As much as I adore Kaley Cuoco, and as much as Penny is a profoundly necessary part of what makes The Big Bang Theory work, I found myself oddly grateful for the riding accident that forced Ms. Cuoco to miss last night’s episode (and next week’s). No, I’m not saying that I’m happy that a horse shattered the actress’s left leg so severely doctors warned her they may have to amputate her foot – an actor’s nightmare if there ever was one.
I am saying that her unhappy absence from the show forced the writers to find a fresh and satisfying comic rhythm for the other characters. Things unfolded at a more lackadaisical pace. Leonard finally took center stage, and we got a fun new window into his relationship with Sheldon. Yes, Raj was almost entirely M.I.A., and yes it was kinda odd that no one even mentioned Penny’s name, but all told, I’m quite impressed that the show weathered Penny’s impromptu sabbatical this well.
Penny’s presence was still definitely felt, though, thanks to Leonard’s post-breakup anxiety about being alone. The episode opened with Sheldon and Leonard sitting on their couch lazily making fun of Hulk (the 2003 Ang Lee version), and instead of sniping at each other, they had a genuinely human conversation – as much as is possible with Sheldon, anyway. Leonard expressed surprise that Sheldon and his girl-slash-friend Amy Farrah Fowler don’t hang out more; Sheldon responded by saying, with real fondness, “Leonard, you are my best friend, I’ve known you for seven years, and I can barely tolerate sitting on the couch with you.” Sheldon compounded the emotional growth of nonchalantly calling Leonard his “best friend” by further noting that Leonard was probably jealous that Sheldon has a woman in his life. Recognition of another person’s emotional state is a major accomplishment for this man.
At first, Leonard feebly protested Sheldon’s assessment. But then Leonard learned that Raj allegedly has a girlfriend – who’s deaf, so his speaking-in-front-of-women issue is no issue, by which I mean to say I’ll believe this woman really exists when I see her. Even comic book store owner Stuart has a girlfriend; yes, she’s a Wonder Woman fan who calls her vagina “my invisible plane,” but at least he’s not alone like Leonard.
So after a desperate attempt to meet women by posing as a Genius at the Apple Store’s Genius Bar – I’d have loved to see this instead of hear about it, even if it would’ve been just a massive Apple ad – Leonard finally invoked the girlfriend pact he’d made with Howard, the very same pact that brought the bowl-headed engineer and his hoochie pants together with the adorably daffy Bernadette last season. Alas, Bernadette’s pick for Leonard – her self-defense classmate Joy (Charlotte Newhouse) – did not spark similar romantic magic. Joy was, indeed, quite the opposite: A belching, boundary-free vulgarian so obnoxious, she qualified as Leonard’s worst date ever. (Howard found that hard to believe: “I was once robbed by a pre-op transsexual I met on JDate, and that didn’t even crack my top ten.”) But then Joy invited Leonard to be her date at her cousin’s wedding, “and it’s an open bar, so I’ll probably be giving it away.” Second date, here we come!
NEXT: Sheldon reassures us he is not a hippie, but not that he doesn’t have Asperger’s.