‘The Big Bang Theory’ ended its 12-year run, one of the longest for a sitcom in the last decade, when it aired its last episode “The Stockholm Syndrome” on the 24th of May 2019.
The show might have been successful when it comes to delivering entertainment and memorable characters, but what cannot be denied is that the narrative was heavily misogynistic. Especially after the last episode ended, the shows’ representation of its two female characters and the conclusion of their arcs were highly problematic and questionable. The first one on the list is Amy Farrah Fowler, and her constant struggle to perceive herself as a pretty looking woman, insecurity that gets her obsessed with the conventional good looks of Penny.
Throughout the series one can see her character get excited over tiaras and makeovers, idealizing Penny for her physical appearance. This, in turn, also leads to Amy’s character bothering about her appearance to the point of wanting a makeover, and she eventually does get one, albeit not an over-the-top one but still a considerable change from her earlier self. Remember, this inner struggle is when she is about to receive the highest honour a person in her profession can receive, and many people in the world can only dream of, a Nobel Prize. And she is about to share it with the love of her life, her husband Sheldon Cooper, another genius in the field.
Now, the thing about receiving prestigious awards is that they come with the pressure of delivering highly moving speeches. For Amy, it also came with the age-old need of society for a celebrated woman to always look the part. This pressure is well documented in their previous episode when Amy suffers from a panic attack with thoughts of letting down a generation of female scientists and women who aspire to win the Nobel Prize.
Sheldon, on the other hand, is struggling with the changes in his personal life as a socially awkward individual. The mistreatment of his character, when it comes to social awkwardness and his inability to understand social cues, is a discussion for another time.
When the day arrives, Sheldon ends up thanking his social circle, talking about his personal struggle to shed his self-centred attitude. Amy, on the other hand, uses her speech as a call to the upcoming generation of female scientists, all while constantly being bothered about her appearance. For ‘The Big Bang Theory’, a show that largely remains apolitical in its narrative, Amy had to take political responsibility for her actions through her speech.
The other political conundrum that the show delved into unintentionally was through the announcement of Penny’s pregnancy in the final episode, and the narrative used to reach this announcement. Its timing in the real political climate was nothing but problematic. Throughout the series, Penny’s boyfriend and then-husband, Leonard, keeps talking about how their child will be “both smart and beautiful“. But Penny does not share the same excitement as her partner when it comes to the prospects of motherhood. And she is clearly honest to Leonard about it. But Leonard still wants to be a biological father and considers sperm donation. To the surprise, and rather shock of Penny, he is donating it to the partner of her ex-boyfriend Zack.
Even Penny’s father, at one point, tries to explain to her that by missing out on motherhood, she is giving up on one of the most beautiful experiences of life. But the scepticism of Penny’s character about this decision throughout this one episode is suddenly given up in the last episode when she announces her pregnancy.
How did we reach this conclusion you ask? Well, one fine day Penny decides to get really drunk, she then comes home to Leonard, and simply asks him, “You wanna?” And well, the “sensitive” Leonard, jumps at this possibility and has unprotected sex with his partner. All these events are narrated with the obvious studio laughter to seemingly make it funny. And eventually, when Penny does get pregnant, you are made to believe that this is the happy-ending Leonard and Penny deserved. To be honest, for Penny it was clearly not.
Though Leonard and Penny’s father don’t directly force her to make the decision, she is definitely eventually pressured into motherhood. The problem with the timing of this narrative was that it aired when the anti-abortion legislation was being passed across the states of the US. And, for a show like ‘The Big Bang Theory’, which tried hard to stay away from political issues, it had again delved into a problematic narrative clearly being on the wrong side of the political discussion. The airing of such an episode in the wake of laws that aimed to abolish women’s reproductive rights was considered to be highly ignorant and lackadaisical.
‘The Big Bang Theory’ definitely created one of the most unique premise and characters, but in their attempt to be apolitical they lost out on creating a comedy that could have been a generational success. Rather, they harmed their unique set-up by using their characters to create the same conventional scenarios and jokes which were misogynistic, homophobic, and casually sexist in nature. In doing so they made their narrative unintentionally political, but just in not the right kind of way. For ‘The Big Bang Theory’, though it all started with a big bang, it ended with nothing more than a bleh.
What do you think about how the show painted the arc of its female protagonists? Share your views with us in the comment section below.