The long history of sitcoms says that series frequently take their lives – or at least, their laughs – in their hands when they begin pairing up and marrying off characters. Still, when entering your ninth season, as “The Big Bang Theory” did on Monday, there’s a temptation to take such chances, in part because there are few new frontiers left to explore. Having already cashed in fabulously on every conceivable level, no one associated with the show has anything to lose. Viewers, however, might come up on the short end if the direction augured by the premiere is any guide.
After several on-again, off-again permutations (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), the wedding of Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) finally happened, although in a slightly novel twist, it was treated almost as an afterthought. That’s because a fight between the two — over a kiss he exchanged with a co-worker — sent them home from the Las Vegas mill where they tied the knot barely speaking to each other, retreating to their respective apartments.
At the same time, Leonard’s self-centered roommate Sheldon (Jim Parsons) is avidly if boorishly pursuing his sort-of girlfriend Amy (Mayim Bialik), who finally woke up to the fact in last season’s finale that he didn’t treat her particularly well. Sheldon’s tone-deafness and lack of social graces has always been part of his charm, but the writers (six of whom, including co-creator Chuck Lorre, were credited with collaborating on the script and story) risk turning him into even more of a lout than usual should this arc persist along these lines much longer.
In a sense, the episode sort of belonged to Stuart (Kevin Sussman), who has emerged as the neediest if not the nerdiest of the bunch – hitting on Amy in the midst of her breakup, before turning his attention to the newly wed but estranged Penny. With Howard (Simon Helberg) married off, Stuart has the potential to take his place as the suitor with all the wrong moves.
“The Big Bang Theory” remains the least of CBS’ problems, and indeed the linchpin of its entire comedy-development apparatus. That said, the clock is ticking on how much longer the network will be able to keep the gang together, ratcheting up the pressure to help cultivate another hit before the show leaves behind a great big black hole in its schedule.
Even in what was, for this series, a relatively clunky episode there were still some funny lines, such as Penny ad-libbing the “Toy Story” theme for her vows, or Sheldon cluelessly telling Penny that another woman is brilliant and attractive enough to “do way better than Leonard.” That role of the woman Leonard kissed, played by Melissa Tang, is scheduled to turn up next week.
Nevertheless, when Penny said near the outset, “We’ve put this off long enough,” it was hard to argue. The question now – for those who remain invested in these characters, but skeptical about these latest wrinkles – is how much longer they intend to drag it out.