The third season of The Big Bang Theory opens with the guys returning from the Arctic research expedition they left for at the end of the second season. That emotional reunion leads Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco) to begin dating, since they missed each other so much. But by the second episode, they’re already having relationship issues, worrying that the sex isn’t good enough.
Maintaining a Successful Show
My guess is that the writers were adverse to dealing with the changed status quo, for fear it would disrupt the dynamics that were working so well. So even though the two were together, plot-wise, we see mostly scenes with them separate or with other characters involved. Or emphasizing their differences, as when Leonard tries to watch sports with Penny’s friends in episode 6 or he freaks out over her old boyfriend visiting in episode 7.
It takes the third episode for this season to get going (although I love the second episode opening, which has Sheldon pulling out an issue of Wolverine: Origin at the comic shop in order to prove the existence of his bone claws; that episode also guest-stars Lewis Black as a ranting cricket specialist). In episode 3, Sheldon (Jim Parsons) doesn’t like the disruption to his life that occurs with Penny around, so he begins training her with reward-based positive reinforcement behavior modification — “would you like a chocolate?” whenever she does what he wants. Hilarious!
While I may object to some of the bigger season-level plotting — such as the ridiculous sitcom cliche of Raj being threatened with deportation (episode 4) — and the overuse of Sheldon’s “bazinga”, some of the lines and gags are the best ever. The sitcom at this point has settled into maintenance. They’ve figured out what works for them and want to keep it running consistently.
Sheldon and Penny
Penny and Leonard try to comfort Sheldon at the comic shop
Sheldon and Penny’s interactions are the highlight of the season. She has less patience for his idiosyncrasies, saying what the audience is often thinking. Jim Parsons deservedly won the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy for his work this season, bringing surprising depth to his references back to his struggles growing up smart in a religious family in a small Texas town. Episode 7 is a showcase, as a feuding Penny and Leonard are forced into parental roles in the face of Sheldon’s breakdown at the comic shop. That’s followed by the eighth episode where Sheldon, left alone while the other guys go camping, must assist Penny during a medical emergency. The two together in the emergency room are pure gold, especially when he tries to be comforting.
Sheldon and Penny in the emergency room
Episode 10 puts Penny and Sheldon together again, enjoyably, as Penny wants to learn “a little physics” in order to better talk to Leonard about his work, and she turns to Sheldon as tutor. Unfortunately, the other story is excessively sitcom-y in an “I’ve seen this all before and better” way, as Howard gets jealous of his girlfriend wanting to talk to Leonard about his work. Sheldon and Leonard are often laughed with, which is when I best enjoy the show, while Howard and Raj are too often laughed at. Howard’s the butt most often of these kinds of jokes, as his girl-crazy nebbishness is apparently hilarious to the writers.
Sheldon and Wil Wheaton face off
Howard (Simon Helberg) and Raj (Kunal Nayyar) become ever more exaggerated comic relief in contrast to the continuing soap opera, pretending to be goths to pick up chicks or being jealous of the things each does with other people. Penny sets Howard up with a co-worker (episode 5), another waitress who happens to be a microbiologist and yet also a dumb blonde. He and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) manage to bond over over-controlling mothers before she returns in episode 9 and following with a more prominent storyline. Five is also the episode where Sheldon’s grudge against Wil Wheaton first appears, as they play each other in a gaming card tournament.
Geeks will particularly appreciate episode 12, where Raj drags Sheldon to a mixer, where Sheldon manages to meet a girl while carrying around a Green Lantern lantern. Meanwhile, Penny and Leonard are back to fighting while double-dating with Howard and Bernadette. Noted math genius Danica McKellar guest-stars.
Danica McKellar guest stars
Episode 14 features Sheldon stuck on a physics problem, leading to him going crazier than normal, a wonderful showdown with Bernadette, an encounter in a ball pit, and eventually looking for a menial job from Yeardley Smith (the voice of Lisa Simpson). And it gets even better after that, but I don’t want to spoil all the comedy.
These make up for the more standard plots, such as Sheldon freaking out after being robbed or him not understanding why Leonard would want to spend Valentine’s Day with Penny instead of him or Sheldon getting drunk at a work event. Even when the setups are stereotypical, though, Sheldon still gets off a few zingers. As when he first samples the wine: “I don’t feel different. This alcohol’s defective.” To which Penny, handing him another glass, replies, “Here, see if this one works.”
Back to the Status Quo
The cast with Stan Lee
I’m not sure which category the episode (#16) falls in where the guys are preparing to meet Stan Lee when he appears at the comic book shop. We find out that Sheldon doesn’t cash many of his paychecks because, as he says, “Most of the things I’m planning to buy haven’t been invented yet.” Then Sheldon has to deal with an overdue traffic ticket. You can imagine how well he handles the court system. The next episode is also demented, when the guys obtain a Lord of the Rings ring and can’t let go.
Wil Wheaton returns in 19, the bowling episode where Leonard gets incredibly bitchy at Penny. That episode exists only to put the characters somewhere specific, which I dislike, but the last two minutes are visually hilarious. Thankfully, the series bounces back in 20, with a lot more Sheldon/Penny interaction in a new context. Episode 22 is another high point, a flashback to how Leonard and Sheldon met and became roommates, including their infamous Roommate Agreement and its Time Travel Clause.
Flashback of Raj, Howard, and Leonard
Some have suggested that Penny and Sheldon are the most promising (and surprising) for an eventual relationship, but I think that’s misreading the characters. They’ve learned to depend on each other in very different ways with no romance involved. Sure, it would make for lots of conflict jokes as the two brushed up against each other’s foibles in so many different ways, but if the two ended up together, I see Penny as Sheldon’s caretaker, not lover.
“Take-Out With the Cast” — 10 minutes of the cast eating Chinese food together and reminiscing about particular show moments. Surprisingly entertaining, since they seem like real people (and keep talking over each other).
Set Tour With Simon and Kunal — 8 minutes of the two trying a bit too hard to be wacky with little actual content.
Gag Reel — 8 minutes of bloopers, crack-ups, and flubs. I realized they eat a lot on this show.
The extras are minimal, but I don’t expect a lot of special features on TV sets. I get them to rewatch episodes of series I enjoy, not to find out more about the show, because that might break the magic. This season of The Big Bang Theory, while uneven, is still entertaining and worth rewatching. This is the first time the show has been released on Blu-ray, by the way, and it is the absolute best for freeze-framing and reading Chuck Lorre’s vanity card rants with clarity.