By this point, it’s already become trite observation that The Big Bang Theory is over-exposed.
The show’s been going for over a decade, most people love it, a growing number of viewers are bored or even offended by its broad stereotypes, and overly smug commentators are eager to point out that they don’t think the show is very funny.
As we enter the eleventh season of Big Bang Theory, these same arguments are going to come up again. This is a show with real hipster chic, and those who discovered it right back at the start are always eager to point out that they liked it before it was cool, or that the writing has gone downhill since the show introduced so many girls, or some other equally obnoxious comment.
Here’s a rare opinion on the internet: maybe The Big Bang Theory is so consistently popular because it’s actually a good show?
After all, there’s something in this show that audiences connect with. The characters may be a tired, unflattering portrayal of intellectuals, but it’s hard to deny that people genuinely care about them.
Self-professed nerds are often eager to argue that Big Bang Theory exists to make fun of people for being awkward, uncool, and overly smart. That’s one possible reading of the series, but even from right at the start, a lot of the humor comes not from mocking nerd culture, but from humanizing it; making audiences empathize with Sheldon, Leonard, and the rest of the cast.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the recent season eleven premiere episode, in which Sheldon proposes to his girlfriend Amy, before getting in a huff because her colleagues aren’t paying him enough attention.
Ostensibly, this looks like a joke at Sheldon’s expense – look at the self-absorbed weirdo who doesn’t understand human emotion. But while Sheldon is definitely shown to be in the wrong, he’s not framed at a villain – we see some growth in his character as he uses an Avengers metaphor to complete a journey of self-discovery. We’re encouraged to cheer for his epiphany as he realizes that the world doesn’t revolve around him.
Sure, it’s a lesson that he’s learned a million times before, but that’s how sitcoms work.
This isn’t an episode of laughing at the nerd for his weird behavior; instead, it’s about seeing Sheldon transform as a person. It’s a slow journey – far slower than many audiences would like – but the overall theme of the show is less about nerds learning to Man Up (or something equally as daft) and more about seeing typical young adults morph into responsible human beings.
Hence, Howard and Bernadette’s continued parenting woes, and the introduction of a second baby to the Walowitz household.
Howard’s journey as a character has seen him develop from a sleazy creep into a legitimate, caring family man. There have been struggles along the way, but his relationship with Bernadette and their 1.5 children has long been the emotional core of the show; the stable, growing family bond that counterbalances the relative stagnation of Sheldon and Leonard as they find it more difficult to grow into functioning grown-ups.
It’s a story that hits a nerve with audiences of all ages – we’ve all been trapped in this awkward in-between phase at some point in our lives, forced to grow up and become fully-fledged adults, but unable to do so without feeling uncomfortable and afraid.
Raj is something of a secret weapon to this formula – the character who desperately desires the kind of family relationship that his friends have, but who just can’t seem to find what he’s looking for. He’s a reflection of another side to this complex coming of age story, and a large swathe of the show’s viewers find his particular character development very familiar.
The true success of Big Bang Theory is its slow-burn story of growing up – it’s not about giving up The Avengers or Star Wars pajamas, because abandoning hobbies and interests isn’t really a mature decision to make. Instead, this show is about kids becoming adults, and the pitfalls along the way.
This is why the show, eleven years into its lifespan, still garners such a strong response from audiences. It’s why, even if some of the jokes feel repetitive and clichéd by this point, there’s still a lot of joy to be had with watching the characters go through the same adventures over and over.
The Big Bang Theory is comfort viewing for anyone who ever feels overwhelmed as an adult, not just because of its many references to popular culture, but because it shows that even the most socially awkward manchildren can slowly make progress towards responsibility and stability – even if it takes years, and years, and years.
So while a lot of people may be increasingly complaining that Big Bang Theory is lackluster, tired, and over-exposed, bear in mind why this show has stuck around where other, similar stories, like How I Met Your Mother and even Friends, didn’t manage to stay on the air for quite as long.
Big Bang Theory is not about nerds learning to be cool. It’s about slowly growing up, and that core story is the perfect fit for a longrunning, nostalgic sitcom that tells its tale over more than a decade.
As long as there are audiences grappling with tax receipts, relationships, and parenthood for the first time, there will be viewers in need of watching Sheldon relate all his woes to the page of a comic book.