Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory
Episode 9: The Parking Spot Escalation
By: Carlos Uribe

The Big Bang Theory is about a group of friends who happen to be nerds and the girl next door.

Spoilers Ahoy!

What was this episode about? It's right there in the title: it's about a parking spot. It's a conflict that didn't really need to exist but it happened because Sheldon caused it. It all began when Howard told the group that he has gotten a new car and it's parked on a spot. This turns out to be the spot that was assigned to Sheldon. Since Sheldon doesn't have a car or even know how to drive, the University decided to give it away to another asset: the engineer who had been to space. Sheldon flips out. He doesn't want to give his spot away even if he isn't using it. To Sheldon, it's a matter of ego. Sheldon believes himself to be the most valuable member of the faculty. He has made singificant contributions to thereotical physics, even if none of it has actually been proven, and he added Nutter Butters to the university vending machines. He can't accept the fact that anybody is as, or even more, valuable to the university than he is. To Sheldon, this is what the fight over the parking spot represents: asserting that he's the alpha male in the University. Since Sheldon is an egomaniac, he's not a character that likes to share the spotlight. He might have no need of the parking spot but this is a matter of pride for him. Howard doesn't realize this when he takes the spot. He doesn't even seem to know that it belonged to Sheldon because why would it? Sheldon doesn't have a car to park. Howard thinks it's ridiculous that his friend is making such a big deal over a parking space and he tries his best to get Sheldon to just drop the matter.

The conflict has been set. How will the characters fight this war over? Sheldon begins with calling the University's president. When this doesn't work, Sheldon resorts to stealing an autographed helmet of Iron Man from Howard. His justification? Since Howard wasn't using it, that gives permission to Sheldon to take it. It's Sheldon's way of making his point about the parking spot: it doesn't matter if he wasn't using it, it still belonged to him. Howard's revenge is to break into Sheldon's apartment and sit on Sheldon's spot while naked. He adds another layer when he uses Sheldon's laptop on top of his groin. Howard's justification is that Sheldon wasn't using it at the time that Howard got into the apartment. Since the entire argument from Howard exists because Sheldon doesn't use the parking space, Sheldon decides that he'll prove that argument wrong. He tries to park Amy's car in the spot but that fails because it gets towed. Sheldon's response is to move his office to the parking spot. This way, he's using it in a different manner. Howard tries to use his car to scare Sheldon out of the spot. Sheldon gets the last volley when he sits naked in Howard's car. This act convinces Howard of soemthing: it's not worth it. Howard realizes that Sheldon is too nuts so he offers to give up the spot. Sheldon can't allow Howard to be the better man because that's what the entire conflict was really about so he allows Howard to use the spot until Sheldon is able to use it. This deal only works because Howard admits to Sheldon that he's the better man. Sheldon is satisfied with this praise because it means that he's still the number one asset of the University. He wins in this book even if it means that he does technically lose the spot he wasn't using.

All of this and it would have led to a good episode. Add a good sub-plot to fill in time and the writers could have called it a day. They had the funny jokes and a good conflict to base their episode around. The writers weren't satisfied with this. They were lazy with the previous epiosde but they're trying with this one. They allowed the conflict to bleed over into the character's respective love interest. Amy starts to fight Sheldon's battle with Bernadette. Bernadette took Howard's side. Whereas the conflict between Howard and Sheldon was largely built around escalating pranks, Amy and Bernadette fought with scathing attacks and cold-hearted moves. The conflict became personal between them and it drove them apart. The two start arguing over whose husband is more important: Amy brings up that Howard's time to shine is temporary since he'll never return to space while Bernadette mentions that all of Sheldon's contributions to science have been thereotical. It gets really bad when Bernadette states that Amy's sex life is as hypothetical as Sheldon's career. This low blow elictis a “damn” from both Penny and me. It only gets worse when Amy insults Bernadette's sexual activity by stating that Howard is thinking about his mother whenever they're together. This conflict remains just as serious when Bernadette has Amy's car towed. Amy's response? Try to phsyically attack Bernadette only to miss and hit the innocent by-stander, Penny.

This episode really worked well because the conflict wasn't just played out between the two principal characters but also between Amy and Bernadette. This conflict is so consuming that there is actually no sub-plot. When Howard and Sheldon settle their differences, Bernadette and Amy are able to be friendly with each other again. The two claim to be closer together but it's difficult to really believe them. It wouldn't surprise me if the two are just playing nice until they have an excuse to take the gloves off again. As for the character who started this entire conflict? Sheldon never admits that he was wrong. He doesn't care that this fight caused discord with one of his friends or that it drove a huge wedge between Bernadette and Amy. He's simply happy that he gets to act like he's the better man, failing to realize that his victory is hollow because the conflict was too petty to begin with. Sheldon is really unlikeable in this episode but he's also the most tragic characters of them all. He might not care about the consequences that his actions have brought on everyone else but it also means that any reward he gained is really empty.

The Parking Spot Escalation is a brilliant and inspired episode of the show. It doesn't just use Sheldon to generate the conflict and the laughs but it uses the girls to heighten everything. The episode might have been between Sheldon and Howard but the real stakes were with Bernadette and Amy. It'll be interesting if the wedge is actually forgotten about in future episodes or if the two females will slowly boil until they explode again.

Other Notes:

The episode ends with a scene at a laundromat where Sheldon tries to have his pillow cushion cleaned and to sell his laptop. It seems like that scene was largely added because the episode ended up being to short and they needed to add something.

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