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Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik star in The Big Bang Theory (Cliff Lipson/CBS)
Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik star in The Big Bang Theory (Cliff Lipson/CBS)

Could Big Bang Theory go bust? Add to ...

I can reveal that tonight on The Big Bang Theory (CBS, CTV, 8 p.m.) on season 7, episode 19, called The Indecision Amalgamation, stuff happens.

This stuff: “While Raj is racked with guilt when he tries to date two women at once, Penny wrestles with whether to take a role in a cheesy movie and Sheldon is torn trying to choose between two gaming systems.” Right on.

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Big Bang Theory is the most popular show in Canada. It can draw as many as 3.5 million viewers for a new episode. This is in a marketplace, splintered by countless competing cable channels, where the magic number is 1 million viewers for a show.

The show is also ubiquitous. You can watch old episodes on almost any night of the week. Get on an Air Canada flight and you’ll find a bunch of episodes to watch while the staff is rude to you.

We are now so familiar with the characters, so comfortable with the rhythms of the show, that its flaws and failings are forgiven or overlooked. Recently it was renewed for three more seasons, which would take it to a 10-season run. Can it last, as funny and clever as it is now? Maybe not.

Most successful sitcoms struggle through seasons seven and eight. There are severe limitations on the storylines that viewers will accept and even more severe limitations of the plausible actions of characters.

Big Bang Theory started badly. If you ever catch the pilot episode you’ll see how crude it was. Two science geeks as bickering roommates and working at the California Institute of Technology – Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) and theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons). The other main character was the gal across the hall, Penny, (Kaley Cuoco), a waitress and aspiring actress. At first Sheldon was a woefully undeveloped figure, merely an annoying nerd. The key tweak was the deft introduction and establishment of pals Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) and Rajesh Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar), who also work at Caltech. At first, the solid charm was in the guys’ relations with each other and with Penny. Essentially they were terrified of Penny’s blond sexiness, which fostered her warmhearted mockery of them.

As I see it, the show went awry when it shifted into a relationship comedy. Leonard and Penny, Howard and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) and then Sheldon and Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik). When I expressed this view, I got considerable hate mail. Apparently it was sexist to suggest that the female characters undermined the show’s original comic grace and allure.

I stand by the assertion and, as the series must be rejuvenated for three more seasons, it’s the relationship aspects that present the greatest difficulty. Can Penny and Leonard split up again? Does Bernadette actually become, more emphatically, Howard’s mother? Will the series finale, in a few years, be marked by Sheldon marrying Amy? Perish the thought.

And then there is the matter of the age of the characters and actors. On the show, everybody is about 30 years old. Johnny Galecki is 38 and Jim Parsons is 41. With each passing year it becomes more difficult to locate the characters in the age established for them.

I can reveal what happens tonight. I can’t reveal the show’s future, but I fear for it.

 

Airing Friday

 

I Am Not a Rock Star (Documentary Channel, 7 p.m.) is superb. Winner of multiple awards, it is filmmaker Bobbi Jo Hart’s chronicle of the coming of age of classical pianist Marika Bournaki. Hart spent eight years documenting her subject’s growth as a person and musician – the sacrifices, the doubts, the battles with teachers and others. Done vérité-style, it is finely compelling, beautifully rhythmic. And Bournaki herself is a riveting character. This is about childhood, music, life, pain and triumph. Not to be missed.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

 

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