Sheldon and Leonard battle for control over a project, in an episode that felt like it could've been from an earlier season

By Adam B. Vary
January 07, 2011 at 09:08 AM EST
Sonja Flemming/CBS
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For long stretches of last night’s episode of The Big Bang Theory, you could be forgiven for wondering if CBS was rebroadcasting an ep from the first or second season that you’d somehow never seen. No Amy Farrah Fowler. No Bernadette. Sheldon behaving at peak comic obnoxiousness; Leonard behaving at peak slow-burn exasperation. A plot heavy on geeky, esoteric science. A strong emphasis on Penny’s disinterest in said science, and great interest in anything shoe-related. And Howard and Raj popping in for a few quick-hit comic scenes bracketing the main story. Kaley Cuoco’s barely perceptible limp betrayed the fact that the episode does indeed date from this season. But if it weren’t for Penny’s almost saintly season-four-esque patience with managing Sheldon’s persnickety nature, I’d strongly suspect “The Bus Pants Utilization” was borne from an un-produced season 2 script and a last-minute, holiday-season panic for new material.

Mind you, I’m not complaining. I’ve noticed many of you taking to the comment boards to grouse that Big Bang‘s fourth season has been too cluttered with new characters, and that the show has lost the geeky spark of its earlier seasons. I don’t exactly share those grievances — I’ve been really enjoying how both Amy Farrah Fowler and Bernadette have shaken up the show’s chemistry, and sent our core characters spinning into some really fun, unexpected territory. But I do share one beef with many of you: This season has virtually ignored the central relationship between Leonard and Sheldon.

Not last night, though. The entire episode rotated around these two almost exclusively; there was practically no “B” story — well, unless you count the continuing exploration of Raj and Howard’s homoerotic bromance. (I’m eternally grateful I’d just finished drinking my beverage when Raj revealed his dream he and Howard had built matching side-by-side mansions, “but there was a secret tunnel connecting your front yard to my back yard.” A joke like that was built for spit takes, but I digress.)

The show opened with Leonard suggesting the foursome design an app that can solve differential equations using handwriting recognition that would then run through a symbolic evaluation engine. (Naturally.) Sheldon actually liked the idea, and proceeded as per usual to micro-manage the entire endeavor — putting Raj in charge of phone support, making Howard his glorified secretary — but Leonard put his foot down and demanded Sheldon recognize he was in charge of the project. (Award for favorite line reading of the night goes to Kunal Nayyar for this: “Ooo, Leonard’s going all alpha nerd on Sheldon’s a–!”) Of course, Sheldon can barely maintain his composure when he’s not in control. He suggested dubbing the app “the Surprisingly Helpful Equation Link Differential Optimize Numerator” (or S.H.E.L.D.O.N.). Leonard said no. He proposed using the code name “Project NODLEHS.” Leonard said no. He moved for a vote of no confidence in Leonard. Leonard fired him.

NEXT: Sheldon protests his termination with some unconventional music

The show flicked at the notion that Sheldon’s outrage at being cast aside could cause serious harm to his friendship with Leonard. But ultimately Sheldon just made perfunctory overtures at winning Raj and Howard over to his side with novelty mugs and can cozies, and was then content to passive-aggressively protest his ouster by playing his theremin while the other three tried to work. (Judging from this mesmerizing TED talk of a woman actually playing that instrument, it looks like Jim Parsons may have, in fact, been playing it himself. But even if he wasn’t, I’m duly impressed he went to the trouble to look like he was — because, honestly, who would’ve known the difference?)

When the boys kicked him out, Sheldon turned, as always, to Penny, and she in turn convinced Sheldon to return to the fold by (wink, wink) “apologizing” to Leonard. An apology that lasts maybe a minute, before Sheldon lapses back to his default officiousness and was banished back to Penny’s apartment to work on her idea for an app that would locate where to buy a pair of shoes you’d just snapped pic of with your smartphone. (The irony being, of course, that Penny’s app would likely make a bajillion percent more money than Team Lenwoloppali could ever hope to earn.)

Three other choice moments from the episode:

• Raj’s desire to take pretty girls on submarine rides — both literally and figuratively. Somehow, Nayyar made both notions kinda adorable.

• Sheldon’s “unlikely but very plausible scenario” suggesting how Penny would steal Leonard’s app idea from him: “…and then one day, she meets a group of geniuses, and their friend Howard.”

• And, of course, the titular concept of “bus pants,” which Sheldon describes as “pants one wears over one’s regular pants when one sits on bus seats that others have previously sat on.” If this isn’t an actual thing already, it soon will be.

What did you make of “The Bus Pants Utilization,” fellow Big Bang theorists? Did you like the show kicking it old school (a turn-of-phrase I promise never to use again)? Were you expecting Sheldon to actually start up a rival company and steal Leonard’s app idea, or is our beanpole hero simply lacking that kind of killer instinct? And if you could invent an app that would let you take a picture of something and then do something with that something (or something), what would you invent?

EW’s TV INSIDERS PODCAST: This week, Dalton Ross, Adam B. Vary (er, me), and Mandi Bierly go inside the American Idol audition room and tell you what to expect from the new judging panel. Do they actually get along? Can they survive the loss of Simon? And does Steven Tyler make one lick of sense? Plus, we break down the season premiere of The Bachelor while asking the question on everyone’s mind: Who brings a manscaping kit out on a date? Or fangs, for that matter? And listen in as Ken Tucker stops by to preview midseason TV and let you know which new programs you need to be watching — and avoiding. To join in all the fun, just click on the audio player below. Of course, we’re now on iTunes! So you can also 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!

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