After 12 seasons, The Big Bang Theory has come to an end. Its series finale is sandwiched between the series finales of Veep and Game of Thrones, and as I spent a few days in the center catching up on Big Bang’s final season, I felt like I was being expertly rolled up into a wet, muffling blanket. The show’s discussions, as well as those about the show, are not loud or urgent.
There are few high stakes, and even those that are arguably high (winning the Nobel Prize or being pregnant) are considered trivial occurrences. The end of The Big Bang Theory is huge — at its peak, 20 million viewers watched the show every week — but it’s also strangely quiet as compared to the end of Game of Thrones.
The Big Bang Theory’s final seasons are less culturally important than the show’s first two seasons, in part because the future the show predicted, one in which everybody knows who Thanos is, has essentially come to pass. The references and cultural benchmarks that distinguished it are now shared by everyone.
— Mark (@warmachine31480) March 30, 2021
Another reason the Big Bang Theory ends with a whimper rather than a bang is that, though the show has always consumed a lot of pop culture, pop culture has never reciprocated.
The Big Bang Theory is a sponge for pop culture references, and those references serve as the backdrop for the show’s nearly plotless stories. These characters’ communication is focused on nerdy horror films, comic book series, TV shows, and video game metaphors. They serve as guides and benchmarks for how these characters navigate life.
With a few exceptions, such as the catchphrase “Bazinga,” the opposite has never been true. The Big Bang Theory is about culture, but it has never been about The Big Bang Theory in the same way as the Marvel universe, debates about The Last Jedi, or anything about Game of Thrones has been about culture.
The president isn’t using Big Bang Theory fonts in his department memes. There aren’t many papers about Sheldon’s success as a baby name. There will be no petitions asking that the producers remake the finale next week, or if there are, they will be jokes.
The two other shows in this week’s graduating class of TV shows have tilted like mirrors against the Zeitgeist during their runs. Although Game of Thrones and Veep have their own fictional universes, they are often asked to comment on ours.
They’re reflective in a way that The Big Bang Theory hasn’t been, and their finales have felt like referendums on where we are now, not just on themselves.