There are times while watching The Big Bang Theory that I'm struck by how unusually real the characters are allowed to be. The show is often at its sharpest when it just lets Leonard, Penny, Raj, Howard, and Bernadette — and even deliciously over-the-top creations like Sheldon or Amy Farrah Fowler — loose into a human-scaled dilemma and allows us to watch them try to figure it out, without any heightened, sitcom-y shenanigans to get in their way.
This week's episode was a prime example: While hanging out at the comic-book store, Leonard unwittingly landed the digits of Alice (True Blood's Courtney Ford), that rare breed of stunning woman who sports body piercings and peekaboo tattoos in tantalizing places and is also really, really into comic books, so much so she's drawn one of her own. Well, okay, that's not the most believable of scenarios, but Ford did a great job of selling Alice as a real person who was really into Leonard. And Johnny Galecki did a great job of selling his very real moral dilemma: Sleep with the woman who is sitting right next to me, or be faithful to the girlfriend who is thousands of miles away in India?
To resolve that dilemma, he turned to Penny, and what could have devolved into cheap insult jokes or pat lesson-learning was instead a frank, funny conversation between two exes who've learned to be friends again. (And, by the way, whoever decided that Penny's recipe for mac and cheese includes dropping in half a stick of butter deserves some kind of medal.) "Leonard, you're looking for a way to sleep with both women and have everybody be happy about it," Penny finally concluded. "Now we're getting somewhere!" exclaimed Leonard. (More of this, please!) Leonard finally made the "right" decision, just a wee bit too late: Alice wasn't so keen on hanging with a guy who'd cheat on his girlfriend, and Priya, it turns out, had already hard-core cheated on Leonard — with her ex, no less. And just in time for sweeps, the Big Bang relationship exactly no one was rooting for is finally going kablooey.
Of course, this is a sitcom, and we are closing in on All Hallows' Eve, so I can also forgive the Big Bang folks for indulging in some very sitcom-y "pre-Halloween hijinkery" revolving around Sheldon's ham-fisted attempts to scare Leonard, Raj, and Howard after they petrified him so thoroughly he fainted and pissed his pants. With Leonard, Sheldon telegraphed something scary was in their mailbox, only to have Leonard switch it out and scare Sheldon instead. With Raj, Sheldon planted a snake in his desk, only to discover that you can never scare an Indian with a snake (I mean, duh!). And with Howard, Sheldon tried an amped-up hand-buzzer, only to have Howard fake a heart attack and Bernadette force him to stab her fiancé's chest with a gag syringe. It was only after Leonard had discovered Priya's infidelity that Sheldon finally got his revenge, springing from their couch covered in zombie makeup. "Bazinga, punk, now we're even!" Man, would I love to see the outtakes from that scene, right?
NEXT: Leonard as Lion-O, and the best lines of the night