Why does everyone hate The Big Bang Theory?
THE Big Bang Theory is leaving television.
Well, not leaving television for good … we'll have The Big Bang Theory re-runs to enjoy until the end of time. But as far as original episodes, those will be over at the end of this coming season, its 12th overall.
By the time it finishes, it will be the longest-running multi-camera comedy in TV history. This is something to be incredibly proud of, both for series creator Chuck Lorre and for stars Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, and company. But it's also cause for consternation among the show's sizeable and loud constituencies of haters.
The hatred for The Big Bang Theory is, in many ways, the cost of doing business as a major TV success. "Popular" on network TV hardly ever goes hand-in-hand with "respect" for too long.
Longevity, especially for a sitcom, almost always leads to a loss of goodwill. The best TV shows in history haven't been able to avoid this. The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Friends, Will & Grace, a pre-reboot Roseanne, every one of them eventually devolved into crappy late seasons.
But the enmity towards BBT has always been a bit different. For one thing, this was a show that both centred on and poked fun at nerds at a time when nerd culture was becoming one of the most - if not the most - dominant forces in American pop culture.
The run of The Big Bang Theory spans the entirety of the Marvel cinematic universe, the Star Wars re-runs, the rise of Reddit and Twitter, huge advances in computer gaming, every grim/dark superhero movie from The Dark Knight onward, GamerGate, Nerdist, The Social Network … all of it.
The fact that The Big Bang Theory centred the demographic at the centre of that entire movement while delivering very sitcommy jokes was, for many, the worst of both worlds.
Nerd culture hated the portrayal of the cartoonist versions of "themselves" on screen. People who hated nerd culture saw a show that wasn't engaging meaningfully in why that culture sucks, so why bother?
And yet: all that success! Seven years running as the top-rated comedy on US television. This is a show that's going out on top. Which only makes the fact that it's consistently the butt of bad-TV jokes all the more striking.
We reached out to various TV critics and media professionals to ask about why they think it is that The Big Bang Theory is so hated, seemingly by critics and by loud sections of social media.
"I'm always loath to guess about why other people don't like things," said Linda Holmes, host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, "but in the case of BBT, I think there definitely are people who just find it too broad and corny, and people who don't like its retrograde humour on matters like gay panic jokes (which is less than it used to be, but not gone)."
Ira Madison, who hosts Crooked Media's culture-and-politics podcast Keep It, called multi-cam sitcoms "television at one of its purest forms, which is why (BBT) feels outdated and lazy to most people who cover television. I think it's successful because it's accessible theatre.
"It's a troupe of comedic actors performing theoretically live and delivering nothing but a good time."
The perception that The Big Bang Theory is a critical punching bag was met with some resistance by those I asked.
Todd Van Der Werff at Vox noted that BBT has won the TCA Award for Best Comedy twice, and it was nominated for that award as recently as 2015. That said, Van Der Werff offered that "its status as this massive hit that talks about things people on the internet are really passionate about and usually in a fashion that reduces them to too-easy jokes leads to the way that a lot of people in a younger demographic (especially those who write about TV on the internet) end up treating it as the devil incarnate."
He adds, "Also, it was scheduled against Community for years, and I imagine there's a bit of frustration still tied to that."
Sonia Saraiya, TV critic for Vanity Fair, says that the idea that BBT is critically maligned "doesn't reflect my experience. I'm not a fan of the show, but I find that I typically have to defend it from people who don't cover television, not from people who do. I defend it because I've witnessed how much the show means to people who feel like misfits, and though I don't feel the same way - and at times have had major issues with it - I respect its weird power.
"My guess is that the negativity towards the show, which I sometimes feel, is precisely because of this weird power; but anyone who knows anything about the multi-cam sitcom will tell you that despite their flaws, they are one of the easiest types of television to love and live with, which explains so much of their staying power and fan adoration."
It's worth mentioning that among this group of very intelligent and fancy TV and culture critics, The Big Bang Theory has fans.
"I've enjoyed the show and its characters," said Madison. "Is it perfect? No, but neither are some of the shows people laud as the BEST of TV: the slow-dripping, self-serious one-hour cable dramas."
While admitting that it's uneven and that its early episodes were rough sailing, Holmes said that "over time, I really came to have such admiration for the chemistry among the main cast, and for (Jim) Parsons and the, just, WEIRD thing he was doing … and I think the women are really funny. I definitely think it's ready to go.
"I think all those people can do other things that will probably use their talents more fully (although Mayim Bialik, I think, kind of found the role of a lifetime here). It has made me laugh. I don't really recommend it to people, but it would be ridiculous for me to deny that it has made me laugh."