The Robotic Manipulation is the first episode of the fourth season of The Big Bang Theory.
Sheldon is going out on his first date with Amy Farrah Fowler, and as he's never been on a date before, he brings Penny along for help. Meanwhile, Howard is caught in a very compromising position while playing around with an experimental robotic arm.
- Blatant Lies: Howard claims he got stuck in the robot hand by slipping and falling into it... penis first. Leonard and Raj obviously don't believe him and spend awhile mocking him over his situation.
- The Bus Came Back: Althea, the Sassy Black Woman nurse who appeared in the pilot and the Season One episode "The Peanut Reaction", reappears after three seasons.
- Characterization Marches On: Since this is Amy's first full appearance on the show, her personality is still a work in progress. At this point she's little more than a Distaff Counterpart to Sheldon, whereas in later seasons they're almost polar opposites; also she acts coolly towards Penny, whom she would later enthusiastically refer to as her "bestie".
- Code Emergency: Subverted.Althea (into PA system): I need an orderly with a wheelchair. I got a robot hand grasping a man's penis out here.
Howard: Could you be a little more discreet?
Althea: I'm sorry, we don't have a code for "robot hand grasping a man's penis".
- Continuity Nod: The "check engine" light in Penny's car is brought up yet again, this time by Amy.
- "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Penny bitterly notes how she could have saved herself the entire embarrassing night with Sheldon and Amy if she had just threatened to tell on him to his mother in the first place to get him not to do his vitro fertilization plan with Amy.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Howard makes the ill-advised decision to use the robot arm to pleasure himself.
- Deadpan Snarker: Althea, the nurse who attends Howard.Althea: What is this?
Howard: It's a robot arm.
Althea: Where's the rest of the robot?
Howard: I just built the arm.
Althea: Because that's all you needed, right?
- Flipping the Bird: Howard tries to have the robot arm flip Sheldon off, but it gives him the peace sign instead.
- Have You Tried Rebooting?: The nurse suggests turning the computer controlling the robot arm off and then on again to release Howard. Howard is just starting to voice his objections when the nurse does just that, and the arm lets go.
- Help, I'm Stuck!: Howard is stuck with the robotic arm grasping his penis, and if he starts it again, it might twist it off. Raj compares his situation to Winnie-the-Pooh getting stuck in the Honey Tree.note
- Here We Go Again!: The episode ends with Leonard and Raj once again getting a call from Howard, implying that he used the robot to masturbate again.
- I Want Grandkids: Deconstructed; Sheldon doesn't initially see Penny telling on him to his mother about his vitro fertilization plans as a threat since he says his mother has always wanted grandkids. Penny however breaks it down to him as "Your deeply religious born-again Christian mother wants a test-tube grandbaby born out of wedlock?" Realizing his plan is doomed to fail, all Sheldon can say is a bitter "Curses".
- Mistaken for Gay: Amy is not used to compliments, so when Penny says she has nice hair, she thinks it's a come-on.Amy: Are you a homosexual?
Penny: Um, no. Just paying a compliment.
Amy: I would have been more flattered if you were a homosexual.
- Mundane Utility: Howard brings an experimental robot arm he designed for the ISS. The episode opens with him using the arm to serve take out food to the group (although it takes him 28 minutes because he has to enter each command by hand). Later, he uses it to give himself a backrub... which gives him the idea to use it for a more sensual massage.
- Nice to the Waiter: Discussed briefly in the opening scene where Sheldon tells Penny that eventually the technology that went into creating the robot arm will eventually make "unskilled food servers" like her obsolete. Penny sarcastically asks how a robot will spit in Sheldon's hamburger like she does, angering Sheldon.
- Threat Backfire: At first played straight then subverted. When Penny threatens to tattle on Sheldon to his mom if he proceeds with his fertilization plan to conceive a child, Sheldon isn't scared on the pretense that Mrs. Cooper wishes to have a grandkid, but changes his tune when Penny tells him that his fertilized kid will be born out of a wedlock and that his mother, who is a devote Christian, is intolerant of that.