The Big Bang Theory remains the most popular sitcom on American television – and, as a consequence, the world – but Season 8 shows the first signs of ageing in a format which has remained reliably robust across its previous seven seasons. It’s not that Big Bang isn’t funny anymore – there are guaranteed guffaws and titters to be found in every episode – but the humour’s become a little formulaic and predictable and there’s much less character development and story momentum evident than in the past. Having long since eschewed its pure ‘geek’ credentials – the show was really much sharper when it focussed on Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Rajesh as four brilliant but socially-inept outsiders – it seems to have mutated into a twenty-first century Friends. All four now have partners – Howard is married to the spectacularly-irritating Bernadette (that squeaky voice is like fingernails dragged down a chalk board), Leonard remains engaged to Penny, Sheldon blunders his way through his relationship with the impossibly-patient Amy, and even Rajesh, once catatonic in the presence of a female, has his own squeeze in the shape of Emily (who drifts in and out of the show). As a result the humour has become a little softer and lazier and the episodes themselves, although generally well-structured in the classic US sitcom style with several storylines running in tandem, are disposable and forgettable with the relationship status quos remaining unchanged whatever disagreements or traumas the group endure week by week.
But there are some attempts to thread loose arcs across the season even if nothing much has changed by the time we reach the finale. Leonard and Sheldon write an academic paper together (with much inevitable acrimony), Penny gets a proper job and, in a handful of well-judged episodes, Howard’s shrewish unseen mother passes away (in recognition of the death of actress Carol Ann Susi) and the show deftly, if briefly, addresses Howard’s grief and how he comes to term with his loss. But elsewhere it’s pretty much business as usual. There’s much fun to be had in spotting the copious genre references, and all your favourites are here from Doctor Who, Star Trek, The Flash and Star Wars (‘The Skywalker Incursion’ sees Leonard and Sheldon attempt to infiltrate George Lucas’ HQ even as Howard fights to save his full-sized TARDIS) and there are guest appearances from the likes of Nathan Fillion, Billy Bob Thornton, LeVar Burton and Wil Wheaton.
Ultimately a comedy show needs only really be judged by how funny it is – and Big Bang is still undeniably funny. But with at least another two seasons guaranteed (and the cast on loose retainers for a third) the show needs to shake things up a little bit and move things along – and the season finale ‘cliffhanger’ suggest that change may well be in the air for both Leonard and Sheldon – if it’s to avoid sliding into mediocrity as it drifts into its televisual middle age. It’d be a shame to see a show which started with a big bang end with a whimper.
Special Features: Comic Con 2014 panel / Three featurettes / Carol Ann Susi tribute / Gag reel
THE BIG BANG THEORY – SEASON 8 / CERT: 12 /DIRECTOR: MARK CENDOWSKI, ANTHONY RICH / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: JOHNNY GALECKI, JIM PARSONS, KALEY CUOCO-SWEETING, SIMON HELBERG, KUNAL NAYYAR, SARA GILBERT, MELISSA RAUCH, MAYIM BAILIK / RELEASE: SEPTEMBER 14TH