Penny isn't thrilled when the boys rope in her quasi-boyfriend to play Superman at a New Year's Eve costume contest

By Adam B. Vary
Updated December 17, 2010 at 08:28 AM EST
Cliff Lipson/CBS

The Big Bang Theory

S4 E11
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Confession time, Big Bang theorists: I wrote last week’s Big Bang Theory recap in a sleepless torrent of end-of-the-year deadlines and holiday hoopla, so I may have slightly overstated that particular episode’s strengths. But although I am currently typing this week’s recap waiting for my red-eye flight home at Los Angeles International Airport, I am nonetheless fully in possession of my facilities when I call it one of my absolute favorite Big Bangs of the season. Sheldon as the Flash! Raj as Aquaman! Leonard and Penny drama! The long-suffering sardonic wit of Stuart the Comic-Book Store owner! Candy-related controversy! Spandex! Happy holidays, everybody!

The episode started with the unexpected return of Zack, Penny’s off-again, on-again flame (and Amy Farrah Fowler’s sexual kryptonite) played as an agreeably affable mimbo by Brian Thomas Smith. The Big Bang foursome quickly made sport of poor Zack’s thin understanding of, well, anything (although based on a quick consultation with my sister, a Ph.D candidate in plant biology, there are indeed times in science where there isn’t really “one right answer” — but that’s for a different post on a very different website). The best exchange between Zack and the boys, obviously:

Zack: I saw this great thing on the Discovery Channel — turns out that if you kill a starfish, it will just come back to life.

Sheldon: [Cold stare.] Was the starfish wearing boxer shorts? Because you might have been watching Nickelodeon.

Unfortunately, the teasing turned kinda mean, Zack’s feelings were bruised, and Penny lectured the boys for being intellectual bullies. Leonard, being the unflagging mensch he is, immediately proposed an apology, but was only able to roust his compatriots to join him after dangling the prospect of physical violence upon his person. Although one suspects Sheldon was also secretly eager to prove his hypothesis that Milk Duds are “the most apologetic of the boxed candies.”

They certainly worked on Zack, who quickly joined the boys on a sojourn to Stuart’s comic book store. While he and Raj sought out Archie comics (anyone else tickled to learn there are multiple Archie universes?), Stuart mentioned his annual New Year’s Eve costume party, and Sheldon began ruminating on making another run at winning the costume contest as the Justice League — by replacing Leonard with Zack as their Superman. “He is the only person we know with actual muscles,” Howard noted. (And here I gotta hand it to Big Bang’s producers for hiring a genially strapping actor for Zack who nonetheless would be laughed out of any Abercrombie & Fitch model casting he dared walk into.)

NEXT: Penny isn’t happy playing Wonder Woman; so why won’t she take the costume off?

Zack needed little persuasion to join the boys’ Justice League; Leonard and Raj, however, weren’t so thrilled with the arrangement. Leonard at least snagged Green Lantern as a consolation prize, but that meant Raj was bumped down to Aquaman. (“I don’t want to be Aquaman — he sucks! He sucks underwater! He sucks fish pee!”) Penny wasn’t too happy either when she learned she’d been drafted to play Wonder Woman. Bernadette was quarantined with all of her lab-mates thanks to some holiday party Jell-o shots possibly contaminated with yellow fever — this woman’s lab is one public heath scare away from congressional hearings — so she was out, and Amy Farrah Fowler simply doesn’t believe in dressing in costume. (Sheldon: “She isn’t the free spirit I am.”) So Penny was the crew’s last best hope at a full Justice League enchilada.

Still, I was never entirely clear why Penny decided to wear the costume — loyalty to Leonard and Sheldon? Unresolved feelings for Leonard? Passive inertia to go along with the crowd? Even after she declared she wasn’t going to the party after all and stormed off to her apartment, she never actually took off her cleavage-tastic Wonder Woman get-up, not even after Sheldon The Flash surmised she was upset because she thought the costume made her look fat. (“Amazons tend to be very beefy gals.”) All it took was a quick, mensch-y pep-talk from Leonard, and Penny was suddenly good to go again.

And as predicted, her mere presence as an honest-to-goodness female Wonder Woman helped Team Justice League No. 3 win the contest. Happy New Year everyone! Based on the awkward kiss between Penny and Zack, and Leonard’s doleful mug while witnessing it, I’d guess Penny’s acquaintance of Zack will likely be forgot in the not-too-distant future.

Other highlights from “The Justice League Recombination”:

• Raj may have thought that being Aquaman sucked, but thanks to that costume — complete with blue fringe representing the ocean (Annie Barrett, eat your heart out) — I’d say Raj-as-Aquaman just about stole the show.

• I’m not sure which was funnier: Leonard knocking three times on Penny’s door, and Sheldon involuntarily blurting, “Penny!”; or Sheldon-as-The-Flash knocking on Penny’s door “30,000” times.

• Sheldon dangling the prospect of the Big Bang foursome in Muppet Baby costumes. Given that Big Bang exec producer Bill Prady literally just tweeted that Big Bang creator Chuck Lorre once wrote for the Muppet Babies cartoon, I’d say the Twitter campaign for @billprady to #makebigbangmuppetbabieshappen starts NOW.

• The delightful Christmas bonus of Sheldon zoom! zoom! zooming! from his Pasadena apartment all the way to the Grand Canyon and back.

Were you as happy with this episode as I was, fellow Big Bang theorists? Were you nonetheless disappointed in the Big Bang studio audience for their Married…with Children-esque cat-calling when Penny first showed up in her Wonder Woman costume? Why do you think she never bothered to take the darn thing off and change into her beloved pajama pants? Do you think the gag of the costumed justice league walking away from an in-progress car robbery worked? (I didn’t.) And which boxed candy do you think is more apologetic: Milk Duds or Junior Mints?

EW’s TV INSIDERS PODCAST: Jeff Probst previews the Survivor: Nicaragua finale, discusses this season’s big quitter controversy, and reveals whom he’ll be rooting for to win the million dollars. Plus: Ken Tucker helps Dalton Ross and Annie Barrett break down the best and worst shows of the year, and Michael Slezak calls in to say goodbye. Just click on the audio icon to enjoy all the fun. And don’t forget that we’re now on iTunes! You can subscribe for free right here and take the TV Insiders with you on the go. And to send a question to the TV Insiders or learn about upcoming editions, follow us on Twitter @TVInsiders.

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The Big Bang Theory

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

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