CBS' smash-hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory has been the butt of a lot of jokes, especially on the Internet, even now as the show heads toward the end of its final season after twelve seasons. The ire of many critics on social media and various blog-hosting sites have transformed the show into a punching bag, strung from the rafters and pummeled with of barrage of criticism of the show's tendency to employ pop culture references in place of actual joke writing, its periodic broad representation of certain archetypes, and its relentless, hamfisted celebrity cameos.
However, despite the blanket of shade hoisted over the show as if it was a rusted out propane grill your dad just refuses to replace, The Big Bang Theory has been one of the most successful sitcoms of the Twenty-First Century. This, of course, begs the question: How can so many people despise a show that is so wildly popular? To answer that, it's paramount to look at why the show has been such a huge hit to begin with.
One of the biggest factors contributing to the success of The Big Bang Theory might be when it debuted. Now, this not to say people were clamoring for a sitcom about a group of socially awkward nerds in 2007, but it did scratch an itch for some. The show arrived before the superhero boom we currently live in really exploded. Neither The Dark Knight or Iron Man had been released, but they were right around the corner, which is also important to note. Pop culture, specifically "nerd culture" was just starting to build up steam. The MCU didn't exist; Disney hand't yet scooped up every property from your childhood; and a Batman movie was a year away from grossing a billion dollars and earning a couple Academy Awards.
Sure superheroes were in the cultural zeitgeist, but when were they not? Star Wars and Star Trek were cultural touchstones by anyone's metric, but their diehard fans had yet to be represented on screen for a lot of audiences. Shows like Spaced and The IT Crowd had strong cult followings and featured characters who were into comics, science, computers, and fantasy but neither of those shows premiered on a massive American television network like CBS. With The Big Bang Theory, suddenly toe entire idea of "nerd culture" had the biggest and broadest audience it had ever seen.
What The Big Bang Theory capitalized on was focusing on characters who debated the merits of Superman and the internal workings of the character as if he were real. These discussions were not happening in a Kevin Smith film that you and a handful of your college buddies watched on DVD in a dorm. No, these discussions were happening on CBS, one of the biggest television networks in the country. That level of accessibility was a game changer, and the show setting up an umbrella shop right before the deluge of comic book milieu only propelled its popularity among an audience hungry for recognition. As superhero films became the tent poles for every film film studio under the sun, and science fiction and fantasy properties continued to grow in every medium, the ratings of The Big Bang Theory climbed. While there may not be a direct causation here, the correlation is certainly worth noting.