Yesterday, CBS made the announcement that The Big Bang Theory would be running for at least three more seasons, ensuring that the last remaining network TV comedy juggernaut would continue to pummel the competition for years to come. This show isn’t just maintaining a huge audience; it’s also gaining new viewers every week. Which leads me to ask: Why? Why do so many people flock to this extremely traditional three-camera sitcom when there are more ambitious and creative comedies on the air?
A major reason for the growth is syndication, keeping episodes of The Big Bang Theory on multiple networks for a majority of the week so that it’s on when people are bored and need something to watch. Every episode is accessible because the relationships are still fairly simple seven seasons in, and that simplicity is the real key here. These characters may be adults, but their lives lack the complexity of actual adulthood. They live juvenile lives in adult surroundings, with the goals and anxieties of children and teenagers. Bernadette and Howard are married, but even that relationship is portrayed as more mother/son than husband/wife, with plots that involve withholding Howard’s allowance and keeping him from going away for the summer. They’re not planning a family or making major career sacrifices for their relationships, they just live together and have sex and go to work instead of school.
That immaturity is present throughout “The Mommy Observation,” an episode that has Sheldon catching his mother mid-coitus during a trip to Texas and Raj forcing his friends to play a game they are uninterested in. This isn’t challenging material. Sheldon’s behavior makes him available for the most basic storylines, and as is the case this week, he can have a plot normally reserved for a younger character and make it work in the context of his personality. The writers get a lot of their comedy from putting Sheldon in the middle of situations that would be easy for most adults to deal with, but are difficult for his mind to grasp.
Because Sheldon has no concept of the compromises people make so they can get laid, he reacts in disgust to his mother’s impropriety. He sees it as a flagrant disregard for the beliefs she’s held to steadfastly for his entire life. He’s a man of science and she’s a woman of faith, and if she can put her beliefs on hold for this man who gives her sexual pleasure, why can’t she do the same for her son? She admits that she’s dealing with her hypocrisy but also not going to stop indulging her sinful side, and while it’s not what Sheldon needs to hear, he also knows that he shouldn’t stand in the way of her happiness thanks to some advice from Howard.
While the bonding between Howard and Sheldon on the plane last week felt very forced, tonight’s episode accomplishes some legitimate reparation of their relationship by putting Sheldon in a position where he’s alone and needs a friend. The rest of his comfort circle isn’t around, so he can’t risk alienating Howard during this time of crisis, and Howard actually offers some very sound advice in this situation, beginning by telling Sheldon that he should probably just forget it all. After Sheldon ignores this tip and brings it up to his mother, Howard arrives to tell him a story about the guilt he feels over breaking up his mother and her last boyfriend. These characters could be 13 and still have this exact same conversation, and back home in California, the rest of their friends are living out adolescent drama of their own.
The big gist of this week’s subplot is that Raj never gets to do what he wants, so he uses Sheldon’s absence as an excuse to force four of his friends to play a murder mystery role-playing game during dinner. The story does explore some more substantial material as the episode goes on and puts the focus on Penny and Leonard, who start arguing about whether or not they would sacrifice their careers to let the other pursue success, but even then the plot never matures past teenager levels. Penny and Leonard could be two high school freshmen freaking out about what will happen if they go to different colleges, letting a fear of something quite a distance away dictate their feelings for each other. They worry about a hypothetical future when they should be enjoying what they have.
Murder victim Stuart is ultimately the person that relieves the tension between the two, telling Penny and Leonard that they work so well together because they make each other better: Penny forces Leonard out of his shell, and Leonard forces Penny to think deeper about the world. It’s probably the most mature thing uttered in this entire episode, and it’s said by a character that has spent most of the episode playing a dead body on the floor. There’s just not room for that kind of thinking on this show, and as long as the maturity stays still on the floor, just out of sight, then The Big Bang Theory will have a very long life.
- Yay Laurie Metcalf! If this show runs out of steam in three seasons, they can always bring her on as a regular cast member.
- Sheldon can sit on a bunch of pocket change and count it with his sensitive buns. Impressive.
- Potential “Raj is gay” evidence: his future self is Madonna’s boy toy.
- Chutes and Lawyers: The game where you slide down chutes and try to make your way through the appellate system
- Theory: Bernadette works for Better Off Ted’s Veridian Dynamics.
- In the event of an intelligent dog uprising, Amy and Sheldon have agreed to turn on the human race hard.
- Penny: “You really going to lie on the floor and pretend to be dead the whole time?” Stuart: “What do you think I’d be doing at home?”
- “I saw my mommy with a naked man and she was trying to be a mommy again.”
- Sheldon: “I’ll condemn you internally while maintaining an outward appearance of acceptance.” Mary: “That is very Christian of you.”