Leonard and Penny explore the boundaries of a friendship with no benefits, and Sheldon fends off a feathered fiend

By Adam B. Vary
Updated August 03, 2020 at 06:53 PM EDT
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Credit: Michael Yarish/CBS

By the time many sitcoms have reached their fifth season, the characters have started to exaggerate into caricature, as the writers begin to run out of genuine stories to tell about them. Plots grow more outlandish and/or trivial; quirks of personality become more over-the-top; and new characters are introduced in the hope that they’ll freshen things up, while others languish from under-use.

Half of this week’s The Big Bang Theory — the half in which Sheldon spent almost the entire episode at odds with a bird perched on his windowsill — teetered mighty close to that unfortunate TV trap, but ultimately managed to jump over it. The other half of the show, however — the half in which Leonard and Penny went out together on a not-a-date date (i.e. there was no sex at the end of the night) — was one of my favorite Leonard-and-Penny episodes in a long time, precisely because the characters remained firmly, recognizably human, and the writers proved there are still plenty of stories left to tell about these two.

Their not-a-date began after Penny casually asked Leonard if he’d like to come with her to see a movie. At first Leonard balked, wondering if they were ready to go out together just the two of them. But then Penny explained the parameters of the evening: “It’s not a date, Leonard. It’s just a man and a woman hanging out, not having sex at the end of the night.” Of course, Leonard noted that it “sounds like most of dates,” but after they discovered Sheldon freaking out about that aforementioned bird (more on this in a bit), Leonard was up for anything that would get him out of the apartment. But not before he had to endure an unhelpful consultation with Sheldon about the correct attire for a not-a-date. (Turns out it’s what Leonard wears every day.)

After they got to the theater, Leonard’s anxiety about the evening melted away once he realized that being liberated from the possibility of sex meant that he did not have to acquiesce to Penny’s every whim. So instead of seeing the latest Jennifer Aniston movie that’s “an hour-and-a-half of beach houses in the rain until the woman turns around and realizes love was here all along,” he got to insist Penny see the documentary about building a dam in South America. Oh, and she had to pay for her own ticket, too. This wasn’t exactly a revolutionary new salvo in the war of the sexes, I grant you. But watching Leonard finally assert himself — and only because sex was off the table — proved both pretty damn funny and a refreshing new dimension for him to explore.

For her part, being on a non-date meant Penny could flirt with a wannabe screenwriter who she found cute thanks to his “dorky t-shirt and hipster glasses.” When Leonard pointed out that he also wore dorky t-shirts and sported hipster-ish glasses, Penny retorted: “Yes, but when you’re tall and have great cheekbones, you’re doing it ironically.” Now that is a top-notch burn, and it triggered a satisfying back-and-forth between her and Leonard over the other’s romantic shortcomings: He owns two Star Trek uniforms; she thought the Cold War was only fought in winter. Half the dirty movies he owns are animated; she can’t spell asthma. (In all fairness, I had to look up how to spell it just now myself.) But it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity that Penny did not come to any matching revelation about what it’s like to be on a no-sex-attached date with Leonard. Sure, she discovered that she liked the new, assertive, cocky attitude her ex was suddenly taking, but that’s still about Leonard, not her.

NEXT: Sheldon Cooper finally falls in love

I mean, even Sheldon got to show real growth in a plotline that was, literally, for the birds. After a black-throated magpie jay took a liking to his windowsill, Sheldon’s ornithophobia kicked in and he spent the show fixated on getting rid of it. Howard, Raj, Amy, and Bernadette showed up at various times to help out in various ways that were vaguely connected to their specialties — well, Raj just listened to the various manners with which birds had terrorized Sheldon throughout his childhood — but, really, they could have all swapped roles and we probably would have barely noticed.

I do have to give Jim Parsons credit for fully committing as always to this silly turn of events. Perhaps it’s because he knew that, once Bernadette and Amy forced Sheldon to pet the stunning bird, the man who’s incapable of normal human tenderness would fall head-over-heels for his new feathered friend. Seeing Sheldon true smitten with another living thing was surprisingly sweet; alas, their connection was short lived, as the bird flew the coop the moment Sheldon opened his window again. “GET BACK HERE YOU STUPID BIRD,” bellowed Sheldon, “SO I CAN LOVE YOU!” I could very well be wrong about this, but I believe this is the first time Dr. Cooper’s used the word “love” and fully meant it.

BEST GEEKERY

I would say watching the new editions of the Star Wars films on Blu-ray, but since even Leonard called it “high-resolution sadness,” the whole thing has kinda lost its luster.

BEST SCIENCE

I would say the ultrasonic pulse machine Sheldon fashions together in an effort to scare away the bird, but since it causes an instant lattice-work of cracks to form across the entire window instead, it’s not exactly an inspiring example of first-rate ingenuity.

BEST LINES AND EXCHANGES

Leonard: I’m going to the movies with Penny. I don’t want her to think that I think it’s a date.

Sheldon: Do you think it’s a date?

Leonard: No, but she might think I think it’s a date, even though I don’t.

Sheldon: Or you might think she thinks you think it’s a date, even though she doesn’t.

Leonard: Are we over-thinking this?

Sheldon: Not at all.

Leonard: You’re right, I’m fine, I’m wearing this.

Sheldon: Really? A blazer?

Howard: [Waiting for Sheldon to join their Star Wars on Blu-ray night] I’m pushing play. I mean it. If we don’t start soon, George Lucas is going to change it again.

Sheldon: It’s not a death ray. It’s just a little ultrasonic blast to scare [the bird] off. Trust me, if I had a death ray, I wouldn’t be living here. I’d be in my lair enjoying the money the people of Earth gave me for not using my death ray.

Penny: [To Kevin, the cute screenwriter] So, have you written anything I’ve seen?

Kevin: That depends. How much time have you spent on Yelp?

Sheldon: [To Bernadette, as she holds the bird] Now, slowly, and carefully, flush him down the toilet.

Amy: [After Sheldon decideds to call the bird “lovey dovey”] Guess you’ve got to have hollow bones to get some sugar around here.

What did you think of “The Ornithophobia Diffusion,” fellow Big Bang theorists? Do you think we saw the first major step in a romantic reconciliation between Leonard and Penny? Or are you more keen on them further exploring the friends-with-my-ex zone? Think Sheldon will actually see through his decision to become a mommy to an orphaned bird egg? Has anyone sent a message to Sheldon’s posted email address (s.cooperphd@yahoo.com) — and, if so, what happened?

Adam on Twitter @adambvary

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Previously: ‘The Big Bang Theory’ season 5 coverage on PopWatch

Episode Recaps

The Big Bang Theory

Sheldon, Leonard, Penny, Raj, and Wolowitz, Amy, Bernadette—the gang keeps growing. Bazinga!

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