SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of The Big Bang Theory series finale that aired tonight.
In the end, The Big Bang Theory took the prize with a series finale that delivered satisfying surprises for all of the core characters but kept hold of the show’s taut pace, tart zingers and deadpan irony despite all the obvious temptations to over-inflate the comedy vehicle beyond its specifications. The 279th and final episode of the history-making CBS hit comedy finished its 12-year mission with a picture-perfect landing that was capped, fittingly, by an award acceptance speech by Jim Parsons.
The trophy this time was the Nobel Prize medal (not a fifth career Emmy for Parsons, although that hardware may be on the way, too) and technically the winner was actually Parsons’ on-air alter ego, Sheldon Cooper. The Southern-born brainiac and Caltech physicist has been the show’s signature character since the first episode in 2007 and (like The Fonz on Happy Days or Kramer on Seinfeld) it’s hard to imagine his series without him. (The character will carry on, too, thanks to the next-gen spinoff Young Sheldon, which has Parsons as both an executive producer and narrator).
In the finale episode “The Stockholm Syndrome,” the Nobel Prize was shared by Sheldon and neuroscientist Amy Farrah Fowler (portrayed by Mayim Bialik), who married in the Season 11 finale and sealed their betrothal in the traditional way (by collaborating on a groundbreaking asymmetric string theory) and now join the ranks of Nobel-winning intellectual giants like Albert Einstein, Madame Curie, and, uh, Russell Crowe in that Ron Howard movie.
The finale spread the magic around, too, with the other central characters getting their moment in the swan-song spotlight. Former across-the-hall neighbors Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco) reveal that their first child is on the way (they got married in early Season 9), while Raj (Kunal Nayyar) scores a dream date to accompany him to the Nobel ceremony in Sweden — Buffy the Vampire Slayer herself.
The cameo by Sarah Michelle Gellar was a top-notch surprise for a show that has a rich tradition of A-list visitors from the Hall H universes. (Among the Comic-Con royalty who dropped in: Carrie Fisher, Stan Lee, Katee Sackhoff, George Takei and William Shatner.)
After receiving news of the Nobel win, it’s a long flight to Sweden for the whole gang, especially Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) and Wolowitz (Simon Helberg), who are leaving the kids behind for the first time. High jinks ensues, of course, when Sheldon is too self-absorbed with his global honor to stop and consider the feelings of his friends as they re-arrange their lives to accommodate his big day. In the end, in a heartfelt but dignified speech, the show’s biggest brain showed that even the smartest people can learn a new lesson if they see things from a new angle. That’s the geometrical appeal of the show: Don’t be so obtuse, the show tells us, in a way that’s pretty acute.
Deadline was there to cover the emotional finale taping of the multi-camera comedy, which was recorded in front of a live television audience on the Warner Bros lot in Burbank (on the same soundstage where scenes for Casablanca and Bonnie & Clyde were shot). There was a reception, too, and fortune cookies served in a bowl by the exit. Inside, a message that would warm any agent’s heart: “If you don’t believe in goodbyes, there’s always syndication…”
There’s also special retrospectives honoring television’s top comedy when the cookies run out. Unraveling The Mystery: A Big Bang Farewell airs tonight after the second-season finale of Young Sheldon, which followed a Big Bang doubleheader. The cast of The Big Bang Theory will also be the featured guests on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, giving the CBS lineup major Bang for its buck.
The finale was the 244th episode of The Big Bang Theory directed by Mark Cendrowski, who this year celebrates the 30th anniversary of his career-breakthrough gig as stage manager for the ABC sitcom Full House. Earlier in the day at the CBS upfronts, the show’s co-creator/EP Chuck Lorre and the cast took in an extended standing ovation from the crowd; Young Sheldon will move in the fall to the time slot The Big Bang Theory held since 2007. CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl told Deadline the network will be waiting for Lorre to knock on the door if he has another breakthrough formula in the elusive science of television comedy.
“When Chuck wants to come talk to us about potential spinoffs, we are here to listen,” he said. “We are not pushing him, we are not demanding a spinoff. We respect Chuck. When he thinks he has something, there is an understanding that we will talk.”
A parting thought for bereft Big Bang fans. The melodic prophets from Canada known as the Barenaked Ladies tried to prepare you for this day. Their theme song for The Big Bang Theory is instantly recognizable to fans and constantly echoed by reruns, but the lesser-known third verse predicted the half-life of the sitcom back when its primordial crust was still cooling.
It all started with the big bang!
It’s expanding ever outward but one day
It will pause and start to go the other way.
Collapsing ever inward, we won’t be here, it won’t be heard
Our best and brightest figure that it’ll make an even bigger bang!
The Big Bang Theory is executive produced by Lorre, Bill Prady, Steven Molaro, and Steve Holland. The series was produced by Chuck Lorre Productions, Inc., in association with Warner Bros Television.