It’s been a while since I’ve been excited about CBS’ odd, geeky sitcom. Twelve seasons on, the time feels right to say goodbye to Sheldon and the gang.
This week is a benchmark in television history.
One of the longest running live-action sitcoms ever is finally bowing out. Thirteen years since it first aired, The Big Bang Theory will be airing its final episode in the coming days after which the lights will be permanently switched off.
With everything neatly wrapping up, I thought it fitting to take a retrospective glance at a show that’s garnered as much derision as it has awards.
Despite its huge success, this nerdy show deserves many of the criticisms that surround its formulaic writing, treatment of its characters, and attitudes toward both relationships and racial diversity. In many ways, CBS’ cash cow represents the worst of archaic sitcom writing. Yet, it remains wildly popular, drawing in huge ratings, and continuing to be a staple of dinner-time TV.
So where have these criticisms come from? Should we be welcoming the end of Chuck Lorre’s biggest on-screen triumph, or are we taking it all too seriously?
Prepare for way too much writing about a show that was probably never intended to be dissected so heavily.
From humble beginnings to big success
It’s easy to forget now, but the show didn’t take off immediately. Two pilots were made just to get the project off the ground and after a relatively luke-warm reception, it seemed cancellation was probable.
CBS kept to its guns, though, and the show steadily grew as the seasons went on. Others have noted that The Big Bang Theory came into its own during the rise of mainstream geek culture, accidentally riding a wave of superhero films and comic book resurgence that drew in new viewers.
Suddenly, Doctor Who fanatics and box set bingers were far more commonplace, setting up an ideal context for The Big Bang Theory to thrive. For a time, it was almost universally loved and was often considered this decade’s answer to Friends.
This move from standard cable network show to cultural touchstone has lead to a loyal and consistent viewership, one that’s remained large throughout the years. On average 18 million Americans tune in every week to watch, making it one of the highest rated prime time shows.
That’s despite glaring problems with script quality and political correctness that have become more and more outdated with time. Many have called into question multiple aspects of the show, from its jokes concerning Raj to its mistreatment of geek culture.
Are you taking notes yet, people?
Problems with masculinity and geek representation
The show’s central cast are at the mercy of conventional masculinity, frequently humiliating one another for their failure to live up to stereotypical ideals of manhood.
As Pop Culture Detective on YouTube explains, the four friends participate in the societal expectations of manliness that have alienated them from their peers their entire lives. Raj is consistently mocked by his friends for having more stereotypically feminine tastes, his enthusiasm for party planning and weight watching almost always the source of so-called comedy.
Check out the video below for a full break down of how the show mishandles its male characters.
It’s not just masculinity that’s been a problem – geek culture has also taken a hit.
Commentators frequently point out that The Big Bang Theory uses nerd culture and niche references for its own benefit, always making them the butt of the joke. We’re routinely encouraged to laugh at the cast, never really with them. Mentions of sci-fi and fantasy are done so for the sake of it and are rarely explored in authentic ways.
WIRED have also explored this topic, describing the show as having ‘fundamentally uninteresting characters’. It’s a critique that’s worth being aware of, especially when you notice how many jokes in the show rely on an overflow of references rather than simple, solid writing. You can watch the full video below.