I just cannot finish the ‘Big Bang Theory’

February 3, 2023 — by Sarah Zhou
Photo by Leyna Chan
This show sucks.
As the seasons progress, issues like blatant racism, homophobia and ableism become disturbingly prevalent.

Editor’s note: This article contains spoilers for Seasons 1 through 6 of “The Big Bang Theory.”

 

I haven’t finished watching all 12 seasons of “The Big Bang Theory.” After stopping at the middle of Season 7, I can confidently say I will never make it to the end of the CBS series that debuted in 2007. This contradicts my usual habit of finishing every show series I start, and I’m usually fine with anything from beheadings to Phil Dunphy’s jokes.

When I first started watching the “Big Bang Theory” last semester, it was because one of my teachers referenced the show to illustrate concepts learned in chemistry.

At first, I enjoyed the show’s flat, sarcastic and unintentional humor. The plot circles around the four original main characters — Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons), Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki), Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) and Rajesh Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar) — who try to find love while feeding their passions for video games and science.

From the very beginning, Sheldon — who has Asperger’s-like characteristics and is unable to comprehend or interpret most human emotions — is made fun of and constantly put in situations uncomfortable for both him and the viewers. 

Though Leonard often justifies Sheldon’s actions, which frequently  come off as offensive, he becomes rude and impatient with Sheldon after Season 2, constantly making jokes about Sheldon’s unnamed disability while still claiming to be Sheldon’s best friend.

At first, Sheldon is able to laugh off others’ biting comments about him, but eventually, he becomes evidently tired of explaining to his friends that they need to stop calling him crazy and making fun of things about him he cannot control.

Jokes about Sheldon aren’t the only discriminative commentary the show makes about disabilities — Raj’s selective mutism around women is also the subject of many cruel jokes from other characters, while his anxiety about it is constantly written off. 

Additionally, the show routinely mocks various conditions such as depression, speech impediments, attachment disorders and obesity, adding in laugh tracks every time a joke about one is made.

Moreover, women in the show are basically treated as a joke. They are frequently the subject of Sheldon’s misogynistic criticism (though he also just thinks he is above everyone, not just women). Females are depicted as either not as deserving of their achievements or as dumb blondes who need to learn more about STEM and Star Trek.

Bernadette, Howard’s girlfriend and later wife, is stereotyped as an over-controlling, overbearing brat who hinders her husband from reaching his potential.

Penny, stereotyped as a dumb-blonde, is shamed for having a long list of men whom she has slept with, even though Howard is admired for bragging about being a creep and spending the night with dozens of prostitutes — showcasing an obvious double standard.

Furthermore, the “Big Bang Theory” also depicts male feminism in a negative light. While producers glorify Sheldon, Howard and Leonard’s toxic masculinity, Raj’s self-expression is constantly responded to with disparaging comments about men “acting like girls.” Howard and Raj’s close relationship is also exploited to make distasteful jokes about gay men.

At times, Raj, the only main character who is a person of color, seems only to serve as a way for others to make racist jokes, making fun of Raj’s “exotic” Indian accent, Indian culture, Indian religion and ways of life: There is an episode where 10 minutes out of 20 is spent mocking Raj’s pronunciation of words. In addition, the majority of the jokes Howard, who is Jewish, makes are self-deprecating and centered around negative stereotypes of Jewish masculinity and family dynamics.

Over the seasons, the only character arc for most of the characters is that: either they don’t change for a decade, or their bad habits get worse. That’s it.

Originally, the show’s jokes about science were worth sticking around for, but even those become sparse in the later seasons. As the show’s focus shifts more toward relationships and only occasionally throws in a scientific achievement for one of the guys, the writers’ determination to incorporate offensive jokes into seemingly every second of the show made watching it unbearable for me to watch.

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