The problem with big swings is sometimes you hit a home run and other times strike out. Maybe a football metaphor would be more appropriate for tonight's "Big Bang Theory." The problem with Hail Mary passes is sometimes you complete and score a touchdown and other times the ball lands yards away from the receiver. Bringing all the characters together for what felt like a big Thanksgiving episode and then making Penny married on top of all that felt like a big swing Hail Mary combination -- and it didn't hit a grand slam or reach the end zone. That's not to say the episode didn't have its highlights. It just didn't all come together.
Do I find it plausible that when Penny and Zach were dating they had a drunken holiday in Vegas and got married by a fake Elvis? Yes, I find that entirely plausible. Do I find it plausible that Penny would think Vegas weddings aren't real? Absolutely not. The entire premise of the episode's A-story is comical but broad and flimsy. One would have to be really dumb and have little cultural awareness for this to ring true. It's another example of the writers stretching her stupidity to its breaking point, and while it can be funny at times, it ruins her credibility. As frustrating and neurotic as Leonard is (and he is very), Penny doesn't have much of a leg to stand on when she gets angry. Her mistake is so hair brained and epic, any anger comes across as false. Paired with Leonard's extreme reaction, it equals a whole bunch of off-putting behavior.
This is all cut somewhat when Zach arrives, as he's humorously less intelligent than everyone else (and he gets a few good jokes in). But it's not enough. By the episode's end, it was a lot of high concept story with little payoff. Penny and Leonard's reconciliation is swift in the spirit of the holiday -- and true to "Big Bang Theory" -- but vague and inconsequential. Will Penny and Leonard get married someday? Probably. Did this episode bring them closer together or farther apart as a couple? It did neither.
Meanwhile, various shenanigans are happening on the fringes of this story. In a somewhat meandering, yet eventually humorous subplot, Sheldon starts out the episode dreading going to Wolowitz's mother's house for Thanksgiving. (He compares his plight to African American slavery in a series of three jokes all told in poor taste.) But he ends up bonding with Bernadette's father Mike over football and making fun of Howard. It's fun to watch Parsons play drunk and see Sheldon's gridiron knowledge again (introduced in season three episode six). On the other hand, the humor at the expense of Howard's daddy issues is more problematic, as it undermines the superb episodes from last season that tackled his problems. Bernie's father as the straight man among all the crazy was a good touch. The show mined a lot of comedy out of throwing him into that dynamic. Amy's reaction to Sheldon's slap on the butt too was a winning moment, thanks to Mayim Bialik.
Then you have Raj cooking and Howard's mother upstairs and the episode begins to feel stuffed. These runners were tolerable and worked once or twice, but made the half-hour feel scattered. Putting all the characters in one place and letting the sparks fly should have worked like gangbusters for "Big Bang," but its aspirations ended up being the episode's biggest failure. Little moments and jokes broke through but this wasn't up to par with stronger recent installments. But sometimes Thanksgiving can be dysfunctional, so who can blame them? Now let's go throw around the pigskin ... as long as this isn't a kosher household.
"The Big Bang Theory" airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.