When Sheldon and Amy finally tied the knot during last year’s season finale, it was a touching moment that was a long time coming. At the time, I wrote about how it was one of those emotionally in-touch episodes that the show manages to pull off a few times a season. The duo persevered over numerous obstacles, and their union resulted in a charming finale that hit all the right sweet spots.
The season 12 premiere doesn’t boast any of the same magic, and that’s a shame. Last season ended on such a high note that it was always going to be hard to transition to new stories, but “The Conjugal Configuration” is especially disappointing because it feels like the type of episode The Big Bang Theory usually throws away in the middle of the season. The episode is broken up into three stories: Sheldon and Amy on their honeymoon in New York, Raj getting into a Twitter beef with Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Leonard and Penny realizing they might bear some resemblance to Amy’s unhappy parents. It’s pretty standard fare for the show, and that’s the problem.
Rather than rocketing forward on the momentum of last season’s finale, The Big Bang Theory simply idles. I mean, Raj has been the worst/most uninteresting character for some time now, but a Twitter feud with Neil deGrasse Tyson? What does that accomplish? It’s hardly timely, and it really only serves to once again underline just how obnoxious Raj is. He’s the one character who has been refused any growth on this show, which means his storylines end up feeling rather languid amidst some of the show’s better offerings. By the end of the episode Raj has cowered to deGrasse Tyson after an angry phone call, and the episode’s kicker sees the famous scientist bully another rather famous scientist, Bill Nye. It’s a throwaway subplot, sure, but it feels even more inconsequential when you consider this is the final season premiere of The Big Bang Theory.
Leonard and Penny’s storyline is a bit more interesting because it actually delves into their relationship dynamic. It begins with Penny lamenting that their potential alone time, due to Amy and Sheldon being on their honeymoon, is always interrupted by friends wanting to hang out. “Would you like us to leave so that you and Leonard can talk about all the things you have in common?” quips Howard. When the gang makes it up to Leonard and Penny’s apartment, they hear somebody rummaging around inside Sheldon and Amy’s place. Naturally, Raj, Howard, and Leonard all cower and attempt to call the police, while Penny goes banging on the door. Amy’s father (Teller, of Penn & Teller, returning for another guest spot) appears at the door, and when his excuse about being there to water the plants falls through, he swiftly takes off without any other explanation.
The rest of the beats hardly need to be explained considering how predictable they are. Amy’s father is staying at the apartment because he’s sick of his wife. The reasons are vague, but it basically boils down to her being overbearing and impossible to be around. It’s general sitcom “marriage is the worst, right?” fodder, which certainly isn’t compelling or interesting on its own. What adds a bit of depth is the way their bickering leads to Leonard and Penny examining their own relationship.
It’s Leonard who’s first to point out that the Fowlers are a lot like them. He quickly backtracks, of course, when Penny is outraged by the comparison, but Leonard can’t help but see the similarities. Mrs. Fowler sees them too; “she’s going to chew him up and spit him out,” she says. The dynamic is Penny as the overbearing one, and Leonard as the submissive partner. It’s not totally off base when it comes to these characters, but the episode never really digs into the potential conflict in any meaningful way. It gets off a few jokes about Leonard being scared of Penny, and that’s about it. Before long, in a single scene, Leonard is saying he didn’t really mean the comparison was exactly equal, and the two quickly move on.
“Education” is Sheldon and Amy’s episode though, and conflict arises in their world as well. The honeymoon is all well and good for a while, but it quickly goes off the rails when Sheldon, well, does his Sheldon thing and ruins it. Not only does he decide that the Harry Potter Broadway play is meant to be interactive, but he also decides to schedule everything down to the minute, including sex. He’s down to do it more than usual because it’s their honeymoon, but the act still has to fit into specific time slots. Amy isn’t too happy with that, thinking that marriage would lead to a little more spontaneity when it comes to such things. Does she even know Sheldon? He’s never embraced change without being pushed to do so.
Eventually, after a very public fight during a tour dedicated to Nicola Tesla, the two make up. Sheldon sees that Amy needs more, and Amy understands where Sheldon is coming from when it comes to him not being a very “physical person.” It’s all fine and well, but it’s a little too much of the same old Sheldon and Amy. It feels like conflict just to have some conflict, conjuring up a problem that both of them probably would have discussed much earlier.
Hopefully, the familiar nature of this episode is just a stumbling block, and not a sign of things to come. As The Big Bang Theory enters its final season, and these characters enter new phases of their lives, there are so many possible stories to tell. It just has to stop telling all the same ones.