Yesterday afternoon news broke that after 12 seasons, 279 episodes, and a baffling nine Emmy awards, the American sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, will come to an end next year. The show gets tens of millions of viewers for every episode and has grabbed the title of America’s most popular television series on air today. And while millions of fans will be in premature mourning at the loss of a television show many of them will have grown up with, the appropriate reaction should be elation and relief at one of the worst television shows to ever grace our screens being shown the door.
There’s a snobby point to be made about the humour in The Big Bang Theory being that of the lowest common denominator. YouTube is riddled with videos of the show with the audience laughter edited out, which, after watching one, it becomes difficult to escape the conclusion that the critically acclaimed show is simply bad, unfunny, and, above all, full of lazy one-liners stacked on top of each other for twenty minutes. (And that’s if you consider the fact that half the show is actually just audience laughter after every line – a two-minute scene only involves roughly seventy seconds of dialogue, with approximately five seconds of laughter following each line). It’s formulaic, often stupid, autopilot comedy.
But that’s not the real problem with The Big Bang Theory. The problem with The Big Bang Theory is that it propagates the worst of society’s tropes – for a regular audience of 20 million.
The Pop-Culture Detective unpacked what he calls the “adorkable misogyny” of The Big Bang Theory, where so-called “nerds” can get away with things including upskirting, stalking, ignoring consent, flashing, and other forms of sexism (eg asking women if they’re “menstruating”, or saying women only care about “salad and lip gloss”).
“It’s their status as nerdy nice guys that lets them off the hook for a wide range of creepy, entitled, and downright sexist behaviours,” the Pop-Culture Detective explains. Their behaviour is normalised because they are placed in the category of “unthreatening”.
Throughout the show, it’s also considered “adorkable” when the men neglect to help out with domestic chores, demanding the women on the show do cleaning, cooking, and other stereotypically “female” jobs – much to the joy and hilarity of the laughing live audience.
[See also: The genius of Jennifer Coolidge]
The sexism and misogyny doesn’t just stop at the writing. The Big Bang Theory has come under fire over their enormous gender pay gap; with two of its three female leads, Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch, making as much as ten times less than their male counterparts. To make up for it, many of the male leads took $100,000 pay cuts to increase the salaries of the two actresses, whose paypackets were subsequently boosted to the point where they were only making just under half as little as the men.
To top it all off, the show’s main female lead, Kaley Cuoco, got caught up in a controversy in 2015 after saying she wasn’t a feminist in an interview with Redbook magazine. She only went on to reverse her stance after an enormous backlash on social media. Bialik also received heat last autumn in the thick of the Me Too movement, for a piece she penned in the New York Times, where thousands accused her of blaming Harvey Weinstein’s victims for what happened to them and congratulating herself for her own modesty compared to other women in Hollywood.
All of this sexism is before we get to the punch-line racism the show serves up nearly every episode. Until season ten, the show’s only star of colour Kunal Nayyar, made only 80 per cent of what his white male co-stars earned per episode. This is not to mention that throughout the entirety of the show his race has been the ass-end of bad jokes, and his character a stereotype cooked up by a racist American dad. As MTV India wrote in their piece titled “5 Reasons Why The Big Bang Theory Is Racist”, Nayyar’s character Rajesh Koothrappali is “the stereotypical brown guy with an exotic accent, crippled by his inability to speak to women and trying to escape the arranged marriages foisted on him by his bossy parents.”
The jokes directed at “Raj” are often about Indian culture and language generally (“Save some syllables for the rest of us!”) or about the aforementioned overbearing parents, but often are just shoehorned in for racism’s sake. In an episode where Raj hooks up with Cuoco’s character, Penny, he says, after the fact, “As your friend, you might want to know that we didn’t have sex in the conventional sense,” to which Penny replies, “Oh God, did you pull some weird Indian crap on me?”
While racist tropes in the media are rife, “Raj” became a poster boy for the white, racist idea of what an Indian man is and was. In a piece for Catapult last year, author of The Good Immigrant Nikesh Shukla described an experience he had with a white woman months before. “You remind me of someone… Who does he remind me of?” she says, before realising the name she was searching for was “Raj Couter-paki, the one off The Big Bang Theory”. Shukla explains how Raj became a stereotype for white people that encapsulated all Indian men. He argues that Raj is “offensive, unfunny, a backwards step for representation of brown people on television… He’s a sexually repressed stereotype, written through the white gaze. He reflects nothing from my community.”
The spectre of The Big Bang Theory will still live on after its absence, though, in the form of its spin-off show Young Sheldon. While the show, to my delight, has been widely slated, it’s still a ratings behemoth with an audience of roughly four million per episode.
Despite this minor fly in the soothing ointment of its parent show’s cancellation, we can still celebrate the long overdue departure of The Big Bang Theory. The dreadful writing, lazy tropes, and searingly cringey catchphrases (“Bazinga!”, kill me) will likely dog us for years to come in the form of cultural impact and endless reruns, but we can rejoice in the end of at least one major series where prejudice was proudly propagated to the masses.