Wow, it’s been a year since I last posted in the TV Rambles section. Today I’m back on this topic, only with a difference. This post is not going to be a review but a spontaneous commentary inspired by the latest news about one of my favourite comedy shows, The Big Bang Theory.
The sitcom – one of the most popular shows in the U.S. – has been in the news for the past weeks as media analysts and critics speculated about its possible renewal after the current 10th season. While there is no confirmation of this yet, the chances seemed high until a few weeks ago. However, what was confirmed earlier this week was the creation of a prequel based on the young Sheldon Cooper (the most popular character of the show), which could be aired later this year or next year.
All this talk about TBBTs future revived some thoughts which I had tried to suppress in order to enjoy this show.
As a long-time follower I have to say that, notwithstanding the idea of a spin-off, TBBT should not be renewed after the 10th season. In fact, it often feels like we could’ve even survived without the last season (or two). There, I said it.
The Good Old Days
I started watching The Big Bang Theory when there were already 3 or 4 seasons. As a sitcom formula, it didn’t seem overly outstanding. There’s even the annoying laugh track. What attracted me, of course, was that the protagonists were geeks. Although I don’t consider myself a classic geek (games, comics and cosplaying aren’t exactly part of my life), I found these characters more relatable than the regular sociable types that usually populate American comedy shows.
What I liked best was not just that the geeks were the main characters (as opposed to being the side-kicks to the perfect-looking protagonist), but also the overall setting. One would expect nerdy characters to thrive in a high-school setting but in this case, they were adults based in a post-graduate academic environment. At the time, I thought it was an innovative idea. Each character has quirky qualities that are the basis of running gags. Leonard is the shy, wimpy guy who can’t get a girl, Sheldon is socially clueless, Howard is a wannabe womaniser and Raj can’t even speak to girls. Then there’s Penny, the classic blonde girl who lives next door, too sexy for the nerds but with her own personal failures. They’re all stereotypes, yes, but I think that stereotypes are essential to comedies, at least to a certain point.
Another thing I’ve always loved about TBBT is that the guest stars weren’t simply famous celebrities but also important people from the scientific field of study and from the geeky popular culture. Stephen Hawking and Wil Wheaton are perhaps the best examples. These appearances are all hilarious and they give a little depth to the scientific and geeky themes while making it more bearable (not everyone can understand references).
The Girls and the Evolution
Season 3 saw the introduction of two female characters that would become regulars later on. These were Bernadette and Amy, who would later hook up with Howard and Sheldon respectively (and Penny with Leonard). Both girls have their own quirks: one is of small stature but with a fiery, dominating personality; the other is socially awkward and sexually frustrated. Both of them work in the sciences, so they perfectly complement their male counterparts while bringing variety to the female part of the cast (I was never a Penny fan, sorry).
Unfortunately, as the series progressed and both the male and female characters matured, fans started to target Bernadette and Amy, accusing them of being the cause of the show’s decline. I’ve always disagreed with this because these two characters brought about a much-needed evolution. They helped the male protagonists break out of their stereotypes, showing that geeks are human after all and deserving (as well as capable) of entertaining social and romantic relationships.
I have to say that since the last couple of seasons, I don’t laugh as hard anymore. I can’t explain why or what is exactly wrong. I can’t say if it’s the jokes that don’t work anymore or if it’s the whole storyline that has become monotonous. The video clips with the laugh track removed perhaps prove that the jokes aren’t as funny as they seem.
I also think that each character hasn’t a lot left to offer, now that their life seems almost settled. Leonard and Penny have always been the least interesting to me, Howard and Bernadette are all about forming a family, and even Shamy (Sheldon & Amy) has become kind of regular. Raj and Stuart (I think Stuart deserves to appear more often) are the only ones that still make me laugh, maybe because they’re the only ones who are still misfits and who are still evolving.
That’s precisely why I think that The Big Bang Theory should come to an end as soon as possible. Not necessarily because it’s not funny anymore, but because the characters have evolved. Once a character reaches a certain stage of maturity, chances are that his story arc won’t remain as engaging anymore. (SPOILER ALERT until the end of the paragraph for those who haven’t followed the last season or two) Leonard and Penny have learned to tone down their differences and live together without having Sheldon around; Howard and Bernadette have reached a new level of maturity with the arrival of their baby; Amy and Sheldon are now a regular cohabiting couple and the latter is learning that his girlfriend and everyone around him is a human being with feelings. It’s only Raj who’s still in the process of finding his place, having no steady girlfriend yet (not that it’s necessary, but that’s how his character was built up) but at least he’s realising that he needs to become assertive and financially independent. Finally, Howard’s and Leonard’s project with the military needs a closure, but it’s not something that I’m personally interested in.
At first, when I read the news about the prequel project, I was pleased because I thought it would spell the end of the original show. I’m not sure if the prequel could be a success, though. Spin-offs have always been tricky, with some big successes such as Frasier and some flops like Joey. Having a prequel based on the most popular character seems like a good choice, but how many TBBT are willing to see a show with a kid as a protagonist? No matter what, a prequel sounds better than a renewal.
The chances for a renewal seem high just because the show is still a winner in terms of ratings. However, as a long-time (but now tired) fan, I really hope the story finally comes to a closure. Ten years are enough for a sitcom. The more they persist, the less funny and engaging it becomes and it can drive more fans away. It would be such a pity to stretch it out longer until it fizzles. So please, just wrap it up as soon as possible, make it end with a bang and let’s just remember it as one of the most influential sitcoms of the 2000s.
UPDATE @ 21st March: So, the news of the renewal came in just yesterday. Two more seasons plus the spin-off. It’s not surprising since it still performs so well after all these years. But my points are still valid. Will it end with a bang or will it fizzle into nothing?