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"The VCR Illumination" is the tenth episode of the twelfth season of the American sitcom The Big Bang Theory. The episode aired on Thursday, December 6, 2018.


Sheldon and Amy are still down about their theory being disproven, but a VHS tape from Sheldon's past inspires him not to give up. Also, Bernadette turns into a pageant mom when she tries to help Wolowitz ace his Magic Castle audition.[1]

Extended Plot[]

While preparing for everybody's dinner in Apartment 4A, Leonard and Penny review a list of topics that are verboten since Sheldon is still upset about his Super-Asymmetry theory being disproved. Symmetry. Asymmetry. The Simpsons. Simba from "The Lion King". Cymbals. Russians; the country, the Russian dressing or Russian Roulette or "Rocky IV" where he fought a Russian fighter. Or science, success, failure or Nobel Prizes. Sheldon and Amy join them. Amy asks what they are doing and Bernadette replies, “Nothing.” Sheldon explains that that is where his career is going and the runs out followed by Amy. Poor Bernadette looks embarrassed as Howard tells her that that was “nice going.”

Early in the morning, Amy doesn't find Sheldon next to her in bed. He's up in the living room eating, reading, watching TV and listening to the radio trying to reevaluate every opinion he ever had since he was wrong about super-asymmetry. Sheldon tries both asparagus and jazz music and still doesn't like either. Amy tells him that she is also upset about their theory.


Leonard's pep talk.

Penny gets up in the morning finding Leonard having chicken fried steak for breakfast. Leonard explains that she knew he was a bad boy when she married him. Amy still in her robe comes in and is worried about Sheldon. Penny tells her to make him a cup of tea, but Sheldon now considers that “leaf soup”. Since Sheldon is now reevaluating everything, Amy is worrying what will happen when his reevaluation reaches her. Leonard suggests an old VHS video tape of the one person he really respects, himself. Sheldon gave it to Leonard years ago in case of an emergency.

At the Wolowitzes, Bernadette finds Howard working with a VHS player so that he can loan it to Amy. His test tape is supposed to be an old copy of “Jeopardy” recorded for his mother; however, Bernadette figures that it's probably porn. Instead they find a young Howard performing magic as the “Great Howdini”. He had been practicing his magic so that he could audition for the Magic Castle in LA. Howard never went through with it because he didn't think he was good enough. Bernadette wants him to keep trying because she doesn't want their kids to think that their father is a quitter.


Watching Sheldon's Dad talk to his football players.

Amy walks into Apartment 4B with the VHS player and the tape. Sheldon has reached his podcast show and is now calling it “Fine with Flags.” She shows her husband the tape of his childhood emergency pep talk. He claims that he was saving that for when they stop making “Star Wars” movies, but that is highly unlikely now. Eleven year old Sheldon appears, greets himself and tells him that at he must be at a point in his future life when he is questioning everything. First young Sheldon asks adult Sheldon to give him the code word so that the future him knows that he is not an imposter. "Robot monkey butler". His younger self then tells older Sheldon to never forget no matter how bad things seem... Static on the TV and then a high school football game appears. His father must have recorded over the pep talk with one of his football games. Amy asks if there was anything she could do. Sheldon wants a time machine to go back and tell his younger self that he should just give up since nothing works out the way you want it. Amy just wanted to offer Sheldon a cup of "leaf soup".

Howard comes into the living room and finds that Bernadette had all his magic tricks from the garage set out. She wants the "Great Howdini" to be a member of the Magic Castle. She can help him with all her beauty pageant experience. Bernadette is going to be a great pageant mom for him like her mother was.

Leonard and Penny contact Leonard's mother. Leonard asks for some professional advice that she is not interested in giving until she learns that Sheldon needs her help. Penny tells her that since his research paper was disproved, Sheldon was sad, angry and generally broken. Beverly replies that Sheldon is grieving over the loss of his paper just like someone having lost a loved one.

Bernadette has Raj over to watch the new performance|act that she has developed for Howard. Raj knows that he can help since he has seen every episode of “America’s Got Talent” and knows talent. Bernadette announces “The Great Howdini” who comes down the stairs singing “Magic to Do” from “Pippin” in a sequin jacket and sporting a high bouffant hairdo. Next he throws glitter in Raj's face. His introduction from Bernadette sounds like a contestant in the Miss America pageant.

Back at Sheldon and Amy's, the Hofstadter's visit to cheer up Sheldon and act on Beverly's advice. Things were going better only because Sheldon was lying face down. Sheldon doesn't want their help. The only person who can help him was erased. Leonard and Penny want Sheldon to symbolically bury his paper and say a few words over it. Amy suggests they bury in the park; however, Sheldon wants to give it a Viking funeral. Instead of going to a lake and shooting the funeral boat with a flaming arrow. The bathtub will suffice followed by a cold Yoo-hoo. In the bathroom, Sheldon explains that their theory was more than scientific endeavor, it was a new and beautiful way to describe the universe and a universe that he wanted to live in. Placing the paper in a pan, they set it on fire. It looks quite beautiful until the funeral boat sets their shower curtain on fire.


Howard's audition at The Magic Castle.

Howard is suffering from glitter up his nose. Bernadette plans to take the day off and help Howard run through his act. Howard isn't really interested; however, Bernadette still doesn't want him to be a quitter. ALSO, she wants to do everything her way since she is the pageant mother and the victory is hers! Too much for Howard. He decides to have an act that is more "magic" than "pageant".

Now Sheldon wakes up and finds Amy not in bed. His wife is in the living room watching his father's football game on the old VHS tape to find if any of young Sheldon's speech survived. Sheldon's dad then appears giving his team a half-time pep talk. He tells the team that they're not going to win this game, but that that does not make them losers. They can learn from failure as much as they can learn from success. Sheldon remembers that the team lost that game and that their opponent let one of their cheerleaders kick a field goal. Sheldon then considers that he is not that much different from his father. Amy then adds that from one viewpoint he and his father's lives are symmetrical and from another viewpoint they are asymmetrical. She postulates that what if symmetry and asymmetry are observer relative in their theory? That would mean that the Russian paper would be right, but from only one perspective. Sheldon gets excited and tells Amy that they have a paper to fix! She runs off to get her laptop. Sheldon turns to the TV and thanks his dad.

At the Magic Castle, the Great Howdini is performing his magic act. He borrows an expensive wrist watch from one of the judges, smashes it; and abbracadbra the watch is still smashed and the magic doesn't work.



  • Title Reference: Based upon the advice that Sheldon gets off an old VHS tape recorded when he was a kid.
  • Taping date: November 20, 2018.
  • This episode was watched by 12.52 million people with a rating of 2.1 (adults 18–49).
  • Total viewers including DVR users 17.92 million.
  • This episode aired in Canada on December 6, 2018.
  • Chuck Lorre's vanity card. [1]


  • Nicholas Graff at - This felt like the show firing on all cylinders, with actual funny jokes in both story-lines, momentum, an emotional ending, character arcs, this is what the show once was and has been lacking for some time now. If there was a problem with this episode it would be the lack of Raj, but he's been featured a lot this season, so I suppose it is okay to have him sidelined for one episode. Also, the fact that they had to bring in characters from the spin-off to get a real emotional connection for Sheldon could be seen as an issue, but as far as I am concerned if it works, good for them. [2]
  • IMDb user review [3]


  • This would be the only time that actors from The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon would appear in the same episode portraying their actual characters. Due to the different time periods in which each series is set, the conceit of a videotape from the past is one of the only ways this could happen (the others being a flashback or a dream/fantasy sequence).
    • This could be considered the second time the two series crossed over, as "The Tam Turbulence" was centered around a visit by Sheldon's childhood friend Tam Nguyen, who had first appeared on Young Sheldon. Due to the different time periods, the character was portrayed by a different actor (Ryan Phuong on Young Sheldon and Robert Wu in "The Tam Turbulence").
  • Actor Lance Barber had previously appeared in the fifth-season episode "The Speckerman Recurrence," where he played Jimmy Speckerman, Leonard's former high school bully.
  • Amy postulates symmetry and asymmetry are observer-relative, thus setting Sheldon to work out the mathematics of a larger theory than their super-asymmetric model of the universe.
  • An apparent continuity error is Sheldon hating asparagus, even though he said he had a craving for it in "The White Asparagus Triangulation."
    • Though this was a ruse to make Leonard seem manly in front of his girlfriend.
  • This isn't the first time that Howard had a magic trick go disastrously wrong. In "The Shiny Trinket Maneuver," as he was performing the "poured milk disappears into a paper cone" trick for his cousin's birthday, the front of his pants got soaked when Bernadette accidentally handed him a real pitcher of milk instead of the trick one.
  • Howard's "The Great Howdini" pageant-like speech seems to have been one that remained unedited from his childhood; he mentions having no siblings, yet he met his half-brother Josh Wolowitz in his adulthood during Season 8x20 episode, "The Fortification Implementation".
  • Sheldon would rather listen to himself than anyone else, but instead (and unexpectedly) learns something from his father, who he had often in the past looked down on as being something of a stereotypical "drunken, philandering redneck." In this case, watching his father give his high school football team a half-time pep talk during a game they were not going to win inspires him to not give up and continue pursuing super-asymmetry (which is ironic since, in the previous episode, Amy told Leonard and Penny that a pep talk wouldn't help, even though Penny's advice about not giving up even though they're down by seven points at halftime turned out to be essentially the same as his father's).
  • Beverly Hofstadter seems to have again reverted to her old ways when she tells Leonard that not everything is about him and when she is not interested in giving him advice until she finds out that it's Sheldon who needs help. However, Leonard really shouldn't be selfish either way.
  • VCR is the abbreviation of Video Cassette Recorder. VHS is the abbreviation of Video Home System, the consumer-level analog video recording system developed and released by the Victor Company of Japan (JVC) in the 1970s. VHS was a competitor to Sony's Betamax recording system, and even though Betamax had better picture quality, VHS would come to dominate the home video market from the late 1970s to the early 2000s (until the emergence of DVD and Blu-ray discs) due to various factors, not the least of which was JVC's willingness to license VHS technology to other companies, while Sony kept Betamax proprietary.
  • Only time in a 24-episode season, that the last of the year prior to Christmas break is episode 10 rather than 11.


Penny: Okay, Sheldon and Amy are still pretty upset about their theory being disproved.
Leonard: So we have made a list of subjects for everyone to avoid.
Penny: Symmetry.
Leonard: Asymmetry.
Penny: Oh, "Sim City". Sounds too much like symmetry.
Leonard: That also applies to "The Simpsons", Simba from "The Lion King", and cymbals.
Penny: Russia or Russian in any context. The country, the dressing, the roulette.
Leonard: Uh, also, no talk of "Rocky IV".
Bernadette: Why "Rocky IV"?
Howard: Because he fights a Russian. I'm sorry about her.

Penny: We should just try and avoid anything that makes them think of their project or science or Nobel Prizes or successes or failures.

Penny: Have you tried making him a cup of tea?
Amy: He's re-evaluated tea. Now he thinks it's nothing but leaf soup.

Amy: He's re-thinking everything. How long is it gonna be before he gets to me?

Amy: How long has it been since you've seen it?
Sheldon: Not since the day I recorded it. No, I had just watched "Back to the Future II", where Marty McFly gets a glimpse of his future self, and that got me thinking, the day may come where I needed my help, like they did with that movie. That was not great.

Young Sheldon: Hello, Sheldon.
Sheldon: Hello, Sheldon.
Young Sheldon: If you're watching this, I assume something bad has happened. Something unfortunate and unforeseen. Something that's making you question everything.
Sheldon: I'm so smart.
Young Sheldon: Now just to make sure it's really you watching this and not an imposter, what am I thinking of? On the count of three. One, two, three.
Both: Robot monkey butler.
Young Sheldon: Okay, good.
Amy: Should I leave you two alone?
Young Sheldon: Sheldon, never forget, no matter how bad things seem, you al...

Amy: Is there anything I can do?
Sheldon: Yes. You can build me a time machine so I can go back and tell my younger self to give up, because nothing's gonna work out the way he wants.

(Skype ringing)
Beverly: Yes?
Leonard: Hello, Mother.
Penny: Hey, Beverly.
Beverly: Hello, Leonard. Hello, Penny. To what do I owe this call?
Leonard: I need your professional advice.
Beverly: Well, I'd love to help you out, dear, but I'm very busy at the moment. Perhaps we can schedule a time next week.
Leonard: It's about Sheldon.
Beverly: Oh, well, I-I suppose I can spare a minute or two.
Leonard: Wh-Why did you just say you're too busy, but--
Beverly: Leonard, please, not everything is about you. (Leonard is now exasperated) Penny, go on.
Penny: Ever since his paper got disproven, he's been a wreck. He's been sad and... and angry. He just seems kind of broken.
Beverly: Well, it sounds like he may be grieving.
Penny: Really? Over a theory?
Beverly: Of course. You can grieve over any emotional loss. The more you care about something, the greater the trauma of losing it.
Leonard: Oh, boy. He cared about this a lot.
Penny: Yeah. What can we do to help him?
Beverly: Well, grieving is a process. Every culture has its own rituals and traditions to facilitate mourning. The ancient Egyptians had their mummification, the Tibetans had their sky funerals.
Leonard: And when I was little and my dog died, my mom sat me down and very gently told me that she wished the truck had hit my dad instead.
Beverly: I was trying to lighten the mood. Your dog had just died.

Sheldon: The only fitting send-off: a Viking funeral.
Leonard:You mean, like, push it out into a lake and shoot it with a flaming arrow?
Sheldon:This guy gets it.
Penny: How about a bathtub and a match?
Sheldon: How about a bathtub and a flaming arrow?
Amy: How about a bathtub, a match, and an ice-cold Yoo-Hoo after?
Sheldon: Sold.

Howard: I'm not scared. I don't like the act. It's over the top and weird, and has more jazz hands than magic.
Bernadette: Why didn't you say something earlier?
Howard: You seemed like you were so happy, and then when I tried to say something, you seemed like you were so mad.
Bernadette: Hey, this isn't about me. I just wanted you to have your dream, and I wanted to control everything about how you looked and acted so that your victory was mine.
Howard: Well, that's... honest.

George Sr.: [on the tape] I know we're down, by a lot. And if I'm being honest with you, we're probably not gonna win this one. In fact, we're definitely not gonna win this one.
Amy:Do you want me to turn it off?
George Sr.: But we're not gonna quit, either. And if we do lose, you need to know that doesn't make you losers. You learn as much about who you are and what you're made of from failing as you do from success. Maybe more. So you can spend the next half feeling sorry for yourselves, or you can get out there and give 'em hell.
Georgie: Yeah! Let's give 'em hell!
George Sr.: Oh... watch your mouth, your mom might...

Sheldon: It's interesting. I've always thought that my father's journey and my own were so different, but he also faced failure and setbacks. Maybe our lives mirrored each other more than I thought.
Amy: So, from one viewpoint, you and your father's lives are asymmetrical, but from another vantage point, they're symmetrical. Sheldon, what if symmetry and asymmetry are observer-relative? That would mean that the Russian paper was right...
Sheldon: But only from one perspective. If we look at it from a deeper view in more dimensions, our theory still stands.
Amy: Not only stands, i-it might be an even bigger idea than the one we were originally proposing.
Sheldon: Go get your laptop. We have a paper to fix.

Sheldon: Thanks, dad. We're gonna give 'em hell.