I look at The Big Bang Theory like the kind of city I like to visit when I’m on vacation: the kind of place, where no one visits, so I have it all to myself; The Big Bang Theory is like that for me – I loved the show right until it became the biggest commercial hit on television. Its fifth season saw the show hit ratings that surpassed even American Idol. Unfortunately, the goofy charm of the show is seemingly absent in the fifth season – it’s still a good show, a great source of some solitary laughs, but the mainstream success of the sitcom has saddled it with some trendy tropes and plot lines that make watching it feel like a bit of a let down.
First of all, the cast has been stretched out ridiculously: alongside the intitial Johnny Galecki (Leonard), Jim Parsons (Sheldon), Kaley Cuoco (Penny), Simon Helberg (Howard), and Kunal Nayyar (Raj), we’ve got two new additions: Howard’s girlfriend, Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) and Sheldon’s equally awkard girlfriend, Amy (former Blossom star Mayim Bialik). The now-bloated cast makes the show approach a Friends-like tone – this isn’t a dig against Rauch and Bialik – both actresses are funny, but the romantic plot lines written to accomodate for them, give the show a blandness and cookie cutter feel. In its inception, The Big Bang Theory was a standard sitcom, but still stood out for its eccentricities. By season 5, the show became a juggernaut, and made the actors stars, but it also became pretty corporate.
The plots revolve around the romantic entanglements of Penny and Leonard, Amy and Sheldon, and Howard and Bernadette. Raj, like in the other seasons of the show, is a loner – vaguely a dandy, he still suffers from the crippling inability to speak in front of women, unless inebriated. Amy and Sheldon make a funny pair, but the problem, is that because he’s been partnered with her, he’s no longer pitted against Penny. The relationship between Penny and Sheldon was always the funniest part of the show: unlike the other characters, Penny was the only one who “got” Sheldon. With a bemused, sometimes annoyed, shake of her head, she would help navigate Sheldon through various social situations, that he clearly cannot manage on his own. It’s a prickly, flirty, wary friendship that deserved to be developed and deepened, and it’s a shame that the writers have moved away from that (though, there’s a priceless scene with the two at a jewelry store Penny drags Sheldon to, after he hurt Amy’s feelings – it’s a nice, comfy scene where the actors slip effortlessly into a hilarious comic duo).
The writers also do some interesting with the characters, though. Amy’s still weirdly bisexual for Penny, which is good for a few uncomfortable laughs; also Bernadette’s elfin qualities give way to a frighteningly harsh and brash side to her personality; Penny’s seemingly developed an alcohol problem, too. These changes do give the show some much-needed umph to the show, that’s, let’s be frank, is starting to show its age.
Still, the characters are lovable outcasts, and even though the nerdiness has become somewhat tired at this point, they remain great outliers to the general consistency of what constitutes as “telegenic” on TV. There’s an independence that’s admirable to this program: the underdog being the hero – we see some of this in Parks and Recreations‘s Lesley Knope. Its high ratings ensure that the show will continue for a few more years – hopefully, it’ll return to the tightly focused show it was in the first few seasons: one where a group of brilliant, but socially awkward guys befriend a hot, but daffy blonde, and an odd, but loving family result.