The Big Bang Theory‘s Sheldon Cooper is a pop culture gift who keeps on giving, and fans of the show can perhaps never get tired of watching him lecture Leonard about bathroom etiquette or listing codes of the Roommate Agreement. However, as unique as Sheldon’s character design was, he did have some weak moments and was often the victim of bad screenwriting.
It goes without saying that TBBT is not a perfect show and has often done some disservice to its main lead by not exploring them more in terms of personal arcs. There are episodes where Sheldon shines and carries the entire episode on his shoulders and there are some episodes where his storyline takes a tumble. These are some of Sheldon’s strongest and weakest episodes:
Best: The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis/ Season 2
One of the most memorable episodes of the show, “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis” sees Sheldon’s bond with Penny grow. As many fans remember, Sheldon’s arc for this episode saw him try to find Penny the perfect gift for Christmas. Since Sheldon’s friendship with Penny was still in the early stages, the viewers see him struggle to pick something that she would like.
For someone who rarely forms close attachments and thus never had to buy gifts for others, Sheldon’s crisis was very engaging to some viewers since it’s very well-crafted and also says a lot about the character too. In the end, the storyline is seen to end on a very wholesome note when Sheldon discovers Penny had got Leonard Nimoy’s signature for him, leading to him giving her all the gift baskets he bought as well as a hug.
Worst: The Thanksgiving Decoupling/ Season 7
One of the worst aspects of ensemble sitcoms is that the script is designed to make space for the main characters – even if their presence has nothing to contribute to the dominant storyline. In standalone episodes, this becomes a problem because it takes a toll on the screenplay. In this season 7 episode, for instance, Penny just finds out that she is married to Zack and of course, things are tense between her and Leonard.
As a subplot, Sheldon is mad at Amy for making him go to Bernadette’s for Thanksgiving. This was, of course, done so the entire squad would be together for Thanksgiving, but the episode doesn’t give Sheldon enough room to express his angst. His chemistry with Bernadette’s father is just inconsistent with his character since he has been previously seen to express his discomfort in unfamiliar surroundings.
Best: The Monopolar Expedition/ Season 2
The episode where Sheldon preps for going to the Arctic expedition is one of the most hilarious episodes on the show, especially because it was designed with Sheldon at the center of it.
Bits like where Sheldon asks Penny for access to The Cheesecake Factory’s freezer or the way he tells his friends they are coming with him because he doesn’t want to interview new people are very deftly crafted. For fans, they were also excited to see where this major expedition would take him.
Worst: The Pants Alternative/ Season 3
Sheldon’s weakest episodes are those which don’t prioritize his quirks and this one is definitely one of them. This one, for instance, had a lot of comic potential since it finds Sheldon getting revered for his work which he loves, but he also needs to step out of his comfort zone which he hates.
However, for some fans, it was a little far-fetched to believe that he had no knowledge about what alcohol could do to his system or that he would get seriously drunk right before his big speech (which Sheldon would never normally do). The episode brought in elements of slapstick humor that are inconsistent with Sheldon’s personal brand which confused fans. Also, this episode could have gone in a really different, more endearing direction but its ending felt quite half-baked.
Best: The Cushion Saturation/ Season 2
This was one of the best episodes in terms of screenwriting since it gave Sheldon’s character a room to actually shine comedically; it also helps that the Howard and Leslie’s subplot was not given too much screen time as it kept the script really tight.
Penny accidentally shoots Sheldon’s couch cushion with a paintball gun, leaving it with a big, wet green spot. The episode offers some unpredictability since viewers were keen to learn how exactly Sheldon would react, considering how much he loves his spot on the couch. The ending is also really well-designed since it’s punchy and syncs up with the paintball storyline.
Worst: The Large Hadron Collision/ Season 3
This episode had a lot of comic potential and could actually diversify Sheldon’s character design. Sheldon has been depicted as childish and self-serving so it makes sense that he expects all his friends to give his first preference.
But his petty competition with Penny over who Leonard takes with him to see the Hadron Collider in Switzerland isn’t reasonable since he fully understands that Leonard wants to spend Valentine’s Day with his girlfriend. Though the comedy was well-paced and creative in this one, its premise was quite shaky.
Best: The Guitarist Amplification/ Season 3
One of the best episodes in the entire franchise which shrewdly explores the ersatz parent-child dynamic Sheldon shares with Leonard and Penny – this episode is comedy gold. Although the humor is a little too flighty and over-the-top it gets the job done. Penny and Leonard are feuding because Penny has agreed to let her guitarist ex stay on her couch which makes Leonard insecure.
Their bickering makes Sheldon uncomfortable as it takes him back to his childhood where his parents would frequently fight. Not only is the episode engaging and quirky but its tone is very much in sync with what the show has tried to establish with its humor.
Worst: The Bozeman Reaction/ Season 3
Season 3 was one of the show’s strongest seasons, which is why it’s surprising that an episode like “The Bozeman Reaction” actually found its way in the catalog. In this episode, Sheldon decides to move out of Pasadena after he and Leonard discovered they had been robbed. However, for some fans, they didn’t the way it was handled.
Considering that Sheldon was experiencing some anxiety after the ordeal, it didn’t make sense that Leonard would get annoyed and frustrated at his behavior. Plus, the episode does a really poor job of identifying its comedy points since the tonality of the episode is all over the place.
Best: The Cornhusker Vortex/ Season 3
The comedy in this one wasn’t just grounded or relatable but also quite novel because it took a few liberties in the narration which made the episode tighter. Leonard is anxious about spending time with Penny’s friends during a football game since he knows very little about sports. Sheldon helps him out and is actually keen to see him through this crisis.
From the build-up of the episode to the scientific banter between Sheldon and Leonard, this episode does a brilliant job of utilizing Sheldon in a broader space and also playing up the show’s strengths.
Worst: The Skank Reflex Analysis/ Season 5
Season 5 had a strong start in terms of premise. Things were dramatic between Leonard, Priya, and Penny, since it was made clear that there were still some lingering feelings between Leonard and Penny. The situation became even more interesting when the writers hinted that Raj and Penny may have had a one-night-stand.
But the writers really couldn’t design Sheldon’s storyline as a primary character to sync up with the dominant storyline, which was a shame. Especially since his Paintball subplot wasn’t a good enough secondary plot. Sheldon’s reaction almost seems independent pertaining to what’s happening around him and the writing in this episode could have been much tauter, especially vis-a-vis Sheldon.