There is no science behind comedy. Ironically, this is why the Sheldon plot of tonight's Big Bang Theory is supposed to be funny.
His quest, though noble, is a fool's errand meant to annoy his friends and tickle the audience. He can try all he wants, but he'll inevitably fail. Unfortunately, I wasn't exactly tickled by tonight's episode. In terms of a typical Big Bang, it had far fewer laugh out loud moments than usual, but what it lacked in big humor, it made up for in drama and emotion. I was genuinely surprised and pleased by the Penny-Leonard storyline, and am glad there is more forward momentum for these characters.
"The Hesitation Ramification" begins with Penny informing the group that she got a bit part on an episode of NCIS (though she can't remember the actual letters). Everyone is rightfully thrilled for her, but when the whole gang sits down to watch the show, they find out that she's been cut from the episode. Penny is predictably crushed, but the plot takes a turn when Leonard puts his foot in his mouth and confesses to not believing in her dream. The inherent struggle of Penny's lofty career goals and Leonard's scientific pragmatism hasn't fully been explored before, so it's great to see the show taking it on. If the couple are in it for the long haul, there would be conflict there. At first, I believed that Penny's career should have been handled on its own, but as the episode progressed, combining it with their relationship made sense.
Later in the episode Leonard tries to apologize by informing Penny about the (real life) open Star Wars audition, but it backfires. At the episode's climax, Penny, now sufficiently drunk and crushed, realizes the best thing she has in life is Leonard -- so she proposes. Leonard hesitates, leading Penny to walk out furious and dejected. Sheldon cuts the scene with a joke, but the heartbreak has already occurred. The scene, as well as the one later of Leonard drinking tea, is touching and may have been even better without the Sheldon punchlines. Sheldon's line, "You're my friend and I'm sorry," is particularly effective and unfortunately cut with a "Kick Me" sign joke.
And that's where this episode mostly loses me. I didn't find Sheldon's quest for the perfect joke to be all that funny, and a lot of time was wasted on it. The contsruct felt like a writers' room argument on screen, and where some shows can nod to a writers' room debate in a less obvious way, this just felt like the show being too wink-wink. Maybe a comedy show shouldn't talk about comedy because all it does is put the humor at hand under a microscope. Likewise, this storyline leads to the scene between Amy, Howard and Bernadette at Cheesecake Factory, where she fakes laughter in an elaborate homage to When Harry Met Sally. I got the reference, but it only reminded me of that funnier, original instance.
On the other hand, I did find some truly laughable moments in the Raj-Stuart plot. It wasn't much more than a runner of the two of them trying to practice talking to people so they can eventually talk to girls, but it had its moments. One, it's fun to see Stuart get more to do. I don't think I need him to be a regular, but because he's a bigger loser than the rest of them -- it's fun to have him around once in a while. Kevin Sussman does a great job in the role. And two, it gave the duo ample opportunity for one liners. Tonight I was very fond of "Those mannequins dress too well, they're probably stuck up," and "we're going to die here."
Interestingly, Chuck Lorre also explained that a behind the scenes story of this plot mirrored Penny's journey in the episode, as actress Lexi Contural was cut from the Raj-Stuart plot line.
Can a show be funny while talking about being funny? Absolutely, but for the most part, Sheldon wasn't doing it for me. Thankfully though, this episode had much more weight and another actually funny plot line to ensure it wasn't a complete write off. Now I'm off to meet a sandwich, a rabbi and yo momma at a bar. Sorry, a promiscuous sandwich.