In last season’s The Gorilla Experiment, Sheldon tutored Penny in physics to help her learn to carry on intelligent conversations with Leonard about his job. Those tutoring sessions went as might be expected, with Sheldon treating Penny as if she were the less-than-intelligent subject of some grand experiment. Penny, however, as she frequently does, managed at times during that episode to turn the tables on Sheldon with her bubbly illogic.
The Thespian Catalyst flips Gorilla’s scenario, casting Penny into the role of tutor and forcing Sheldon to beseech her help. Sheldon’s troubles start when he gives a guest lecture to a group of brilliant doctorial students in Catalyst’s opening segment. The students are less than impressed with the good Dr. Cooper, a fact they make abundantly—and cruelly—clear when they take to their Twitter accounts following the lecture.
In typical, socially-inept Sheldon fashion, Sheldon’s at first oblivious to the fact his students didn’t take kindly to his pretentious, condescending style. In fact, he describes the lecture to Leonard, Penny, Howard and Raj as “triumphant.” Then Raj shows him the tweets and Sheldon storms out, describing the students as a bunch of “poopy heads.”
Later, during a Skype session, Amy Farrah Fowler speculates that perhaps Sheldon’s failure as a teacher owes to poor socialization skills (ya think?). She suggests he take an acting class to improve himself in that department.
Who better to give Sheldon cheap acting lessons than the struggling actress across the hall? Penny, after gloating over the fact she knows something Dr. Sheldon Cooper doesn’t and that he’s asking her for help, agrees to tutor Sheldon. Oh, and the $40 a lesson Sheldon offers doesn’t hurt either.
Sheldon’s first acting lesson, much like Penny’s first physics lesson, reminds that if average women are from Venus, socially-awkward, uber-nerd physicists must be from the Andromeda Galaxy. For lesson 1, Penny focuses on improv. Sheldon, however, as might be expected, proves woefully unable to grasp one of improv’s basic principles: “accept and build.”
Lesson 2’s even worse. Sheldon refuses to use Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for a scene study and instead hands Penny a one-act adaptation for a Star Trek fan fiction novella he wrote he was 10. From there the ‘lesson’ quickly descends into a therapy session with Penny forced to call Sheldon’s mom to calm him down when the lesson brings out Sheldon’s bitter childhood memories. And so it ends.
Elsewhere in this episode, Raj has vivid daydreams about Bernadette, Howard’s girlfriend, after Bernadette, in an attempt to boost Raj’s confidence, calls him a “hottie.” The first daydream involves Howard leaving the country for an overseas fellowship and in the second, Howard is incapacitated in a car accident. In both cases, daydream Howard asks Raj to “take care of Bernadette” for him—including sexually. Raj’s final daydream—the episode’s closing sequence—was a musical number between Raj, Bernadette and a handful of dancing extras, set in the university cafeteria where the Bang works. That lively, colorful final scene was also this episode’s funniest and one of “Bang’s” all-time most creative, off-the-wall sequences ever.
Catalyst wasn’t as funny as week 13’s The Love Car Displacement, but it nonetheless offered several laughs. The chemistry between Cuoco and Parsons was as sharp and funny as ever, but still, Catalyst wasn’t quite as funny as “The Gorilla Experiment” either. Penny’s “bubbly illogic” didn’t come into play here, but rather, “Catalyst” was more about Penny’s patience and kindheartedness—and her desire to make an easy buck. For some reason, she has a soft spot for the socially-inept Sheldon—perhaps even a touch of affection. Eventually, I suspect (and hope) we may even see a moment of genuine empathy between these two.