Sonja Flemming/CBS
October 21, 2011 at 06:15 AM EDT

The Big Bang Theory

TV Show
Current Status
In Season
run date
Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Scott Halberstadt, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Frank Pacheco
Chuck Lorre

Take out Amy Farrah Fowler, and all the references to Leonard’s girlfriend in India and Howard’s impending trip to space, and I think anyone would be forgiven for thinking this week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory was a Sheldon-centric rerun from season 3. There was no B or C storyline; just Sheldon’s born-again mother (the indispensable Laurie Metcalf) visiting from Texas en route to a Christian cruise, and spending her weekend in Pasadena solving everyone’s problems at the expense of spending time with her son. Naturally, after four-plus years as Penny’s friend, and over a year as Amy’s who-knows-what, Sheldon had emotionally evolved enough that he took this development in stride, comically startling his mom, and everyone else, with how open and generous he was with her time.

Oh wait. Strike that. Reverse it.

Look, I know that in the Land of the Traditional Multi-Camera Sitcom, we don’t really want our characters to change, or at least change too much, too fast. Karen remained a boozy snark-machine, Joey was always a big-hearted mimbo — I get it. But we also don’t really want them to regress either. And as much as I adore Sheldon’s persnickety nature, watching him devolve into a whingeing man-child, bitching about his mother not making him fried chicken or pecan pie, kept what had the potential to be a top-flight episode from ever taking off. Sheldon lived up to our worst expectations of him, especially since watching him try to sightsee with his mother could have been a source of some solid fish-out-of-water comedy. Instead, we got a sick Sheldon, sitting at a bus stop, feeling sorry for himself in the rain. Not exactly a laugh riot.

At least the writers were savvy enough to make clear where Sheldon inherited his disregard for the vagaries of politically correct society and his penchant for doling out unsolicited pearls of self-regarded wisdom. In the former column, Mama Cooper called Japanese pictograms “kung fu letters”; chuckled about Priya’s parents being upset that Leonard is white (“You never think about it going the other way”); remarked upon Raj’s drunken state by noting “I thought it was our Indians that had the occasional alcohol problem”; and referred to Catholics as “rosary rattlers.” Somehow, none of this was all that offensive nor all that funny, especially with Leonard’s half-hearted attempts at correcting her.

NEXT: Mama Cooper’s helpful relationship tips

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