The TV show The Big Bang Theory is the most popular comedy on right now. It’s the highest rated show, it’s been on for a decade now, with two more years to go. The three top stars (Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, and Jim Parsons) each make about a million per show, Simon Helburg and Kunal Nayyar make just under that, around $800,000, and all five of them recently donated part of their salaries so Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch could both be paid with some parity (around $500,000 per episode). It’s obvious they all work together well, and want to continue to make the show a success.
But why is it popular?
There are some who think it shouldn’t be. They have various reasons from insulting characters, unfunny jokes, and stereotyping.
But still, it’s the most popular comedy on TV, and doesn’t look to be slowing down. There’s a new spin-off, starring a young Sheldon in high school. I guess it was pitched like “Malcom in the Middle, but with Sheldon, and Jim parsons doing a voice-over like Wonder Years.” Because that’s exactly what it is. So they’re capitalizing on the most popular character, and expanding the brand. I don’t think this show is going anywhere, because it lives on in syndication. Much like M*A*S*H and I Love Lucy, you’re going to find it on years and years down the road.
Let’s start by looking at the characters. I’ll start with the most popular one, and the one without whom there would be no drama, or conflict. He is the primary reason the show is beloved. Of course, I mean Sheldon.
Sheldon is played by Jim Parsons, who was almost unknown before the show started. His chemistry with Johnny Galecki was obvious from day one. Even in the rejected pilot, before the show was re-tooled and recast, the producer was keeping the two main actors. Sheldon has been called autistic. High functioning autistic, but autistic. Now, both Parsons and the producer, Chuck Lorre, deny that he was, or is, intentionally autistic. They may not have meant to do it, but the autistic community has embraced him as one of their own. Sheldon is annoying, frustrating, dramatic, and overly sensitive to his own concerns above all others. But somehow, Jim Parsons is able to convey a hidden level to the character, one that makes him endearing and lovable. His body language, and reactions to things can take a scene from great, to world-class. A good example is the episode “The Romance Resonance” from season 7. Bernadette is in quarantine and the rest of the group gets together to sing her a song, which Howard had planned for the anniversary of their first date. They were going to do it in a restaurant, but due to the circumstances, they were going to do it in the hospital. Sheldon, being Sheldon, is afraid that he is going to catch something while in the hospital (even though he loves hospitals, like the MRI machine), due to being in the isolation ward. He hides around the corner from the group, because he is afraid he will catch what Bernadette has. Through the hospital quarantine room walls. They line up to sing, and Sheldon takes a few squirts of hand sanitizer, and walks over next to Amy keeping his hands in his armpits, for safety I would assume. The moment the song is over, he says Bernadette doesn’t look good, and bolts around the corner, and out of frame. The song, was amazing. It was heart touching, and the performance came across sincerely. A great TV moment was made world-class by the scene stealing Sheldon. His reactions were the drama and the conflict in a heart-warming scene, and all you can do is laugh along, knowing he is just trying to avoid the situation because it’s emotional and scary to him. Because he really does love and care about Bernadette, and saying so, in front of everyone – even while singing a song with the rest of them – is scary. So he came up with reasons to get out of it. I can relate. I think a lot of people can.
Kaley Cuoco plays Penny, the neighbor, who’s last name we still don’t know (except now it’s Hofstadter). Penny wasn’t in the original pilot. She was brought in as the new neighbor, and love interest. That was a key fact to getting picked up by the network, because there was chemistry between all three. Sheldon was quirkier, Leonerd slightly nerdier (if possible), and their costuming was in the more familiar configuration. Kaley added a lot of sexy tops to the show, and if there is one thing that will get an audience to watch a show before it’s fully proven, it’s a cute girl with low cut shirts. In fact, her costuming is the single most varied of the entire cast. As her character has changed and matured, her costuming reflected that. Currently, Penny is a pharmaceutical sales representative and dresses in slacks, and dress shirts, matching her career choice. Even when out for drinks with Bernadette and Amy, she no longer dresses like a 20 something club girl. She isn’t. She is a married, career woman, and her clothes reflect that. Even sitting around casually at home, she is costumed in a more mature manner than previous seasons. Along with her career, her personality has changed. Season 1 Penny was a typical blond airhead party girl. As the seasons progressed, she changed. She learned the nerd culture that her on-again, off-again boyfriend, now husband, Leonard loved. She fought for the One Ring movie prop when the boys found it at a yard sale, and even ran her own booth at a D-level convention. She went from a waitress, hoping to be an actress, to a (barely) working actress, to a successful saleswoman. She even tried to start her own business. Of all the characters, I think she has shown the most change. Of all the main characters, she is the only female (with Amy and Bernadette only coming along later), and she holds her own against all of them. Sometimes, they can get the best of her, she but she shows she can match wits with them, time and time again. She is a master of pop culture, while they are masters of science, and she proves she is smart, and emotionally much more savvy than they are. She even goes to college during the show, proving to herself she isn’t dumb, she just never tried very hard in high school. I think a lot of people can relate to her.
Johnny Galecki plays Leonard Hofstadter, a brilliant physicist, roommate of Sheldon, and eventual husband to Penny. Of the three main characters, Johnny Galecki was previously on a very successful sitcom, Roseanne. Some would think that he is the reason why the network took a second pilot, allowing Lorre to re-tool the show. Galecki was a known commodity, with decades of TV experience. They even brought in his former cast-mate from Roseanne, Sara Gilbert as a sort of distaff counterpart – a female version of Leonard. While her character, Leslie Winkle, didn’t end up permanently with any of the guys (or girls) in the show, her character (and experience with Johnny) brought in elements that helped bolster the fledgling series. To say Leonard has issues with his mother is to understate the complexity of his relationship with her. She is a highly touted psychiatrist, who is deeply disappointed in Leonard, apparently just by being born. Due to his mother’s cold upbringing, Leonard is hyper-sensitive to women, and their approval. His relationship with Penny is fairly inequal at the start, due to his subservient nature. While this had some positives (such as his deep-seated desire to please women in bed resulting in extended foreplay), Leonard had to learn to stand up for himself more in his relationship with Penny. He is the nerd who chased the beautiful woman for years, and finally got close enough for her to love his quirks. While he isn’t as neurotic as Raj or Sheldon, Leonard has a lot of issues relating to women. In the first episode, Penny asks him to get her TV from her ex boyfriend. This does not end well for Leonard, but continues to try to impress Penny. For several seasons, he tries. It’s only in Season Two, after he leaves for three months to the arctic with Sheldon Raj and Howard that she realizes the extent of her feelings for him. He’s the most social of the main four guys, and the most willing to try new things to fit in. He is the straight man for most of Sheldon’s antics, as well as a lost of the rest of the characters. He is the closest to an actual audience surrogate the show has (nerd who gets the hot girl), and is the one who is the most sympathetic (always trying to do the right thing, always listening to his conscience, and the butt of many jokes, especially Sheldon’s). He’s relatable, friendly, and an overall good guy. To quote Sheldon Leonard is “Good people.” The fact that he puts up with Sheldon makes him a saint, as far as I am concerned.
And there is a breakdown of why i think the show is so popular. The three main characters are played by talented actors, supported by a cast and crew of people who genuinely enjoy working together (and put their money where their mouths are by donating part of their own salaries to other cast-mates). The characters are relateable, and are a reflection of people you probably know.
It’s currently in season 10, and has been renewed for two more years. Personally, I’d love to see it go 15, or longer. As long as the character continue to change, grow, and be funny, I’ll be watching.