Straightforward high jinks from The Big Bang Theory gang are heightened by a visit from Bill Gates, appearing as himself, in “The Gates Excitation.”

The main story in this episode is Penny (Kaley Cuoco) being tapped to give Bill Gates a tour of her company’s labs and offices because “his Foundation is looking to partner with a pharmaceutical company to help them develop affordable vaccines” (something the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation really does). If the tour goes well, it could lead to a new PR job with the company for Penny. 

Of course, as soon as the guys find out about this they’re all determined to meet him. (Leonard (Johnny Galecki) had met him once in the past, and he cried when he encountered his hero.)

Leonard inadvertently sees what hotel Bill Gates is staying at on Penny’s phone, and as soon as she’s out of the way he grabs Howard (Simon Helberg) and Raj (Kunal Nayyar), and they rush over to try to meet him. 

They encounter Gates in the lobby, and Leonard begins sniveling in a way that does jog his memory about their previous meeting. They grab a selfie, and all is well… until Leonard gets home and discovers that Penny has wrangled an invitation for him to a reception at her work the next day. Leonard fakes being sick, so Bill Gates won’t out him as having sneaked around her to meet him, but when Penny surprises him with a Skype sesh with Gates during the reception, the jig is up.

Meanwhile, Sheldon (Jim Parsons) is so convinced that Bill Gates’s visit is an elaborate April Fools Day prank Penny’s playing on him that the guys can’t help but turn it into one. They send him on a wild goose chase to random hotels on the outskirts of LA, and he never succeeds in meeting Gates. 

Elsewhere, Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) is completely lost to “mom brain.” She invites Amy (Mayim Bialik) to hang out, but can’t get past watching Bob the Builder and offering playground snacks. Amy drags her to a restaurant, hoping to jog her grown up conversation with a grown up environment, but it’s no use. Bernadette cuts up Amy’s food and makes her watch videos of the kids throughout the entire lunch.

When they get home, Bernie is apologetic, but Amy enlightens her about the evolutionary purpose and benefits of mom brain– which Bernie decides to start actively leveraging. If new moms, as Amy has convinced her, are “cognitively primed to take in new information,” Bernadette is ready to stop wasting it on making up songs about the baby’s toes and starts reading. As a result, her brain is firing on extra cylinders, and instead of boring Amy about the kids at their next lunch, she can bore her with all the new information she’s memorized. 

While Bernie is learning about how the Earth is most likely to come to an end (the sun will run out of hydrogen, swell up into a red giant and consume the Earth), Stuart (Kevin Sussman) is making a weak effort to learn Spanish so he can talk to the other nannies at the park when he takes the Wolowitz kids there. The nannies are reasonably worried about the pasty weirdo someone lets care for their kids, but he does try. 

RELATED: Keep up with my Big Bang Theory Season 11 recaps HERE

At the end of each episode, executive producer / writer Chuck Lorre inserts a vanity card that features a thought or joke or political rant. This week, he shared a sweet, if intermittently sexist, remembrance of Stephen Hawking that I think is worth including here:

One of the greatest honors of my life was directing a scene for The Big Bang Theory featuring Stephen Hawking. Try as I might, there was no way to prepare for an event like that. I’ve met some pretty smart people making sitcoms, but none of them would rank as a once-in-a-generation, paradigm-shifting genius (okay, maybe Jon Cryer). I also had never met someone trapped in a totally unresponsive body (insert gratuitous ex-wife joke here).

When I was first introduced to Professor Hawking, one of his assistants lifted his hand in order for me to shake it. I was told that while he cannot move his hand, he can feel and enjoy the touch of other people. I remember thinking how this might explain that whole business with the nurse. I then told him that I tried reading A Brief History of Time, but sadly could not understand a word of it. My honesty was rewarded when his eyes lit up. His assistant whispered to me that when non-scientists tell him they enjoyed the book, he knows they’re lying.

After a few more nervous, dim-witted pleasantries, “You know the Rose Bowl Parade goes right by here,” it came time for me to direct the scene between him and Jim Parsons. Looking back, I think I can safely say the material played well. The story worked, the jokes all scored. But I will be forever tormented by the memory of how the scene began. I looked down at Stephen Hawking, frozen in that chair, and, to my horror, my mouth said, “Action!”

Thankfully, my poor choice of word only rattled me. Professor Hawking would guest star on the show many more times over the years. And while there’s no way for a civilian like me to even remotely appreciate his intellect, I can tell you what I came to understand about the man: Stephen Hawking had a fierce sense of humor. Especially about himself. His willingness to laugh, despite the enormous difficulties he faced, was part of his genius.


Leona Laurie