The second episode of the new season, The Junior Professor Solution, is where the series really shines. It mines both the core conflict of the Sheldon/Howard friendship as well as makes full use of Amy's repressed emotions when she finds herself in the middle of a spat between Penny and Bernadette in the best way possible.
The university where Sheldon works has a solution to their inability to change his research focus due to grant funding restrictions: make him a junior professor which will allow him to study whatever he likes. Of course, the idea of Sheldon teaching is appalling and apparently the student body agrees; no one signs up for his class on physics. Feeling bad for him, Howard agrees to take his class as he is interested in pursuing his doctorate, but Sheldon doesn't believe, as we've long known, that Howard is smart enough. But when Howard answers Sheldon's rapid fire questions on physics, he agrees to teach Wolowitz as a student. Of course, Sheldon is really only doing this in an attempt to show Howard how little he really knows and Leonard has to point out that Sheldon is acting not out of superiority, but insecurity.
As expected, it doesn't go well and Howard responds to Sheldon's condescension by shooting a spit ball into Sheldon's mouth. Sheldon reports him to HR, Howard drops the class and confronts Sheldon, proudly stating that engineering is just as prestigious as physics. The very idea appalls Sheldon so Howard sets out to prove it by asking Sheldon a number of engineering questions.
This is where this funny and promising storyline falls apart for me. Will Howard stump Sheldon and force him to admit that he doesn't know everything? Will Sheldon have all the answers and keep Howard under his intellectual thumb for years to come? We'll never know because when it appears Howard has stumped Sheldon, in reality Sheldon's shocked expression is not from being unable to answer, but from coughing up the spitball that has been lodged in his throat all day. I would have preferred to find out if Sheldon knew the answer or was really stumped. But I did enjoy the writers focusing on this part of Howard and Sheldon's friendship that has been a little more than a running joke up until this point.
The Penny/Bernadette tension continues and Amy is the happy recipient of their separate attentions. Now that Penny has the pharmaceutical rep gig, Bernadette pressures her to prep for the first day so her own reputation doesn't suffer. Penny can't handle the constant nagging and doesn't invite Bernadette to a lunch with Amy. Amy quickly realizes that she can bond with Penny by joining in on complaining about Bernadette's behavior. And when Bernadette calls to complain about Penny, Amy quickly switches sides and starts bagging on Penny. It doesn't take long for all this bonding to go to her head and when Sheldon ignores her, she warns him that he better pay attention since he is "dating the popular girl" now. Unfortunately for Amy, her newfound status is short lived as Penny and Bernadette make up, but Mayim Bialik used the time to shine as the nerdy girl who instantly became the mean girl when given the chance to be popular.
Bottom Line: These first two episodes show promise of some new dynamics to move the show forward, which it will need as it has been renewed for three more seasons. The writing and acting is still sharp, though the resolution to the story lines could be stronger. Raj has been underserved so far, but we are only two episodes in and they did give him some great lines in the scene where Howard discovered Stuart is still staying at Debbi's. I'm looking forward to rest of the season as I've already seen the reruns about 10 times each on TBS over the summer and am ready for some new material.
Recommendation: If you've been missing BBT this summer, season 8 looks like it has more to love.