For a show about highly intelligent people, CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory” requires viewers to use very few brain cells. The show often uses jokes and storylines aimed at the lowest common denominator. To a degree, that approach seems to work, as “The Big Bang Theory” is consistently one of the most watched programs on television. Sadly, as the show’s degeneration proves, “most watched” is not a synonym for “highest quality.”
In its earlier seasons, “The Big Bang Theory” was a harmless and amusing show about the odd-couple relationship between a group of socially awkward intellects and their pretty neighbor. Through the years, the show has become a self-conscious and poorly constructed “Friends” (1994-2004) rip-off that spends far too much time focusing on the romantic relationships of its one-dimensional characters instead of developing those characters individually.
Jim Parsons quickly broke out as the show’s star in its early years, and for good reason. Parsons has been able to earn huge laughs despite the show’s lackluster writing and pacing. His Emmy-winning performance as Sheldon finds a human center for the character’s absurdity and awkwardness. Parsons is also able to find the perfect balance for Sheldon’s intellectual brilliance and social stupidity.
Parsons’ effortlessness in the role makes it easy to forget how difficult it must be to keep a character like Sheldon consistently funny and likeable. We see another side of this struggle in season four, with “Big Bang’s” addition of Mayim Bialik as Amy Farrah Fowler. Amy is essentially the female Sheldon, and yet her character, unlike Sheldon, is consistently boring and off-putting. Bialik hasn’t been able to portray the mild insanity and fragility that comes with such a high intelligence.
While Sheldon is often mean to his friends, it is also very clear that he cares deeply about them and knows he needs them to survive. This cognizance keeps him from being as disconcerting as his female counterpart. The subtle details Parsons infuses into his character bring him to life — a privilege that few other characters have on “Big Bang.”
That said, Parsons is not the only cast member to give a strong performance. Kaley Cuoco and Johnny Galecki work wonders as the foils to Parsons’ lunacy. It is a difficult task for these two actors to play the reasonable ones opposite such an outrageous character, but Galecki and Cuoco manage the task at hand deftly. The two actors epitomize strong supporting characters; their backing supplements Parsons’ performance without ever overshadowing it.
It is a shame that these actors aren’t given stronger material to work with, because they have proven themselves to be talented. Now that “Big Bang” has reached its fifth season, the show’s writers constantly use tired, sitcom-cliche plots and old jokes. Viewers forget the entire storyline right after watching the show because they’re bound to have seen that same, bland plot dozens of times before. In fact, it is easy to guess what will happen in the entire episode in the first few minutes of watching. This lack of surprise makes the show fairly humdrum.
Furthermore, the show’s use of studio laughter comes off as obnoxious during weaker jokes and slows down the show’s pace. Videos on YouTube show clips of “The Big Bang Theory” without a laugh track and highlight just how much time on the show is wasted on pauses after jokes. This isn’t as big of a problem when the jokes land, but on feeble gags, the technique can be cringe-inducing.
With such high ratings, “The Big Bang Theory” is likely to be on the air for a very long time — which, unfortunately, will keep its very talented cast from pursuing work on stronger programs and from working with material that matches their comic skill.