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To my dismay, tonight’s season premiere of The Big Bang Theory deepened the struggle I have with watching this show. I’m a pretty big fan, but I find myself disappointed more often than pleased. Each week, I hope to see an episode that is as endearing as it is playful. At its potential, the series immerses adorably flawed characters in dire situations, cleverly eliciting both laughter and empathy. The Big Bang Theory is highly capable of adhering to this desired formula, and that is why I expect to see it on a weekly basis. However, whenever the show’s playfulness forces itself in front of its own emotional awareness, it loses a sense of maturity. Unfortunately, the season premiere did just that.
Before we get to the disappointing aspects of The Robotic Manipulation, let’s take a look at what made it work.
The core of this episode–Sheldon’s first date with his pseudo girlfriend, Amy Fowler–provided wonderful insinuations that he is more human than we think. Seeing him paw at the notion of dating wasn't so much laborious as it was charming. Jim Parsons, who recently received the Emmy for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, toned down his egregious behavior (which is what makes this show awesome) for something a little more vulnerable. He affected his voice with aloofness and wonderment, and he commissioned his movements to be quieter than usual. This is the attribute of an actor who tries to enhance the performances of those around him. Although his character is egocentric, Jim Parsons does his best to enrich those in his periphery.
The premiere uniquely demonstrated that underneath Sheldon’s intelligence and resulting condescension lies a level of overall misunderstanding and innocence. When this occurs, the show strikes gold; it happens on occasion, and I feel that we’ll see more of it this upcoming season. Ultimately, seeing him come down to our not so intellectually elite level allows us to forgive him for his otherwise cantankerous mannerisms.
Furthermore, Penny indirectly proved that she could be the one to offer advice. Although her willingness to help Sheldon on his date coincidentally dragged her to question her own love life, she unknowingly reached a substantial degree of accordance with Sheldon. At the episode’s climax, Penny succeeded in affecting Sheldon’s choice regarding the status of his relationship with Amy. This little feat concisely illustrated her adaptation (and perhaps affection) towards Sheldon’s idiosyncrasies.
I wish I could say as much about Leonard, Raj, or Wolowitz in tonight’s episode. However, their collective idleness brought the premiere to the aforementioned level of disappointment. The idea of a pleasure-inducing robotic arm is one of the series’s weaker subplots. It didn’t tell us anything new about Howard, and the inconsequential result of his self -inflicted pain didn't teach him anything new.
Was it at least funny? Yes, of course. However, the obvious route this episode took to achieve that humor felt rather uninspired. The Big Bang Theory can be a solid twenty minutes of comedy, and while this particular subplot’s passivity may have been humorous from the mentality that this show is a sitcom, it didn't really do much to add to the episode as a whole.
Unexpectedly, I've been rather critical of the premiere. However, my admonishment only comes out of a desire to see this show succeed. It is funny! It is passionate! It is clever! It just has to come to terms with its own greatness. Here's to a great season four. Let the show live long and prosper.