Acceptable Hobby Targets: The show is infamous for its rather bitter and insulting humor towards science and nerd culture. Ironically enough, a lot of the show's dialogue and references can only be fully appreciated by those with an interest in the aforementioned subjects.
Sheldon Cooper seems to have Asperger's Syndrome, despite the creators denying this. He displays the usual signs of Asperger's: heightened vocabulary, lack of caring towards people's feelings, monologue-like speeches, difficulty in understanding social norms, obsessions, altered brain chemicals with coffee, etc. Asperger's Syndrome only got added to the DSM-IV in 1994, so if Sheldon was tested earlier in time...
He could be "Clark Kenting" to what he thinks all geniuses should be, copying a professor/doctor/whatever who had Autism whom he idolized when he was growing up in a highly religious part of Texas. Now he has become the mask.
Given that, according to Sheldon, his mother had him tested, and that this presumably occurred when he was a child, it is possible that he has a personality disorder that would not have been diagnosable in a child. Since a personality disorder is not "insanity" — and given that Sheldon is extremely Literal-Minded he may be just reacting to the terms "insane" or "crazy" only.
There have been lots of hints (some subtle, some not so subtle) that Sheldon's family life was not exactly ideal: his father was an abusive drunk and his mother uses religion as a form of denial. Losing his father no doubt added to the trauma. And then there was the analogy Sheldon once drew between schmoozing wealthy university donors for grant funding to being molested in the back of a van... which was probably a little ''too'' descriptive for the otherwise overly literal Sheldon to be making an extended metaphor. One gets the impression that Sheldon's childhood was horror even leaving aside the bullying he experienced as a result of his obnoxious personality. Combined with at least three severe emotional breakdowns we've seen him have, Sheldon's arrogance and aloofness may well be a defense mechanism which is breaking down over time.
Another aspect of his home life that might be affecting his social ability: Sheldon is extremely logical and scientific. His mother is The Fundamentalist. He was raised by someone who, from his perspective, believes in irrational superstitions that there is no evidence for. He would have been terrified at living with and being raised by a person who went around talking about, or even to, a being that doesn't exist; imagine hearing the story of Abraham (almost) sacrificing his son, and worrying that your own mother will act this out on you.
Sheldon may be a genuinely nice person. He's genuinely concerned when he thinks Penny's been hurt, runs to get her and takes her to the hospital. Rather than just telling Leonard that he wouldn't cover for him sleeping with Priya, he constructed an elaborate and detailed cover to help him. When Leonard lied to Penny about her singing, Sheldon could again have simply said he didn't care and told the truth, but instead chose to follow through and help. He went to great extremes to get Howard's forgiveness when he'd ruined his chances of getting security clearance. When he felt that it would be construed as disloyal to have dinner with Penny, he almost killed himself trying to keep both she and Leonard happy. He couldn't ignore the possibility that Amy was hurt when he didn't hear from her. As much as he may pretend otherwise, he actually cares about his friends. When given the option of being trapped in one of the coldest parts of the planet with anyone, he chose his three friends. He maybe even values their friendship more than any of the rest of them and, even if it may be seen as condescending, is the least frequent to ever intentionally insult any of them (try watching an episode and counting the number of insults Sheldon gives that would actually be considered an insult to his mind, then compare them against those Leonard makes).
How much of Sheldon’s eccentricities are real and how much are merely done to get his way as he seems to lose the majority of them when he wants to be a Jerkass to Leonard as shown in "The Irish Pub Formulation" and "The Itchy Brain Simulation".
"The Cruciferous Vegetable Amplication" shows that when it's something Sheldon wants, he is willing to ride the bus.
Sheldon's Celibate Hero status is typically attributed to having the emotional maturity of a 10-year-old, although he seems to simply ignore it to focus on his work, referring to sexuality at one point as ‘the cross we all have to bear’; later on, he reveals to simply have issues with intimacy he’s working on. He is, however, definitely not asexual, despite previous speculation on the issue.
He's not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. He grew up a Big Fish In A Small Pond and has taken that attitude to college and now to his job at USC, but now he's surrounded by people who were similarly large in similarly small pools. Making an elementary math mistake on page 1 of a paper is a good example. He also doesn't have a Photographic Memory as he claims, or else he'd know that his Not the Fall That Kills You Superman explanation is completely at odds with what actually happens in the film.
Sheldon's mom is usually played as nice, but some of her comments, which are racist if unwitting, really show she's not much better than Leonard's mom. She's a fundamentalist who seems to have a very old-fashioned and limited view on the world, which she took just to compensate for her husband's cheating and uses it as a crutch to keep going. Everyone just tends to look the other way because she's nicer than Leonard's mom and tends to put a leash on Sheldon's antics, but she may very well BE the reason for Sheldon's antics. She's once described him as "one of God's special children", so she thinks, or at least once thought, he was retarded or insane, and seemingly preached this idea to Sheldon's sister. Sheldon's slightly autistic behavior could be the result of being treated as having autism.
This makes her far better than Leonard's mom. She does have a limited world view (and her view is from the Deep South), but aside from spouting stereotypes, she treats Howard and Raj with decency and respect. Leonard's mom, on the other hand, is very well read, brilliant, extremely educated, and just doesn't give a damn about anyone (except maybe Sheldon). She openly mocks her son for not being as good as his siblings, despite the fact that he is a brilliant researcher himself, she treats her family like an experimental group, and shows no regard for anyone except herself. She may not spout Mary's casual racism, but she's a far more destructive person. Sheldon's family may not known how to deal with a brilliant mind like his (driving many of his idiosyncrasies), but given that both of Leonard's parents are professors, they should know how their behavior would affect him as he grew.
In the episode of Bernadette wanting Howard to move in, was Howard pulling a Batman Gambit? He knew Bernadette would keep bugging him about moving in but he wasn't ready so he had to make a plan. Move in, piss her off by his neediness and make her stop. Notice that in his explanation he said he wrote an email to his mother about moving out and her saying she never reads email since she doesn't know how to properly work a computer.
Leslie Winkle: Only Sane Woman or an immature, inconsiderate bitch who gets off of any punishment for immature behavior in the workplace? Not to mention the cold way she treats Leonard and Howard when she's in a relationship with them.
Raj being so opposed to Leonard dating his sister Priya. He puts up a "big brother" front stating he's just looking out for his sister and not wanting to see her get hurt. However, given the way Priya treated Leonard, it's possible that Raj knew exactly how Priya treats her boyfriends, and was actually trying to protect Leonard.
Applicability: The show covers a wide spectrum of personality types and situations, leaving a lot of viewers to see parallels of themselves within. While these guys are on the extreme side of smart and nerdy, they accurately portray a lot of the behaviors that are evident with any sort of obsessive fandom. Sheldon's desire to get in line early for a movie can be compared to getting to the stadium early for a football game, for example.
Ass Pull: Sheldon running a red light. The scene of him driving Penny to the hospital shows him refusing to even drive the speed limit (despite Penny begging him to), then stopping at a red light. It's a little hard to believe he would run a red light, much less that he would let Penny talk him into it. The ticket was issued by a traffic camera, though, and their accuracy for deciding what counts as "running" a red light is pretty notoriously questionable, although Sheldon and Penny's dialogue would seem to indicate he did drive through an intersection after the light turned red.
The episode "The Good Guy Fluctuation". Leonard briefly making out twice with a girl has earned more scorn than Priya sleeping with her ex-boyfriend in India.
The audience laughter — either worth it because the show's that funny, or teeth-grinding levels of annoying and frequency that quickly overstay their course and ruin the show.
Priya and Leonard's relationship, both in and out of universe.
The biggest example is probably when Leonard and the guys faked the readings they took during their North Pole expedition. Either you see the others as JerkassKarma Houdinis who took the coward's way out or Sheldon as an insufferable ass who got exactly what he deserved.
Some people Take a Third Option by seeing both parties as in the wrong. Sheldon got a job dealing with two things: subordinates and data, and proved himself incompetent at both of them. The simple fact that they were able to falsify the data without him noticing shows that he was just dictating to them while they did all the work while periodically checking the results. However they had plenty of time during the trip home to tell him the truth which would not only have given him time to redact his statement but might have softened the blow.
Character Shilling: Sure, Kaley Cuoco is definitely conventionally attractive, but the fact that the entire male cast think so can get a little grating. It gets more annoying when she gets away with things that no-one else would because of her looks, or when she calls Leonard out for doing things she herself did.
Cliffhanger Cop Out: The Season 4 finale and Season 5 opener, dealing with the ramifications of Raj and Penny waking up in bed together. At the Comic-Con panel over the summer Bill Prady said they had worked out a solution that should make everyone happy, which ended up being Penny couldn't remember what happened because she was so drunk but Raj revealed they technically didn't have sex because he was done when the condom was put on, the simplest solution was to admit it happened and just move forward. However you landed on what happened, it still came across as a Ratings Stunt.
Designated Villain: Wil Wheaton in The Habitation Configuration was helping Sheldon out with his Web Show about Flags. Amy repeatedly stops filming to berate him for being a poor actor, and Wil tries to take it in stride the first few times. After a while he says that he can't do it if Amy's being a pain in the ass, and Amy gets angry at Sheldon for not calling him out. We're led to believe that Sheldon was wrong for not taking her side, even though Amy's the one who initiated the conflict and it's obvious she's doing it purely out of petty jealousy.
Both Sheldon and Leonard's parents are very popular given their screen time. Sometimes they get just one scene, but steal the show with it.
Zack Johnson. Despite being a Brainless Beauty and ex-boyfriend of Penny, he's remembered fondly by many viewers because of his friendly personality, love of comic books, and Odd Friendship with the guys even after Penny broke up with him.
Alex, Sheldon's assistant. She is one of the preciously few people who manage to work under Sheldon. Her occasional Ship Tease with Leonard also accounts for her Darkhorse status.
Howard's mom, thanks to tons of hilarious lines and excellent delivery courtesy of Carol Ann Susi.
Bob Newhart as Professor Proton in "Proton Resurgence" was so popular among the fans and cast that he was brought back in a recurring role the following season. The fact that Newhart won his first Emmy for his portrayal really bolstered it.
Fandom Rivalry: With Community. Besides having a geeky appeal there is little in common with regards to the two series, but when TBBT was moved to compete with NBC's comedy lineup on Thursdays (which includes Community in the exact same time slot) it sparked the rivalry.
Also with Genshiken, for having more or less the same idea, only Genshiken was more nerdy.
Sheldon/Penny, enough that Chuck Lorre even commented on that prospect, saying that while they have an amazing rapport Penny would probably kill Sheldon if they hung around each other too much. Other TV writers have remarked that just the idea of Sheldon being Sheldon is what makes their relationship work, the lack of romantic entanglement. Going for Slap-Slap-Kiss is too generic a description of their chemistry.
In the episode "The Griffin Equivalency", Raj tells the patron next to his table, Charlie Sheen, that he's going to be in People's Magazine for discovering a celestial body. Sheen then tells him "Yeah? Call me when you're on the cover." This line becomes less funny when Sheen does end up on the cover of various magazines, and not in a good light, nor for any positive things he did.
In the ending of the same episode, Raj is forced to verbally apologize to Penny about his behavior towards her, and she hugs him right when Leonard and Sheldon walk out, with their getting the wrong idea that she and Raj spent the night together (she was wearing a bathrobe). Come the Season 4 finale, Penny and Raj, while drunk, do end up sleeping together, and the consequences of which are made apparent in the Season 5 premiere, where it almost shattered the group's friendship..
Several times when together with Leonard, Penny would tease about finding another dumb guy when Leonard is caught up in one of his geeky activities. Come the Season 3 finale, Penny realized that being with Leonard actually made it impossible for her to enjoy dating dumb guys again.
In "The Zarnecki Inclusion", Raj jokes that Priya was talking to her ex-boyfriend Sanjay. Then in "The Good Guy Fluctuation" where it's revealed that she slept with him.
"The Roommate Transmogrification" in Season 4, Bernadette gets her Ph.D and a good job, and the guys joke she's now the female of the relationship, Howard protesting he still has his own life. Leonard snarks "until you have kids". As of Season 5, Howard has discovered Bernadette doesn't like kids and if they choose to have them once married she wants him to stay home to take care of them while she works.
Bernadette's comments about crossing the Ebola virus with the common cold don't seem as funny as it was, now that we have an actual Ebola epidemic taking place. So far, the virus is not airborne, but such a mutation taking place is one of the biggest fears, since containing the virus in its present state has already proven troublesome.
Every single joke Howard's made about his mother's poor health is this now that Carol Ann Susi passed away after a short period of battling cancer.
Related: When Howard returns home to find five of his friends staging an intervention (to prevent him from returning to space) his first thought is that they're about to break the news his mother has diednote He discounts this, as if his mother really had died there'd be party balloons and everyone would be looking happier. A few months after screening of this episode, Carol Ann Susi passed away.
Penny once made a comment that Howard gave her a teddy bear which contained a hidden webcam. Come the news of the leaks of private nude photos of Kaley Cuoco and other famous actresses, this comment is a lot harder to laugh at.
In the Season 6 premiere, Penny and Sheldon are left wondering why they're missing Leonard so much when he's just having a good time in the North Sea. Sheldon hypothesizes that Penny is thinking that he might have drunken sex with one of the researchers there. Come the Season 8 finale, and it turned out that Leonard had a drunken kiss with one of the researchers there.
It is the number one comedy in Latin America, comparable to the love for House.
The Big Bang Theory is one of the most watched shows in Canada.
It's also extremely popular in China.
Though it's not reached total cultural saturation in the UK quite as much as Friends did, no one would know that from how often it's shown on UK TV, with the number of The Big Bang Theory reruns on E4 comparable that of Friends before they lost the rights to the latter. They regularly run somewhere between four and six older episodes twice a day and have done for years, which seems to be a fair judge of its popularity. Plus, if someone has a British friend who only watches one American sitcom, odds are very high that it's either The Big Bang Theory or Modern Family (and BBT has the added advantage of being on a FreeView channel).
Surprisingly accurate math and physics jokes at times. Geek culture references can get very obscure.
When Penny mentions that she's used to getting free drinks due to her... less than modest attire, Sheldon offhandedly says that she has a lot of money tied up in 'promiscuity futures' (futures contracts are derivatives where two parties agree on a trade that will take place at some point in the future).
This is one of the few sitcoms with science advisers. The producers said they went about a day before they realized there was no way they could study the proper material for all of the science, and so recruited David Salzberg from the University of California, Los Angeles, to help with the dialogue and even certain plot points (Sheldon's search for Magnetic Monopoles for instance). note Other shows like this are Futurama and 3rd Rock from the Sun.
Growing the Beard: The show wasn't quite certain what tone they were going to have for the show in the early episodes, focusing on the characters getting themselves into awkward situations and barely climbing out of it unscathed. It wasn't until the Halloween party in the 8th episode where the real strengths of the series came into play, showing the characters trying to navigate relatively common social situations and coming up short but wiser for it. This continued into the later half of the first season that cemented its characters better.
In "The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary" Leonard initially refuses to hold up his end of the girlfriend pact saying "What am I supposed to ask? 'Hey Penny, you got any friends you never want to hear from again?'" Come "The Stag Convergence" when Bernadette finds out about Howard's sleazy past and that Penny knew all along when she set them up, Bernadette runs out the run crying that she thought Penny was her friend.
The problems Leonard and Penny have after their wedding. Shortly after the Season 9 premiere aired, it was announced that Kaley Cuoco and Ryan Sweeting were separating, and they have now divorced.
In season seven, the gang was talking about whether any of them had dated more than one person at the same time and lied about it. Penny scoffed her disbelief that Leonard would do that to her. Come to the end of season eight, when Leonard revealed that he did cheat on her at one point while on a boat for months.
In "The Jerusalem Duality", 15 year old Dennis Kim told Sheldon that his work in string theory was a dead end, and that he will soon see that. Come to season seven, where he DOES see that, and ends up having to basically start his career over.
"Shelbot", the mechanical stand-in for Sheldon. "Shelbot" is a remote-controlled stand with a Webcam and tablet computer screen attached that projects Sheldon's face and voice to the outside world while he stays in his bedroom. This video was eerily reminiscent of that creation. The concept was picked up again for Conan O'Brien's Web series, "The Cone Drone," where Conan sends out someone dressed in a papier-mache costume of Conan, while wearing a tablet screen projecting Conan's own face, to irritate or annoy random people.
"Shelbot" may also be a Shout-Out. In Red Dwarf, when Queeg demotes ship's computer Holly to a lowly night watchman/janitor position, Holly's mobile persona looks exactly like Shelbot. (Except for the night janitor's onscreen avatar wearing a flat cap and raincoat as he aimlessly wanders the corridors of the Dwarf).
One episode focused on Howard's space toilet having a possible malfunction and trying to fix it. Well, on July 2009, it became an actual issue.
In the second season finale, the guys left to try to find magnetic monopoles. About two weeks before the Season 3 premiere, real-life scientists found something that sounds similar: magnetic monopolar quasiparticles — something completely unrelated to Sheldon's experiment.
The Mars Rover got stuck in a ditch, just as it did in Season 2. (But it didn't accidentally find life on Mars.)
In the first-season episode involving the physics bowl, after Sheldon leaves the other geeks' team, they discuss people who they might be able to recruit as replacements, and one of the people they consider is the actress who played Blossom. Guess who ends up getting the last laugh as Sheldon's date at the end of the third season?
When Sheldon and Stuart argue about who will succeed Batman after Final Crisis, Sheldon contends that it must be Dick Grayson while Stuart believes it has to be Jason Todd. The argument is basically Stuart being awesome and smacking down Sheldon's position, calling it "as wrong as calling a tomato a suspension bridge". In "The Battle for the Cowl", Jason Todd actually tries to become a Batman with guns, but in the end Dick kicks his butt into the ground and takes on the Bat mantle
The entire episode "The Barbarian Sublimation", where Sheldon gets a guy named Tom to date Penny, as he was the result of an dating site Sheldon submitted Penny on to try to find a boyfriend in order to get rid of her MMORPG addiction, but is implied to be gay and thinks Sheldon is the one he's dating, is even better with the knowledge that Sheldon's actor, Jim Parsons, is gay.
Similarly, in "The Recombination Hypothesis", Sheldon receives a life-size cutout of Spock that he bought on the Internet, and is dismayed to discover that it's Zachary Quinto, who plays Spock in the reboot, rather than Leonard Nimoy. His response — "Live long and suck it, Zachary Quinto!" — is doubly hilarious in light of both Parsons and Quinto having come out as gay.
Related to the two above, a season 7 Thanksgiving episode has Sheldon (played by the now openly gay Jim Parsons) get along very well with Bernadette's father, who was hinted in an earlier episode to be homophobic.
In the episode "The Justice League Recombination", the gang, plus Penny's boyfriend Zack, dress up as The Justice League of America for a costume contest, with Raj, unwillingly, dressing up as Aquaman and later finding it ridiculous that their Aquaman will be Indian. Cut to 2014, when it's announced that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will introduce an Aquaman played by Hawaiian actor Jason Momoa.
Her is more difficult to take seriously if one has seen the episode in which Raj falls in love with Siri.
In "The Solder Excursion" Leonard and Howard end up as part of a test screening for Suicide Squad, and Howard teases Raj with spoiling the movie. Suicide Squad ended up famous for setting up test screenings of different cuts of the film and using audience response to blend the different cuts together, resulting is a very uneven film upon release.
Hollywood Homely: Averted to a degree. None of the characters would be considered unattractive, but they do make efforts to explain their lack of social success. For example, Johnny Galecki combines the glasses with unflattering hair, awkward posture, unflattering facial expressions, and nervous character tics (he frequently plays with his fingers when talking to someone). He also wears slightly oversized clothing to hide the fact that Galecki is actually in pretty good shape.
Sheldon on occasion. The show likes to play up how he overreacts to things and is generally a Know-Nothing Know-it-All, but there are times where the viewer may side with him but he is still treated as being ridiculous.
Near the end of "The Engagement Reaction," Bernadette berates Howard for thinking that his mother had suffered a heart attack on hearing the news that the two were engaged, when in fact she actually passed out from food poisoning and it was purely coincidental that this happened at the exact time Howard told her about the engagement. While Howard was perhaps a little tactless into jumping straight to the assumption that it was a heart attack instead of his mother simply passing out from shock, and his inability to break down the bathroom door indicates that he should add a little muscle, Bernadette is portrayed as being completely right to yell at him for not working out that such an absurdly improbable coincidence had taken place.
Internet Backdraft: While the characters are portrayed positively and sympathetically, the show still relies on a lot of nerd stereotypes as a shorthand and that can and has sparked some antagonism towards the show. When a promo for "Bakersfield Expedition" had the girls venturing into the comic book store alone the tagline went "Where no woman has gone before!" and all sorts of female geeks took umbrage at it (ironically the episode itself had the girls get caught up in a nerdy argument after reading a comic because they were wondering why the guys liked comics so much). And the show gets a lot of comedic mileage by showing the guys doing nerdy things, to quote Penny Arcade: "In Big Bang, being like me is the punchline." Many articles have been written about this.
Leonard. Yeah, he may be considered a Designated Hero and an ass, but the insults that Howard and other characters throw at him about his height or romantic life can seem mean a lot of the time. Also his mother can be quite a bitch. Once Leonard is actually with Penny his retorts to them are basically "You said it would never happen, well I made it happen." In fact most of the time whenever he does something mean or socially stupid you can trace its origin to what someone else did to him.
Sheldon can be highly difficult to be around, his quirks constantly interrupt the lives of everyone else, he outright insults the intelligence of everyone and berates people for not conforming exactly to his schedule. However, his emotional maturity is that of a 10-year old and whenever he is in distress he responds much like a child would and the few times he will Pet the Dog will sometimes backfire on him. For a few specific examples:
"The Excelsior Acquisition", Sheldon is taken to court for a traffic violation and Sheldon's style of defending himself (insulting the judge, among other things) ended up getting him thrown in the courthouse jail. The problem was he doesn't drive much and the ticket happened in the same episode when he "played the hero" taking Penny to the hospital when she dislocated her shoulder; it was Penny's coaching that led to the violation and she directed the ticket to him to avoid an insurance hike. It basically ended up as No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. However, being that he was in control of the vehicle (and the ticket was issued by a camera, which photographed Sheldon driving, not Penny), he is 100% at fault. Penny convincing him into running a red light is not a defense, as even if she was far more experienced than him, traffic lights are a pretty black and white indicator that even people who've never been in a car at all would know not to drive through. He is in fact trying to deflect the blame onto his incapacitated passenger.
A Tear Jerker moment (as well as a case of Mood Whiplash) comes in Season 6's "The Santa Simulation", the guys play a Christmas themed Dungeons & Dragons game with Sheldon being annoyed by the theme and eventually leaving Santa, who they were supposed to rescue, to the ogres that captured him. Jerkass, for sure. The Woobie comes in when he tells "Santa" his story of why he hates him and Christmas — the last time he saw Santa was at a mall where he asks for his grandfather back, who had died earlier that year and was the only one in the family who encouraged Sheldon's interest in science. Instead, he got Lincoln Logs. "You can build a lot of things out of Lincoln Logs, but a new Pop-Pop's not one of them."
"The Itchy Brain Simulation" REALLY made Sheldon look vindictive toward Leonard for the sake of "a teaching experience".
"The Guitarist Amplification" suggests that much of Sheldon's colder aspects were his defense against being hurt emotionally when his parents fought, as seeing his friends engage in vitriolic bickering has him on the edge of a full-fledged breakdown.
Raj. Yes, doubtless, he Took a Level in Jerkass since around Season 3. Only one catch: living without being able to talk with women is especially hard. It's a wonder he hasn't ended up a bitter drunk yet. He may put a Smug Snake face in front of his friends, but once or twice, we see hecracks.
Pretty much every character with any development save for Stuart (due to being too friendly to qualify) will have shades of this. Everyone has moments where they act selfish, intolerable, or just generally disdainful, but they all also have so many issues and problems that it's hard not to feel bad for them.
Dr. Crawlie from "The Jiminy Conjecture" would be a full-on Woobie if not for being played by Lewis Black.
Inferiority Superiority Complex: Sheldon, while a genius physicist and knowledgeable about many other subjects, has a ginormous ego that leads him to think he's an expert in everything. When anything threatens his self-image as the most perfect human being alive, he can't handle it. Witness him stating that as a physicist who studies the universe, he has a working knowledge of everything in it. When Penny asks him what Radiohead is, he twitches for a minute before clarifying that he has a working knowledge of everything important.
Oh, the Humanities! (An Unusual Euphemism, substituting "Humanity", the typical word, for "Humanities", the collective fields of study of Human culture, which Sheldon tends to reference on occasion)
Yes! Yes! My brain is better than EVERYBODY'S! (A reference to Sheldon's typical Insufferable Genius behavior)
(knock knock knock) "Penny?" (knock knock knock) "Penny?" (knock knock knock) "Penny?" (A reference to Sheldon's compulsive door knocking quirk)
On /co/, the show is commonly made fun of in variations of "Hey guys, Green Lantern!" (audience laughter shakes the studio, snowballing into an apocalyptic event)
There are lots of extremely surreal MS Paint productions that rival Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff in terms of Stylistic Suck. They almost always have extremely botched English, with the punchline usually being some warbled variation of "bazinga" ("bandingo", "bonswazzle", "bazooper", "carabooda", "jumanji", "bepzinky", "vajazzle", etc.) or some African/Asian country (Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Botswana, etc). Have a look for yourself.
Alice from "Good Guy Fluctuation" was incredibly popular, being an attractive, friendly and quirky female nerd played by Courtney Ford.
Martha and Abby from "Psychic Vortex" are similar, given how they double date Raj and Sheldon based on him carrying a Green Lantern prop around.
Yvette from "The Locomotive Manipulation" is one of the more popular love interests for Raj among the fanbase, despite appearing in only one episode, due to the fact that they shared a lot of the same values and seemed quite well-suited generally. The casting of Tania Raymonde was made quite a big deal of at the time, suggesting that the character might originally have been meant to be recurring.
Paranoia Fuel: In one episode, it's revealed Howard once gave Penny a teddy bear that she discovered had a webcam inside it.
Portmanteau Couple Name: In-universe. "Shamy" in the Season 4 Premiere for Sheldon and Amy. Amy is quick to put an end to it, though. The fans still use the term to discuss the Sheldon/Amy pairing.
Also in universe, Raj has suggested "Koothrapemily and "Emipalli" as one for himself and Emily.
"Lenny" is the term used by fans to discuss the Leonard/Penny pairing. Somewhat confusing since Lenny is a nickname of Leonard.
The term "Shenny" is used by fans to discuss Sheldon/Penny shipping. The Big Bag Theory Wiki has a small article on the subject.
The term "Howardette" is used by fans to discuss the Howard/Bernadette pairing.
Rescued from the Scrappy Heap: When Amy was initially introduced she came across as a Distaff Counterpart of Sheldon competing for the Brutal Honesty lines, which many fans did not appreciate. Once she started up a friendship with Penny, calling her "My Bestie" (best friend), and demonstrating her own personality outside of a female Sheldon fan response has switched around. Particularly her instigation of the rumor-mill in "The Herb Garden Germination" and Sheldon calling her a "vixen" for getting him into the social sciences.
Rewatch Bonus: Give Season 5's "The Recombination Hypothesis" a 2nd look, and you'll spot some subtle clues throughout that most of the episode is a daydream Leonard is having. The most telling clue being that Sheldon is seen flirting with Amy at one point.
Leonard is frequently turned into this in order to promote the Sheldon/Penny pairing. Correspondingly, Sheldon becomes a Draco in Leather Pants where Leonard is a horrible person for teasing, pranking or otherwise making fun of him, supposedly because Sheldon is a child and unaware of the hurtful things he says and does.
Penny is susceptible to this as well complete with a healthy dose of slut-shaming for having a healthy sex life while single. Some examples are the below mentioned Escalating War with Sheldon over the rules at his apartment yet no mention is ever given of the fact that he basically forces his rules everywhere he was going, including Penny’s house. Or her keeping all the horrible things Howard did from Bernadette in "The Stag Convergance" while forgetting that Penny has told Bernadette how sleazy Howard is many times from repeatedly bad mouthing him after they broke up to repeatedly asking her if she really wanted to marry him. Plus the things they saw in the video were things Penny had no knowledge of.
Just about every character over the course of the show has had only their flaws focused and their positive traits ignored, often but not always when in comparison to Sheldon.
Leonard and Penny's relationship had a lot more fan support in the first two seasons than after they get together in the third. The thing was that much of the Character Development of the first two seasons was about getting them to that point and resolving their Unresolved Sexual Tension while trying to otherwise keep the status quo left the third season feeling very stale. Their relationship had little impact on the stories other than a couple of fights and token episodes where they try to learn more about each other (Leonard tried to learn about sports, Penny tried to learn physics) and they eventually broke up towards the end.
Leonard and Penny getting back together in the fifth season has produced a mixed reaction. Some like that the characters are actually trying to interact with each other on a more personal level (avoiding the stale feeling from before) while others feel that the whole story had run its course and the show is just putting the audience through another round of drama.
In The Holographic Excitation, there is a blatant shout-out to Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. Specifically, the The Science of Discworld series, co-authored with prominent British scientists, in which Pratchett's fantasy world is used to mirror and illustrate developing scientific thought. In the books, the wizards of Unseen University (among them a rather nerdy type with glasses who affects a big baggy parka) accidentally create a bizarre pocket universe centered on a spherical world which orbits its sun. Stuck for what to do with it, it ends up gathering dust inside a protective glass sphere on somebody's desk. Meanwhile a geeky glasses-wearing scientist in a parka fires up holograms of Earth, planets and solar system to please his girlfriend. Leonard speculates that everything might just be one giant information-gathering hologram, being read by intelligences an unguessable distance away... The creation of the pocket universe in the Discworld — including Planet Earth — was done with the specific intention of averting a seriously Big Bang, by diverting a lot of dangerously destructive energy down a harmless path...
One of the authors of The Science of Discworld, Professor Jack Cohen, is well-known in US academic circles. In one of the books he explains the torrid time he had trying to convince a hostile audience of the truth of evolutionary theory. He was in East Texas at the time getting heckled by Creationists. The Science of Discworld books — especially the second — are peppered with "common ground" references to people, science and events in science also covered in TBBT. These occur so often that beyond all reasonable expectation of coincidence.
Sleeper Hit: The show opened to mediocre reviews (some of which were very harsh) and this was after a highly disliked original pilot. But the show built up some steam and when it came back after the 2007 Writers Strike it managed to actually improve in quality, unlike a lot of other shows. The ratings gradually increased until they took a small hit moving from Mondays to Thursdays in the fourth season, but after a syndication deal they started breaking records as a scripted show, they are the first since Friends to dethrone ratings giants like American Idol.
In the Season 5 premiere, Sheldon has a nightmare where several bugs start crawling all over him. The bug effects look like something out of windows movie maker. Though that does not stop it from being disturbing.
In Season 6, the boys (in Star Trek cosplay) get ready to take some photos by Vasquez Rocks. Or rather, in front of a backdrop portraying said rocks — it's rather painfully obvious they're on a set! Possibly intentional, as a reference to the obvious sets in the original Star Trek.
More like Scenery Effect Failure, but the brief scene of the women at Disneyland in "The Contractual Obligation Implementation" can be a bit of a Mind Screw to those who actually have been to Disneyland. The scene is very quiet, and it looks as if Penny, Amy and Bernadette are the only guests in the park!
Squick: Howard's subplot in the fourth season premiere. He built a robotic arm, and after showing it to his friends, when he's at home he gets it to massage his shoulder. Then, as soon as he realizes "it's just like a real hand", well... guess what he tries to get it to do. And it doesn't even stop there — the hand misinterprets what it's been programmed to do, mistakenly believing its duty is about twisting a screwdriver. As soon as Howard no longer has any control over the situation (which is pretty quickly), he has to ask Leonard and Raj for help, and then everything goes downhill from there.
Straw Loser: Played with. With Penny, it can be that she's too stupid to know who Adam West is without bringing up Family Guy and basically is set up so the guys can be geeky. With the guys, it could be that they're too geeky for a normal person like Penny or Bernadette to relate to.
Strawman Has a Point: Sheldon is a difficult person to get along with and is often assumed to be wrong on certain matters because of his selfish behavior and desperate arguments. But there are a few times when you have to admit he has a point in his argument.
After they return from the North Pole after several months of experimenting Sheldon discovers the others interfered with the results so Sheldon would be more tolerable. The problem was Sheldon immediately sent out an email to the University about their findings before they clued him in on what happened; the forced redaction hurts his career and turns it into Disproportionate Retribution. While he is not free of fault due to his own haste in taking credit for the discovery, Sheldon is the victim in this, and is utterly hollowed out when he finds out. The others only offer a light apology, with only Raj actually seeming to regret it, and Leonard was only worried about getting back to he could have sex with Penny. This also doesn't get into the fact that falsifying data in the academic community is a huge breach of ethics; excluding the emotional hurt done to Sheldon, the group's actions could have resulted in the total ruin of their friend's (legitimately distinguished) career, humiliation for the university they work at, as well as calling into question the validity of any of their own current or previous work because they were part of the research team.
In "The Large Hadron Collision," Leonard is filling in for another professor by going to Switzerland to attend a conference and view the CERN Super Collider. The episode focuses on him taking Penny as his +1 for Valentine's Day, and Sheldon trying to convince the two of them that he deserves to go instead, since it's been a dream since he was a child. We're supposed to side with Leonard, except he's using this trip as an excuse to take his girlfriend to Switzerland, instead of taking along a fellow physicist who will appreciate the conference and the Super Collider, and one with whom he has a written contract with to take in that event. In fact, Leonard doesn't seem much to care about the "work" side of the trip at all; he just wants a ski vacation with Penny and it happens to be on the University's dime.
One particular event that really sticks out is in "The Deception Verification"; Sheldon's treated as if he's in the wrong for being angry when he discovers that his best friend intentionally lied to him, because he didn't want to spend time with him.
Amy is this in "The Spoiler Alert Segmentation" due to the fact that both she and Penny were shown to be in the right even though they were on opposite sides of the argument. Moving in with Sheldon wasn’t just a big step like it was for Penny and Leonard, it was A STEP. As she herself stated, she does a ridiculous amount of things for Sheldon while getting nothing in return and like with Leonard, the things he is required to do he can choose not to do at his discretion. It’s shown just how much this episode affected Amy’s character because after it, while she still adores Sheldon, she has been shown to be far less tolerant of his actions.
They Changed It, Now It Sucks: A good portion of the fandom is upset that the guys are having some success in long term companionships, claiming that the show has become just another stereotypical sitcom with a focus on relationships. The thing is that even the early seasons were focused on relationship stories, mostly on how the guys would strike out (especially Howard). Whether or not the changes to the cast and the formula have been handled well (balanced cast, creative stories, insider jokes, etc) is a different subject altogether.
At the finale of "The Santa Simulation," Sheldon reveals to "Santa" (in a Christmas-themed game of Dungeons & Dragons) why he dislikes Christmas; Sheldon had asked Santa when he was a child to bring back his grandfather, who had died earlier that year and was the only family member to encourage his interest in science. Sheldon instead got Lincoln Logs. In The Stinger, Sheldon meets Santa Claus during a dream, in which Santa apologizes for letting Sheldon down as a boy. Rather than a heartwarming moment where Sheldon's Pop Pop comes back for one dream so Sheldon can say good bye and make amends, Santa shoots Sheldon with a cannon, making the ending a Catapult Nightmare.
In The Bozeman Reaction, at no point does Sheldon point out that Bozeman is the future sight of the test of the first warp engine & first contact with the Vulcans in the film Star Trek: First Contact. Given his love of Star Trek, and TNG in general, this would surely have been a factor in his decision to move there. On a side-note, this counts as a Genius Bonus, and might be deliberate on the part of the writers.
Penny has sometimes been put into conflict with the others where we are supposed to side with her but some feel that she ends up being mean and cruel while the others were at worst ignorant of how it would affect her. She gets into an Escalating War with Sheldon over the rules at his apartment (though it's also Leonard's apartment, and he ought to be able to have guests over). She gets angry at Leonard for sneaking a look and fixing her bad history paper because she wanted to do it herself, only to recruit Amy and Bernadette to help her rewrite it to stick it to him (prompting a reference to the Alpha Bitch trope from them). There's also the time when Sheldon decided to try alcohol, and made a complicated drink order (that he would happily have paid and tipped for), and Penny simply poured him a shot of whiskey saying "everyone makes it different." If it had been anyone but Sheldon, the audience's sympathy may have been with him for the crappy customer service.
Lucy, Raj's girlfriend. She is afraid of anything and everything, but unlike our geeks, she never actually makes an honest effort to correct her fear. The joke of her abandoning Raj in the middle of their dates may be funny on her first appearance, and yet as the season progresses it becomes clear that Raj is the one pulling all the weight on their relationship.
Raj after being dumped, when the episode showed him pressuring his socially anxious maybe-girlfriend to meet his friends and to say whether she was his girlfriend or not.
Raj again after breaking up with Emily spends the rest of the episode as a thoroughly depressed mess. The problem with this is that he only broke up with her after obsessing over another woman (who clearly told him she wasn’t interested) for days before breaking up with her right before Valentine’s Day. He then went crawling back to her when this stupid decision blew up in his face. All in all, he comes across looking more like a sleaze than someone you should feel sorry for.
When Penny gives Howard a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, we are supposed to feel sympathy toward Howard when he hides himself away in his room, despite his prior consistent, unrelenting harassment of Penny and her consistent, unrelenting lack of interest in him. On top of this, he ignores her apology and tries to kiss her. And then, even after she punches him in the face and breaks his nose, he still won't let up, claiming he's "halfway to pity sex." Pre-Character Development Howard was a creep and a half.
Even Sheldon falls victim to this. There are a number of episodes where Sheldon gets his way and the audience is supposed to be happy at his triumph even when his motives are petty and childish. When Priya begins examining some of the (ridiculous) things in the roommate agreement the audience is supposed to be happy when Sheldon blackmails her into leaving it alone even when Priya is completely right: Sheldon constantly uses the roommate agreement to make Leonard's life miserable, but fuck forbid he should have to live by the rules set forth in his own agreement; he blackmails Leonard, through her, into signing a new agreement that favors him even more than the old one. Really, Leonard deserves credit for not brutally beating Sheldon until he signed an agreement that stated, "Sheldon is Leonard's bitch from now on." In another episode, Leonard and Penny decide to buy a dining table so everyone can sit together. Sheldon opposes this decision simply because he doesn't like change (despite Leonard pointing out that he bought the couch against Sheldon's will) and doesn't care that Raj is always sitting on the floor. In the end, he gets his way, even though his motives are entirely selfish.
Beverly Hofstadter: we’re supposed to feel sorry for her in “The Line Substitution Solution” due to the fact that Leonard and Penny didn’t invite her to their wedding or even told her about it. The problem is not only does she act the way she usually does but when confronted she admits that she wouldn’t approve of it and wouldn’t have gone. When you add to this the fact that Beverly has kept important events from Leonard such as the death of relatives and pets but they’ve had this exact same conversation before when she found out about he and Penny dating, it just makes her come across as more of an abusive hypocrite.
The Apology Insufficiency really makes Howard this, and to an extent everyone who sides with him. They're all mad at Sheldon for damaging Howard's career by...telling a government agent something completely true about Howard, that demonstrates the he is indeed an irresponsible person who really shouldn't have security clearance...
Some British reviewers note that The Big Bang Theory is unusually vicious for an American comedy. This appeals to the long-standing and proud British TV tradition of laughing at oddballs placed in amusing situations, which is a factor in the show's British success on E4. It still carries a bit more sentiment than the typical British show and the nerd leads can be even heroic despite their innumerable weaknesses. But Sheldon and especially early seasons Howard is almost straight out of British comedy of a socially awkward oddball who refuses to change.
In-universe, it is commented upon that India LOVES Doogie Howser, M.D. because it features a child genius becoming a doctor, and the Indian culture focuses a lot on higher education and the medical field.
Visual Effects of Awesome: In the Season 7 premiere, Leonard gets hoisted off of a boat by a Kraken's tentacles. It really looks believable.
We're Still Relevant, Dammit!: The show has made pop culture jokes and references relatively close to their original air date, but avoids trying to be TOO topical by not making them the focus of an entire story. I.e., references to the guys missing '09 Star Trek because they were on an expedition over the summer. One exception was the guys playing Halo 3 in the first season, with a couple of factual mistakes made because the episode was obviously written and filmed before the game actually came out. A season six episode had Sheldon angsting over which game console to buy, Xbox One or Playstation 4, but made the point that Sheldon has backed the wrong format over the years, i.e. Zune over iPod, Betamax over VHS, etc.
Two episodes in Season 9 actually revolve around an upcoming pop cultural event - the imminent release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the premiere of Game of Thrones Season 6 were both the focus of episode-long story arcs. They got around any potential issues by being aired a few days before the Real Life events they were depicting, and to avoid spoilers focusing on the interactions between the group prior to the premieres and the guys geeking out blissfully in the aftermath, rather than the content of the show/film being watched.
The Woobie: Pretty much the entire cast and even side characters take turns at this, since they bonded by having mutual problems with apathetic family members and growing up ostracized for their intelligence.
Leonard is generally a decent guy who tries to find some sort of emotional attachment and rarely getting it. But then we find out he was never hugged as a child, his parents never celebrated any birthday, and often directly mocked for his struggles (especially by Sheldon, but Raj and Howard also teased him about Penny frequently with no provocation).
Woobie status will shift to Sheldon sometimes. Especially here, where he nearly has a panic attack because the guys cut off one of his long rants, and they did it on purpose. Although Sheldon's 0% Approval Rating attitude makes him an Acceptable Target for a lot of pranks, this show still probably deserves credit for making The Woobie out of characters who, in most sitcoms, would merely be one-joke occasional characters. Consider how much of a Flat Character Sheldon — or even the other guys — would be as extras in a more traditional sitcom.
When Amy was first introduced she was rather cold and distant to most people, only becoming friends with Sheldon because of feeling a kinship between them. As she became friends with Penny she opened up extensively and often recalls having a rough and lonely childhood, probably more so than any of the guys. While her dialogue is still meant to be funny, a lot of it hints towards her being very sad and depressed before she met them. When Penny is staying at her place and Raj shows up Amy said, "A sleepover and a man at my door. I wish I could tell my 13-year-old self it does get better!" Things get worse in the Season 5 episode "The Isolation Permutation" where Amy has an emotional breakdown because Penny and Bernadette don't ask her to pick out wedding dresses with them. She spends most of the episode agonizing over how no one wants to hang out with her and recounting some pretty horrible experiences where people have humiliated her, at one point calling herself "the tumor nobody wants around." Yeah, pretty safe to say she's the show's biggest Woobie by now.
It's barely YMMV that Stuart is this, due to his growing debt, Perpetual Poverty, and the fact everyone takes advantage of his friendliness and easygoing-ness to get cheaper prices on stuff from his store really makes you feel for the guy. The closest thing he has to a dating life is a cat he doesn't own that occasionally visits to share cans of tuna. He finds it hard to talk with people outside of the nerd community, and is often depressed about his lot in life, and the fact that he's rarely invited to hang out with his friends in their group events. To cap it off, his comic book shop burns down in the Season 7 finale (and no matter what other people say, he didn't do it to collect the insurance), and in Season 8, Debbie (Howard's Mother), who he was getting close to, passed away right after providing him with the funds he needed to get his shop back in business. The poor guy just can't catch a break.
Alex Jensen, Sheldon's assistant. The poor girl tries so hard, and she still gets talked down to on a regular basis.
Raj. In Season 6, he and Stuart bonded over their shared loneliness as Raj's best friend was away and both were single. For the past few seasons, he's been feeling really depressed about being single while all of his friends are paired up (especially since one of the couples involves Sheldon). When he does finally get a girlfriend, she breaks up with him. He also had a girlfriend for an episode who ended up being a Gold Digger.
Howard. His father abandoned him when he was a kid, forcing him to look after his mother (who may qualify, herself.) Sheldon constantly taunts him about not having a doctorate (at one point, Bernadette joins in), Bernadette goes behind his back to tell his mother about his going to space, he comes close to breaking up with her after his lecherous past is revealed. He is clearly terrified of going into space. There, he's bullied by the other astronauts who dub him "Fruit Loops" and he suffers from Space Madness. It doesn't get much better for him upon re-entry, as his wife is trying to seduce him while suffering from a cold. His mother is having an affair with the dentist, he finds himself between Raj and Stuart's Ho Yay, and the rest of the group coldly rebuff him, leaving him to eat cheesecake alone in a diner where he finds out he caught the cold from Bernadette. Poor guy.
Hell yes, Howard's mother qualifies. She used to be thin and beautiful until she became a chocolate addict from eating the candy her dates brought her. Her husband up and leaves her alone with a young child to raise alone and she clearly suffers from a fear of abandonment because of it. Her controlling and manipulative nature just seems to be her way of keeping the only person who loves her close to her. Then she dies while on a great vacation and only a short time after developing probably her closest friendship in years.
Even Penny can be this at times (just not as often as the others). In the early seasons she had a tendency to fall for Jerk Jock types only to be devastated when she realized they were jerks. When she and Leonard broke up and Leonard began dating Priya, Penny tried to pull an I Want My Beloved to Be Happy, but couldn't actually say it out loud without bursting into tears mid-sentence. She's an aspiring actress (and has some genuine talent) but her acting career has been going nowhere. Every now and then, the realization of that hits her hard. Even when she gets a job that pays a lot of money, she eventually admits to Leonard that she hates it because having to flirt with doctors all day to make sales doesn't feel good, but she also isn't sure if she wants to go back to acting because she remembers how miserable the auditions and failure made her.
What an Idiot: In "The Speckerman Recurrence", a simple threat of calling the police would have solved that problem.