It's Christmastime in Pasadena—Victorian style.

By Jodi Walker
Updated December 12, 2014 at 04:37 AM EST
Michael Yarish/CBS

I’ve heard that a person’s taste buds change every seven years. I’m no scientist, but I know that I used to hate peanut butter and now I can’t ever seem to remember that you’re technically allowed to eat apples without it, so everything seems to add up. The seventh season of The Big Bang Theory was a season of change—characters grew up, and grew apart, and grew back together again, and it all ended with one character not being able to handle all that change.

Season 8 has also gone through its fair share of growing pains in trying (or not trying) to accommodate the changes that have come with its character’s way over the last year or so. Howard and Bernadette are married now, and they don’t seem to like it too much; Penny is a successful, non-actress, saleswoman now, which at times takes away most of the traits we’ve known her for; and Sheldon and Amy now occasionally touch their mouths to each other’s faces like the stars of a Tijuana sex show. It’s madness out there, and sometimes it works (the last few episodes) and sometimes it doesn’t (the episodes that weren’t the last few episodes).

But tonight, as it should be with a holiday episode, all that’s a wash, because The Big Bang Theory was just kicking it old school. Howard and Leonard were bumbling, Sheldon was being one-part sadistic, one-part tear bait, and Bernadette was finally more “baking cookies in a tree” than “berating the person breathing closest to her” again. Bring on the Christmas carols and festive woolen games!

With his parents’ divorce proceedings getting serious, Raj can’t host Christmas dinner because his father is coming to stay with him, so Amy jumps at the chance to host a traditional Victorian Christmas. Raj tries to inform her that their friends never get excited about themed parties, like his “Tom Hanks-giving,” but excluding Sheldon’s disgust for raisins in pudding, everyone else is excited. (A Tom Hanks-themed holiday sounds delightful, so I agree with Raj, “You guys suck!”)

Hopefully the party’s not on actual Christmas day, because Howard and Leonard are suited up in full Oompa Loompa lab suits, detecting cosmic particles in the “Clean Room” at the university just before they’re supposed to head to Amy’s. Unfortunately, one of them accidentally left the door open, so wouldn’t you know it, a bird flies in. I want to harp on this conceit as being a common sitcom plot that never actually happens, but if you’ve ever tried to extract a bird from somewhere it’s not supposed to be, it is a particularly terrifying situation.

Howard and Leonard freak out, less because there’s a bird flying around their lab, and more because they’re going to get in trouble for contaminating this Clean Room with “a flying crap machine.” They call in Raj, and when he arrives, he assumes the bird is Howard’s fault because this kind of thing is generally Howard’s fault. Leonard points out all the times he made a mistake and tried to cover it up, like when he lost Raj’s dog, flipped the Mars Rover, or “almost drove off with that baby.” While it’s true that Howard often shirks responsibility, this somehow turns into a series of jokes about Howard being less intelligent than Leonard and Raj—which feels a little stale eight seasons in, especially considering he has the most career accolades to flash around in a smarty pants contest.

While those suckers are enacting Three Men and a Bird, Bernadette is driving Sheldon to Amy’s party. I always love when we can get a combination of characters that we rarely see together, and Bernadette and Sheldon do not disappoint, if only because Melissa Rauch comes up to approximately Jim Parsons’ elbow. Really though, it’s Bernadette’s oscillation of reactions to Sheldon’s sudden realization that he should teach Amy a lesson for forcing him to celebrate Christmas in a way that he so does not want to (with raisins and mistletoe); she swings from horror to awe and back again every time he reveals a new layer of his plan. You see, Sheldon knows just how to ruin Amy’s Christmas—a thing that boyfriends like to do to their girlfriends: Even though they agreed not to get each other gifts, Sheldon is going to go get Amy the perfect gift so that she’ll feel terrible for not getting him a gift. And then they’ll both be sad.

Check out EW’s new store for this year’s coolest entertainment gifts.

Sheldon will be hard up to ruin Amy’s Christmas, though. She is in her element over at her traditional Victorian party. Not only is it an excuse to wear a festive vest-with-frilly-collar-combo, but she also has a number of parlor games to keep Penny and a marriage-jaded Dr. Koothrappali entertained while they wait for everyone else to get there. She explains with unadulterated excitement that “Ball of Wool” is a game where two people try to blow a ball of wool off a table. Happy Christmas!

The bird plotline wraps up with three scientists not realizing a powerful blast of fire-killing chemicals from a fire extinguisher could also equate to a powerful blast of bird-killing chemicals. This is very traumatizing for Howard, who’s already a onetime bird murderer by way of an accidental sitting incident with a blue jay in his childhood. If you’re wondering if they give the bird CPR at this point, of course they do, because that is a thing that happens in TV and film. If you’re wondering if another bird flies in immediately following the first bird’s revival because no one ever closed the door… of course it does.

Luckily, Penny is up to her pre-haircut Penny ways this episode: comforting Dr. Koothrappali while he rails against marriage, handing out sass while simultaneously pretending she’s having a good time for Amy, and when the men call her in a panic about what to do, telling them to just erase their names from the sign-in sheet and get out of there. They say they simply can’t do that—smash cut to Howard, Raj, and Leonard belting out Christmas carols in the car on their way to a good ol’ Victorian Christmas, footloose and pigeon-free.

They just miss Ball of Wool, but everyone makes it in time for Sheldon’s gift presentation: a singing picture frame of him on Santa’s lap, which Amy absolutely loves. But as he prepares to revel in his successful plan to make her feel terrible for not getting him anything, Amy pulls out her present for Sheldon. Because of course she got him something—because Amy loves Sheldon more than anything, even if she does make him eat figgy pudding. It’s a box of cookies that she baked just for him from his Meemaw’s special Christmas recipe: “They’re perfect. It taste like her hugs.” Amy and Sheldon spend their first Christmas in love together, and everyone is happy. Love conquers all, apparently, even Sheldon’s most Grinch-like tendencies.

Will Amy’s lovely gesture stop Sheldon from trying to punish her the next time she makes him do something he doesn’t want to? Probably not. But it might make him react a little more kindly to Christmas next year. This episode is a lot like that sentiment—it won’t have any lasting impact on the series, but it was sweet and nice, and hopefully a good resetting of the dial for season 8.

Except for Howard’s bird-murder guilt. Those emotional scars are forever.

Best Laughs

“In the last 10 minutes, Santa came to town, kissed mommy, and ran grandma over with a reindeer. I had a drunk uncle who did all those things, no one sings songs about him.” –Sheldon, growing tired of Bernadette singing Christmas songs in the car

“Wow, you really do love her.” –Bernadette to Sheldon after listening to him list all of the things he appreciates about Amy while trying to think of the perfect gift for her

“I do. Now let’s find the kind of gift that makes her feel small and worthless.” –Sheldon being Sheldon

“You won!!!” –Amy after Dr. Koothrappali successfully blows the wool off the table

“It certainly doesn’t feel like it, does it?” –Penny

“If you pop that bird, I will vomit.” –Raj