For long stretches of last night's episode of The Big Bang Theory, you could be forgiven for wondering if CBS was rebroadcasting an ep from the first or second season that you'd somehow never seen. No Amy Farrah Fowler. No Bernadette. Sheldon behaving at peak comic obnoxiousness; Leonard behaving at peak slow-burn exasperation. A plot heavy on geeky, esoteric science. A strong emphasis on Penny's disinterest in said science, and great interest in anything shoe-related. And Howard and Raj popping in for a few quick-hit comic scenes bracketing the main story. Kaley Cuoco's barely perceptible limp betrayed the fact that the episode does indeed date from this season. But if it weren't for Penny's almost saintly season-four-esque patience with managing Sheldon's persnickety nature, I'd strongly suspect "The Bus Pants Utilization" was borne from an un-produced season 2 script and a last-minute, holiday-season panic for new material.
Mind you, I'm not complaining. I've noticed many of you taking to the comment boards to grouse that Big Bang's fourth season has been too cluttered with new characters, and that the show has lost the geeky spark of its earlier seasons. I don't exactly share those grievances -- I've been really enjoying how both Amy Farrah Fowler and Bernadette have shaken up the show's chemistry, and sent our core characters spinning into some really fun, unexpected territory. But I do share one beef with many of you: This season has virtually ignored the central relationship between Leonard and Sheldon.
Not last night, though. The entire episode rotated around these two almost exclusively; there was practically no "B" story -- well, unless you count the continuing exploration of Raj and Howard's homoerotic bromance. (I'm eternally grateful I'd just finished drinking my beverage when Raj revealed his dream he and Howard had built matching side-by-side mansions, "but there was a secret tunnel connecting your front yard to my back yard." A joke like that was built for spit takes, but I digress.)
The show opened with Leonard suggesting the foursome design an app that can solve differential equations using handwriting recognition that would then run through a symbolic evaluation engine. (Naturally.) Sheldon actually liked the idea, and proceeded as per usual to micro-manage the entire endeavor -- putting Raj in charge of phone support, making Howard his glorified secretary -- but Leonard put his foot down and demanded Sheldon recognize he was in charge of the project. (Award for favorite line reading of the night goes to Kunal Nayyar for this: "Ooo, Leonard's going all alpha nerd on Sheldon's a--!") Of course, Sheldon can barely maintain his composure when he's not in control. He suggested dubbing the app "the Surprisingly Helpful Equation Link Differential Optimize Numerator" (or S.H.E.L.D.O.N.). Leonard said no. He proposed using the code name "Project NODLEHS." Leonard said no. He moved for a vote of no confidence in Leonard. Leonard fired him.
NEXT: Sheldon protests his termination with some unconventional music