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'Big Bang Theory' recap: Sheldon tries to teach Penny physics, barely succeeds

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If it wasn’t already abundantly clear, last night’s Big Bang Theory locked down this iron-clad axiom: Sheldon + Penny > Practically anything else on the show. This is no knock on Leonard, Howard, or poor Raj, who was especially MIA last night, and especially missed. It’s just that the improbable platonic friendship between this persnickety Texan and down-to-earth Nebraskan is undeniably the show’s beating heart, and any episode that advances that relationship is all the better for it. For one thing, through them, we learned that Fig Newtons were named for a small town in Massachusetts and not Isaac Newton. Go fig. (Sorry, I had to.)

That lovely factoid was the fruit of Sheldon’s agreement to teach Penny physics, so that she could actually understand what it is her boyfriend does for a living. Apparently, until Howard’s new microbiologist girlfriend Bernadette took a real interest in Leonard’s upcoming experiment, this cognitive disparity had never really bothered Penny, but I am beyond grateful that the writers didn’t use this moment to launch into the tired cliché of the-girlfriend-who-gets-instantly-jealous-of-female-competition. Nope, when Bernadette asked Leonard if he’s going to “try to set up the voltages using tunnel junctions” (ahem), Howard was the one with the little green monster — which is as it should be, really.

I’m kinda torn over Howard’s newfound coupledom. On the one hand, I’d long grown weary of his hapless lech routine, and I am thoroughly enjoying Melissa Rauch’s blissed-out line readings as Bernadette. On the other hand, I’m already growing a bit wary of the character’s happy ditz routine, and the sight of Howard fondling and sucking face with her on his bed like an epileptic octopus is something I won’t soon be able to scrub from my brain. That said, if there’s one unambiguous good to come from Howard’s self-described petty, jealous douchery, it’s that Leonard’s (semi-)mature annoyance in the face of it made him seem like an actual adult instead of a geeky kid with a PhD, and all the more deserving of Penny’s efforts to understand his work.

Whether that’s possible is another question entirely, but watching Sheldon try to help her achieve that goal — marking his progress on what he called “Project Gorilla” in his journal like a pseudo-Dian Fossey — sure was fun, and unexpectedly poignant. Overwhelmed by the torrent of physics knowledge Sheldon was heaving her way, Penny ultimately broke down crying, convinced she was too stupid to comprehend anything. Sheldon initially responded as he would in most any sensitive, emotional situation, with completely clueless candor, explaining that feeling stupid is no reason to cry: “One cries because one is sad. For example, I cry because others are stupid, and it makes me sad.”

But then Sheldon softened, and somehow managed to be, for lack of a better word, empathic — a real accomplishment for someone who’s borderline Asperger’s. He then taught Penny just enough knowledge about Leonard’s experiments concerning the movement of sub-atomic particles for her to perfectly articulate why his work is merely aping what Dutch scientists had already proven. (Um, I think. Honestly, this episode threw so much high-level science at us that I felt just as lost as Penny did, which was probably the whole idea.) I started the season gleefully counting the days until Penny and Leonard’s breakup, but I gotta admit, I’ve actually started rooting for them. Next week, however, comes their biggest test yet: The return of Christine Baranski as Leonard’s mother. I. Can’t. Wait.

Favorite exchange #1

Bernadette [off Howard calling her and Penny “the women folk”]: Don’t take him too seriously. A lot of what he says is intended as humor.

Penny: Yeah, well, I don’t think it’s funny.

Bernadette: Me neither, but he just lights up when I laugh.

Penny: Howard, never let her go.

Best response yet to an ear whisper from Raj

Sheldon: While I appreciate the ‘Oh snap,’ I’m uncomfortable having your moist breath in my ear.

Favorite exchange #2

Sheldon: Howard, your shoes are delightful. Where did you get them?

Howard: What?

Sheldon: [Chuckles] Bazinga. I don’t care.

Biggest disappointment

Whether he’s the official Leonard or not, @leonardhofstadt has yet to tweet anything concerning the word “Tooshie face.”

So Big Bang Theorists, how are you taking to Bernadette’s presence amongst our motley crew? How much of Howard’s unseen screaming mother is too much? Given his usual penchant for full-neck coverage in his sartorial choices and his ethnic/religious heritage, do you really think Howard would afraid of turtleneck sweaters and nuns? Now that both Leonard and Penny have gone to Sheldon for help on how to better integrate themselves into the other’s life, don’t you think there’d be some serious funny in Sheldon seeking one or both of them for advice on his life? Finally, show of hands: How many people really missed Raj?

Image Credit: Michael Yarish/CBS

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