Earlier in the series, the chance at being with a girl would prompt them to give up just about anything. This isn't the type of personality that can really exist for long in a loving, adult relationship, so while the men appreciate the looks and charms of their female companions, they are no longer owned by then. At least, not all of the time.

Does this hurt the premise of the series, which began with Leonard and friends ogling the neighbor? Not really. People do grow, change, and mature over time. The affection among friends has remained strong, geek cred is still high, and six years in, The Big Bang Theory is still pretty much just as consistently funny as ever.

For instance, Raj quickly looses the game, and so joins the girls. He stupidly tells Penny and Bernadette about his previous crushes on them, but refuses to even pretend he was ever interested in Amy, no matter how much the other women try to drive home that he should, because he hurts Amy's feelings. It's an amusing scene, and Bialik sells the ending of what could almost have been a stand-alone sketch.

Back in the apartment, Leonard puts a Christmas twist on their play, which evokes emotional history of Sheldon's young life. It's a fascinating, new glimpse at the most popular character, revealing a little more about what makes him who he is, and dwelling on it no more than it deserves to be dwelled on. It's poignant and humorous, a good blend. Sheldon's strategy in the episode is not unpredictable, but entertaining, and his dream sequence at the end stays just shy of going too hokey.

Stuart (Kevin Sussman) also joins in game night. He's still not a full member of the group, but after being upgraded to main character this season, he's been appearing more and more. Interestingly, he doesn't feel forced into "The Santa Simulation," but neither does he add much to it. The character works best in small subplots with Raj, and yet blends well enough with everyone else that he doesn't detract from the whole. What remains to be seen is whether the writers can find his perfect niche to make him soar, not just melt into the scenery, and headline his own story. Otherwise, he may not be long for the cast, as unfortunate as that may be. It's happened before (see: Sara Gilbert's Leslie Winkle).

In all, "The Santa Simulation" is not a spectacularly memorable holiday event, but a fine standard episode of a great series. The Big Bang Theory will return Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET to CBS in January.

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Article first posted on TheTVKing

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