You just have to look at the DVD front covers of each season of The Big Bang Theory to see how the dynamics of the show have changed. What began as a surprisingly subversive comedy about a group of geeks discovering what life was like outside the laboratory thanks to their beautiful blond neighbour, has slowly morphed into another accomplished take on the hang-out style sitcom; with bars and coffee shops replaced with a lounge and restaurant. What’s impressive is that, up until now, any familiarity with similar shows has been all but bypassed thanks to the fire consistently burning in the belly of the scriptwriters. Unfortunately, throughout season seven, the fire fails to burn so brightly.
Curiously, it is a sense of over-familiarity that impedes the quality. A lot has been written about how its warmth and charm has turned Big Bang into the Friends of this generation, and now it feels as if the writers have been directly reproducing situations from it. We have Leonard hiding from Sheldon in order to spend time with Penny, in much the same way Chandler hid from Joey to spend time with Monica. While Penny discovers that marriage in Vegas does count a’la Phoebe in one episode, and that her part in a TV show has been cut unbeknownst to her a’la Joey in another.
What’s more, when they’re not borrowing from another show, the writers’ lack of narrative ideas causes them to regurgitate plots from earlier seasons, plunging Big Bang into new and frustrating pits of tedium. Do we really need to sit through another episode of Sheldon sulking because he has been forced to take his vacation time? No, is the simple answer. It’s a shame to say, but the writers seem to almost be out of stories, a hurdle they’ve faced before, but managed to jump with the introduction of Amy and Bernadette. This time round, there appears to be no such plan.
Fortunately, while their stories may be stale, their comedy continues to feel fresh, and there’s no shaking the buzz from the energy fused into each episode. There is the occasional joke that feels either overcooked or poorly chosen – Sheldon comparing his plight to that of an African Slave in particular springs to mind – but most of them are both witty and intelligent, with big belly laughs continuing to be meticulously merged with humorous observations on the nature of geekdom.
Of course, much of this fizz still comes from the enthusiasm of its fantastic cast. All of the principle players continue to shine; effortlessly embodying the quirks we know and love, while displaying a constant determination to further develop their characters. Jim Parsons, in particular, remains a notable highlight. Since Big Bang began, Sheldon has always been the true heart of the show and this is almost entirely down to Parsons’ perfect performance, which effortlessly succeeds in capturing the essence of an arch-typical nerd while retaining a distinct air of mystery.
Despite this, Season 7 still struggles to be anything other than lacklustre. Having been extended for 3 more years, it’s anyone’s guess where the story goes next. Certainly the final episode does suggest that changes are coming, but we had that same feeling at the end of the last season. And, despite the best efforts of the cast, the only place it has succeeded in going since then is backwards.