Goodbye and Good Riddance, The Big Bang Theory

Pop Culture

Goodbye and Good Riddance, The Big Bang Theory

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Back in 2007, when the pilot of The Big Bang Theory aired on TV, it introduced us to the brilliant mind of senior theoretical physicist, Sheldon Cooper. It was the DNA of this emotionally handicapped geeky megalomaniac that its creator Chuck Lorre exploited to present a crossover between science and comedy. And while it didn’t take him more than Sheldon’s “You’re in my spot” or his incessant knocking to achieve that sweet spot, 11 years and 12 seasons later, TBBT has ended up being a show we can’t wait to bid goodbye to. The show comes to an end in 2019.

The first season of TBBT was unlike anything we’d seen on TV: A group of loserly science nerds headlining a show. It didn’t just make science cool again, but also acted as a clever commentary on how little men – even those who seem to have all the answers about the universe – actually know about women.

The show revolved around the uneventful lives of three physicists (Sheldon, Leonard, and Raj) and a dude with a masters degree (Howard) who have one thing in common: they all suck at social situations. Raj couldn’t talk to women without consuming alcohol. Leonard suffered from low self-esteem. Howard dressed and behaved like he time-travelled from the 1960s. Sheldon needed more mollycoddling than a bunch of babies at a nursery.

Two seasons down, TBBT became the only show that recognised the potential of geeks and mined their culture into mainstream situational comedy. It’s unfettered popularity stemmed from the fact that it felt like a show that was for the outcasts who felt under-represented on TV.

And yet, somewhere down the road, TBBT lost its fans. Today when news about the 12th season being the show’s last one surfaced, I am one of those elated by the development – although I am wondering why the elevator from season 1 still hasn’t been fixed. And just like that joke, at this point, the show feels like a generic joke that has been dragged on for way too long. It’s only natural that no one’s laughing anymore.

As multiple viewers have pointed out, the show’s half-arsed appropriation of nerd culture, while simultaneously trying to stay relevant for a mainstream audience has earned it enemies everywhere.

Things started getting pretty bizarre from the show’s fifth season. It started off with a mind-boggling reveal: Penny, the hot waitress who lives across Leonard and Sheldon ended up sleeping with Raj, the only guy from the group who can’t talk to women. It was only the beginning of the show straying away from its core plot. New characters were introduced, multiple subplots manufactured, and a girl-gang was formed (their duties however were only relegated to drinking wine).

Over the following seasons, Sheldon’s toxic ways continue to be romanticised (how long can a grown man not being able to sleep alone be funny?) and the show depended heavily on stereotypes. As multiple viewers have pointed out, the show’s half-arsed appropriation of nerd culture, while simultaneously trying to stay relevant for a mainstream audience has earned it enemies everywhere.

Reddit users have spoken out against how the show appears to condone rape across multiple episodes. In a discussion thread from five years ago, one writes about “the episode where the stone-cold sober Leonard has sex with the falling-down drunk Penny who’s previously indicated she’s not interested in him. She is then presented as ‘in the wrong’ for her sexual assault because she sent her ex-boyfriend ‘misleading messages’. We have the episode where Howard and Raj use satellites to spy on the girls in the America’s Next Top Model house as they sunbathe topless on what they thought was their private rooftop patio.”

Another viewer ranted, “There are bad jokes, and sexist jokes, in all manner of programmes, from F.R.I.E.N.D.S. to How I Met Your Mother to Outnumbered. The Big Bang Theory manages to be worse than a lot of its competitors… In real life, those four guys wouldn’t just be harmless and hapless. Indeed, a lot of the things they say wouldn’t feel at all out of place in the controversial Google memo – written by a disgruntled Google employee, a polemic against diversity in technology fields.” And The Big Bang Theory normalises these views by setting them to a laugh track.

Of course, with great popularity comes great condemnation and some of the censure heaped on successful shows is fashionable. Yet, in the case of The Big Bang Theory, it somehow feels objective. At this point, TBBT is looking like a mediocre version of F.R.I.E.N.D.S., with some mathematical equations thrown in. Even the best things must come to an end – and TBBT is far from it. This goodbye is six seasons too late, but we’ll take it.