I know it’s very cool to put-down The Big Bang Theory, especially after the recent news that it’s finally coming to an end in 2019.
I just want to let everyone know that you’re not being clever by disrespecting a show that hasn’t contained a single joke since 2011. It’s not “big” of you to point out that the actors have looked dead behind the eyes for the last few years. And you’re certainly not breaking new ground by saying that The Big Bang Theory is the single reason that talented comedy writers won’t be attempting a studio sitcom for decades to come.
I, however, am all of those things.
To quote Sheldon, “All of you are just being Bazzingered right now!”
There’s no denying that Big Bang is popular. Averaging 18.6 million viewers in the twilight days of broadcast television is no small feat. I also can’t deny that the show was passible and borderline decent in its first few seasons. It’s rare that a studio sitcom has “perfect” seasons (see Seinfeld, Cheers, Frasier and IT Crowd for more details) but decent should be a solid benchmark for a staple comedy genre.
Big Bang achieved this early on, but rapidly spiralled into a decline fuelled by reference humour, half-arsed gags, sitcom cliche and borderline ableism. It’s the sort of sitcom that in — theory — should’ve been on the air for five or six seasons.
But that’s not what happened, and like everything else that doesn’t make a lick of sense in this confusing world — I had to know why.
I don’t mean to brag, but I have a totally useless Film and Media degree. On this course I wrote several essays on sitcoms and comedy, as well as writing eleven sitcom screenplays myself (either for my course or in my own time, like a freak).
I’m not saying I know more about comedy than the writers of Big Bang, but I probably know more than its average viewer.
Before you start, I know that comedy is purely subjective; One person’s comedic cup of tea is not going to be the same as the other person’s hot chocolate served in an abstract clown-shoe. However, scripted comedy for television, well — there’s almost a science to it. Particularly in America.
Over twenty episodes need to be produced each year, which is a pretty mammoth task. Especially after the first batch of original ideas you’ve been working on for years dries up. Usually with a writers room of funny people, the jokes keep on flowing for years to come, but the story structure becomes weak, tired and uninspired.
The Simpsons is a great example of this. If you put on an episode from the last fifteen years, I guarantee you’ll laugh at a stand-alone joke that wouldn’t be out of place in a classic episode. However, the plot will be forced and barely make any sense, thus reducing the overall quality to worse than if it had never been made.
I don’t want to generalise, but I absolutely will — The people who tend to watch Big Bang don’t typically like many other comedy shows. They’ll laugh at the non-jokes, in time with the laugh track, leaving everyone else bewildered by what was so funny.
Here’s a scene with the laugh-track removed, these are the lines that made it through the writers room.
I watched an episode of Big Bang from season eleven recently and it was completely devoid of any jokes; A vacuum for humour. One of the punchlines was “Sheldon” and another one was “But Superman?” — and, shockingly, another punchline was autism.
The characters were moving along at a decent pace though, going through the motions of any TV family. By the end of the episode, Sheldon had actually grown as a person and the relationship between Leonard and Penny had been tested.
That’s when it hit me — This isn’t a sitcom, it’s a soap opera.
The near-nineteen-million people who watch Big Bang aren’t doing so for the jokes; Simply by watching the show they prove that they have zero interest in comedy. No, they’re sitting down for a half hour every week to follow the lives of seven fictional people who they can look down on in order to feel better about themselves — just like a soap opera!
The viewing figures all make sense now. Soaps still draw huge numbers because people are invested in the lives of the characters. Big Bang stopped being a comedy around eight years ago, but they managed to keep its characters progressing at such a pace that people would still be along for the ride.
And I cannot criticise them for that, as it’s clearly what they set-out to achieve.
Now, if you’ll allow me, I’d like to present the leaked script for the final scene of The Big Bang Theory:
INT. APT BUILDING — DAY
Leonard and Sheldon enter and are about to begin climbing the stairs.
Leonard: Hey look Sheldon, the elevators fixed.
Sheldon: Well it’s about time.
Leonard: It’s been what — twelve years?
Leonard pushes the button and waits for the elevator, he looks over at Sheldon.
Leonard: Twelve long years.
The doors open and Leonard enters the elevator. Sheldon remains in the hallway.
Leonard: Come on Sheldon — I’ve rented Superman three for our last night in the apartment together.
Sheldon: (Hesitating) I think I’ll take the stairs.
Leonard: (Holding the doors open) Oh now — come on Sheldon. You’ve changed jobs, got married and now you’re about to become a father — and you’re telling me you can’t just get inside an elevator?
Sheldon looks around, from the floor to the elevator to the ceiling, and then back to Leonard.
Sheldon: Yes that’s exactly what I’m telling you.
Leonard: Fine, I guess I’ll see you up there.
Sheldon: I guess you will.
They smile at each other as the doors close. It’s warm, friendly even, as though they’re both sharing in the memory of twelve years spent living together.
Sheldon remains in the hallway, looking at the elevator. Beat.
Sheldon whips out a walkie-talkie and holds down the talk button.
Sheldon: Okay — Now Amy!
He smiles wickedly as we hear Leonard’s screams from the elevator shaft. The screams eventually fade into silence.
Amy (on walkie): Did it work?
Sheldon: Yes. That’s Leonard incinerated — Now let’s go get the others.
Sheldon puts the walkie in his pocket. He goes to exit the apartment building, but turns around in the doorway to look at the elevator.
Sheldon: (Cold) Bazinga — Motherf***er.
Today is Thursday, August 23rd and remind me to look at this post in May 2019, just in case this is how it all ends and CBS owes me money.
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