Long before we heard the slogan “America First” or airlines instructed us to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before helping anyone else, we as human beings haven’t been so good about considering others. Who hasn’t been told, “You’ve got to take care of yourself first?” or “Nobody looks out for you but you?” To be fair, that’s all true. But often it feels like somewhere along the way taking stock of other people’s feelings fell by the wayside. Have we become too quick to judge, too quick to attack, and too careless with the feelings of others? Tonight’s episode of The Big Bang Theory took that exact issue head on.
Season 10—even seasons 8 and 9—has been more than just guaranteed laughs each week; it’s become a weekly therapy of sorts. From anxiety to hoarding to intimacy, the show has somehow found a way to effectively weave in topical issues 24 episodes a season. For a series that started off about a couple of nerds having problems interacting with the hot girl…well, this is no longer that series.
“The writers are realistic about these characters maturing and evolving, and they have [done that] in wonderful ways,” Johnny Galecki (Leonard) acknowledges. “You couldn’t watch 10 seasons of these guys not being able to get a date.” True, but never did we expect the show to evolve into something of a social discussion each week either.
And in the latest episode—titled “The Emotion Detection Automation”—the series went back to one of the first lessons we were ever taught: be kind. Think about it: When was the last time you were reminded to think of others feelings? Ellen DeGeneres tells us to “be nice to each other” every day at the end of her show, but who hears that and thinks, “Wait, am I doing enough enough for others? And not just strangers, but my S.O., my co-worker, my friend?” No, we hear it and think she’s talking to anybody but us.
Well, Penny, Leonard, Sheldon, and Raj got the rude awakening they—and many of us—needed tonight. Thanks to a MIT invention that detects emotions, Sheldon went on a 22-minute journey to help him become more aware of what his friends are feeling and when. Meanwhile, Penny invited her drug-dealing brother to stay with her and Leonard before actually asking her husband if he was OK with it. Of course, Leonard also planned on turning Sheldon’s old bedroom into a gaming room without asking Penny. And Raj invited over four ex-girlfriends to find out why they really broke up with him. In the end, each character learned that almost every problem they endured could’ve at least had a better outcome if they thought about their actions—and their impact on others—first.
There was something remarkably sweet and satisfying to see Sheldon curled up on the bed at the end of the episode acknowledging that he “always had trouble recognizing people’s emotions.” Or Amy reassuring him that “everybody has things that they need help with.”
Of course, more conflict—in this case, the characters insensitivity towards each other—creates better situation comedy (hence the term “sitcom”). That’s why The Big Bang Theory has aged remarkably well during its run. But its ability to get refreshingly and uncomfortably honest each week is why its not just existing; it’s thriving.
A new episode of The Big Bang Theory airs next Thursday at 8 P.M. ET on CBS.
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