Warning: This review contains spoilers for season seven of the Big Bang TheoryThe Big Bang Theory is a juggernaut. Simply put, it’s hard to conceive a time where the half-hour comedy on CBS doesn’t dominate in the ratings. It is also true, however, that it is one of the more aggressively hated shows on the air among many demographics, most notably the one that tends to associate itself as the framework for the shows main cast of characters. I’ve long argued that it is possibly the most innocent show to receive this much hatred for some years, now, and that the people identifying themselves as innocent targets for low-brow interpretations and heavy handed humor are indeed doing so in error.
There are plenty of reasons not to like The Big Bang Theory, which just finished it’s seventh season on the air with another three confirmed. The portrayal of it’s characters as nerds that are socially awkward is not one of them. Television has always had over the top characters, it’s what makes them stand out rather than be boring. It’s no more insulting to have a group of Comic Book enthusiasts have trouble with dating than it is to draw the conclusion that being diagnosed with cancer will completely compromise your morals to the point where you become a maniacal sociopath willing to murder anyone who stands in the way of your drug ring.
Instead, detractors could focus on how stale the series has become, something with is never more evident than in season seven. Prior to this season, Leonard and Penny are in a long-term and committed relationship even though they fail to commit to it, Howard has been married to Bernadette for years, Raj still hadn’t cracked the code with women and Sheldon hasn’t changed an ounce in the six seasons prior to this one. Nearly all of those dynamics remain the exact same throughout this year.
It’s hard to determine who’s more stagnant between Howard and Sheldon, through the frustration is easily more evident with Sheldon. Howard (Simon Helberg) and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) are the most useless characters on The Big Bang Theory at this point. Much like what happens at this point in numerous actual marriages, their characters are stuck in an endless cycle or a rut. It feels as though, short of breaking the two up for no apparent reason, nothing the writers of the show can do will make the pair feel interesting again. Howard is still dealing with the same problems with his mother he had when he was living with her and Bernadette simply seems along for the ride. I’ve tried hard to think of any interesting plot for the two from this season that didn’t involve this dynamic and have come up empty. You can only go back to the well of Howard yelling at the disembodied voice of his mother for so many years before it loses any impact or humor. Turns out that seven years is long past that point.
It’s Sheldon (Jim Parsons), however, that is the most disappointing. The character who is clearly the least realistic on the series, the source of much of the humor, simply refuses to change in any meaningful way. If you thought that having a steady girlfriend in Amy (Mayim Bialik) would bring about growth in his character, you’d have given up on that hope midway through season 6, when a full year of the relationship changed nothing. Sheldon remains the same stubborn and socially inept character he has always been, and refuses to show anything that would resemble affection for his girlfriend whatsoever. The show seems afraid to make Sheldon seem even remotely human, even in his relationship. That they’ve been together for nearly 2 years and he continues to show no interest in any sort of actual relationship just drags the show down, and makes Amy seem like an even more pathetic character. It was one thing when they sold the audience on the idea that Amy had never had a boyfriend before either, and seemed incapable of getting one, but when they’ve gone with the subplot on more than one occasion of another man showing interest, her desire to stay with a man who doesn’t share the desire to have any meaningful connection with her hurts her character and makes me like the two of them even less.
Interestingly, it’s been Raj (Kunal Nayyar) who has seen the most growth this year. In the first half it seemed business as usual for poor Raj. The lovable loser remained incapable of finding someone he cares for and has been just a small nudge away from being a complete shut-in for years now. However midway through the season, the writers wizened up and suddenly decided that Raj was able to shed his creepy neurotic nature long enough to land a girlfriend of his own. In doing so, they’ve managed to create a story I actually cared about, and one that still lent itself to some comedy when Raj would have to deal with his relative lack of experience in this department. By the time his new girlfriend Emily (Laura Spencer) showed up with another man in a late-season episode, I actually found myself a bit sympathetic for Raj. It will be interesting to see how long the showrunners allow this dynamic to continue, and if they’ve decided to turn over an entirely new leaf with the character. It would certainly be a nice change of pace for the show.
Until the last two episodes of season seven, the plan was to be brutal toward Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) during this review. Their on-again/off-again relationship woes may have halted in recent years, but that hasn’t stopped their pairing from becoming frustratingly stagnant all the same. My problem with Big Bang Theory is clearly that the show refuses to take any risks or progress any of their characters, and Leonard and Penny’s relationship perfectly embodied that for nearly 20 episodes this year. It wasn’t until the second to last episode, when after what feels like the sixth or seventh proposal between the pairing did they finally move forward a bit and decide to actually get engaged. Now it’s up to the writers to follow through with it and for us to see the couple actually tie the knot before they’re completely out of the woods, but it is nice to see at least a little bit of movement in this department.
This seems like a scathing review, and I cannot help that. There are still good parts to this series. The humor is pretty consistent, if a bit insulting to part of it’s audience. The actors fill their roles well and their chemistry has clearly developed well over seven season together. There is still a reason this show is consistently the highest rated comedy on the air, it knows it’s audience and panders directly to them. I can only hope that, with at least three seasons left, the show decides to start taking a few more risks in the future.