If ever there was a case study for how a traditional three-camera sitcom can still shine in today’s television landscape, it was last night’s episode of The Big Bang Theory. Both the A and B stories followed time-honored traditional sitcom formulas: In the A story, we had the hot-but-kinda-controlling girlfriend telling one of our main characters not to see his ex-girlfriend who he obviously still has feelings for (and vice versa). In the B story, we had the two puckish supporting characters pulling off a prank against our other, more uptight main character. Add in the laugh track, the comically willful miscommunication that bites our main character in the backside, and the added bonus of bad-eyesight-related pratfalls, and this could have been an episode of television from pretty much any decade since the 1970s. (Well, save for references to the Internet and the half-nudity and the use of the word “testicles” as a punchline. But you get my meaning.)
The best part: It all worked splendidly. I don’t know if Johnny Galecki has had more fun this season that in this episode. After his new girlfriend Priya convinced him to wear contacts, Leonard opened the show with a deliberately over-the-top bit of slapstick in the university cafeteria. He then deftly bungled his conversation with Penny over ending their relationship (more on that in a bit), and he managed to credibly make out with Priya in bed while wearing an eye-patch, since one of his contacts apparently slid behind his eye. (Which is not something I knew could happen, and yet another reason why I will never be trading in my glasses for contacts, never ever ever never ever. In case you were wondering.) Leonard got to be funny, he got to be vulnerable, he got to be romantic, and he even got to be kinda sexy. And with the Leonard/Penny/Priya love triangle kicking into high gear, Kaley Cuoco also got to shine, playing Penny’s escalating jealousy with just the right light touch to keep it from feeling cloying or too romcom-y.
Meanwhile, I’m sure I’m not the only one who saw through Howard’s “magic” card trick well before the show revealed it was all just a ruse engineered with Raj and Penny to drive Sheldon into a fit of intellectual pique over his inability to suss out how it was done. What made the storyline work was how delightfully well everyone sold it. Jim Parsons does a fabulous slow burn of confusion and frustration, and Simon Helberg’s delight at finally pulling one over on Sheldon never tipped quite over into being overly mean. I was surprised the writers didn’t find a way to bring Amy Farrah Fowler into the mix — either as a fellow stumpee with Sheldon, or a fellow stumper with Howard — but I guess magic tricks and webcams just don’t mix. Let’s just pretend there was a scene that got cut out in which Amy bemusedly observed Sheldon crafting his bar-code-reading magic wand and call it a day.
NEXT: Leonard compares Penny to a finch, and Raj’s affinity for female costumes grows