'The Big Bang Theory': How do you solve a problem like Raj Koothrappali?

BIG-BANG-RAJ

Image Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS

I would love to be spending this time celebrating Leonard Nimoy’s fabulous guest spot on last night’s The Big Bang Theory. With Nimoy retired from on-camera acting, it was an inspired decision to have him play the voice of Sheldon’s Spock action figure, helping his owner through the thorny moral dilemma of whether to play with a vintage Star Trek toy, and what to do after Sheldon (Jim Parsons) does play with it — and it breaks. Placing Spock in various pensive and expressive poses as he guided and scolded Sheldon had me giggling throughout the episode. Better yet, there’s no reason why Spock-as-Sheldon’s-conscience can’t show up again at some point down the road.

Alas, what could have been one of the best Big Bangs of the season was marred by the episode’s other plotline: The increasingly woebegone romantic tribulations of Raj Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar). With zero prospects for a plus-one to the impending nuptials of Howard (Simon Helberg) and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch), Raj turned to his parents, confessing he was reluctantly ready for the Indian tradition of an arranged marriage. His parents, meanwhile, thought he was coming out to them instead. “I’m not gay!” protested Raj. “If anything, I’m metrosexual…. It means I like women as well as their skin-care products.” Yeesh — that joke was worn out in 2004. And it only got worse from there.

Raj’s parents set him up with Lakshmi (Chriselle Almeida), a lovely woman who on their second date told Raj that she’s gay and wants a sham marriage to fool her parents. And certainly Raj understands, right? “There’s a rumor back in New Delhi,” Lakshmi tells Raj, “that you’re, how shall we say, comfortable in a sari?” When Raj again protests that he’s not gay, Lakshmi cites the chocolate lava cake he made for dessert, the little soaps in his bathroom, the fact that he’s drenched in “unisex” perfume, and that he knows you say “I like to boogie” after “I like the nightlife.”

There are two separate issues at play here. First, there’s the creaky notion that being a well-put-together man who can cite a ubiquitous disco mega-hit automatically means that man is not only gay, but apparently a cross-dresser. This attitude wasn’t just an attempt to reflect a perceived conservative streak in Indian culture, either. When Bernadette and Howard gave Raj an adorable Yorkie as a consolation gift, Raj was so tickled, he immediately went to see if the tiny pooch would fit inside his “man purse.” Bernadette, as an aside to Howard: “Metrosexual, my ass.”

I have enough straight male friends who smell good, dress well, and/or are good in the kitchen to know that having these qualities and being mistaken for gay isn’t uncommon. But for five seasons now, this feels too often like the only joke about Raj. Frankly, at this point, it would be more interesting and probably much funnier if Raj actually turned out to be gay. If for no other reason than it would resolve the second issue about Raj: his selective mutism around women.

Raj’s inability to speak with the fairer sex when he’s sober has been the other go-to joke about his character, and it’s proven to be a far more fruitful comic resource than the hi-lar-ious idea that he’s gay-but-not-really-gay. But it’s ultimately stunted him. Every other major character on this show has had a chance to grow beyond their initial archetype — even Sheldon Cooper has a girlfriend, who herself has become a breakout character this season precisely because she was allowed to blow up her comfort zone. But Raj is pretty much the same guy in season 5 he was in season 1, except more desperate. This season, his friends fixed him up with a deaf woman, who turned out to be a gold digger. Then he fell for his iPhone’s digital assistant Siri. And at one point last night, he confessed to Howard he was considering marrying Lakshmi just because she may be the only woman who ever wants to marry him. That’s not funny. It’s just sad.

Let me be clear: I adore Raj. He has a big, earnest heart, and his utter lack of cynicism is a welcome salve for the at times caustic comedic barbs of Howard and Sheldon. He deserves to enjoy as much (relative) emotional growth as anyone else on this show. So, Big Bang writers, I implore you: Get Raj some therapy. Put him in front of a hypnotist, who cures his mutism and unleashes his inner gay man, and then have him fall into the arms of a strapping six-foot botanist who’s into Green Lantern cosplay. Or maybe bonk him on the head and have him turn into a Joey-style lothario. Just, please, do something different.

How do you think Raj should grow as a character?

Read more:
‘The Big Bang Theory': Greatest Geeky Guest Stars
‘Big Bang’ creator on tonight’s Leonard Nimoy cameo: ‘Fantasy get’
‘Big Bang Theory’ beats ‘American Idol’ outright for first time

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