As one of the most successful sitcoms in recent years, “The Big Bang Theory” made a name for itself with its lovable cast, relentless pop culture references, and complicated romances. Starring the likes of Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, and Kaley Cuoco, the series ran for 12 seasons on CBS and won 10 Primetime Emmys during its time on air (though it was nominated 55 different times). Beyond critical recognition, the series was a hit with fans and spawned the spin-off series “Young Sheldon” that aired concurrently with the original sitcom before its completion.
But, just like any series that lasts for more than a decade, there are plenty of moments throughout “The Big Bang Theory” that fans simply cannot stand. Whether certain character choices felt, well, out of character or plotlines failed to live up to expectations, there are a host of “Big Bang Theory” moments out there that either enraged or were ignored by the series’ large fanbase. Of course, when you’re dealing with someone like Dr. Sheldon Cooper, irritation is almost always the default setting.
Between some pretty poorly executed relationship drama, strange plot choices, and out-of-character moments, “The Big Bang Theory” had its serious ups and downs over the course of 12 years. While we can’t cover every upsetting moment that ever played on this long-running Chuck Lorre series, we can highlight some of the ones that irked fans the most. So pull out your controllers and save your spot, because this is going to be a bumpy ride.
Penny and Leonard fake dating for her dad (Season 4, Episode 9)
Just about every character on “The Big Bang Theory” has some inherent desire to please their troublesome parents. Leonard’s obsequious tendencies come from his strange upbringing, Raj struggles with his parents’ expectations, and Howard, well, for most of the series, he’s still at his mother’s beck and call. Penny, who left Nebraska behind for sunny Los Angeles, is no stranger to parental expectations, either. Although she and Leonard broke up the previous season, the Season 4 episode “The Boyfriend Complexity” sees her rope the young scientist into a fake dating scandal to appease her dad.
When asked to name their most cringeworthy episode, Reddit user u/1000furiousbunnies mentioned “The Boyfriend Complexity,” elaborating, “I hate how [Leonard] treats [Penny] in the episode, it’s so gross.” While there’s no denying that the whole operation is Penny’s idea, Leonard leans a bit too heavily into them being a couple again, pushing just about every boundary along the way. Of course, Sheldon is also roped into the lie (though he doesn’t know they’re still broken up), which compels him to amend the Roommate Agreement for nothing.
On YouTube, user Suburban Timewaster criticized the episode for failing to explore the strained relationship between Penny and her father, “…instead an episode that could’ve been about Penny became about Leonard and this isn’t the first episode where Penny should’ve been the center focus…” No doubt, this episode wasted an opportunity for some real character growth.
Sheldon at Human Resources (Season 6, Episode 12)
Admittedly, it’s something of a miracle that Sheldon didn’t get himself reported to Human Resources at Caltech before the Season 6 episode “The Egg Salad Equivalency.” After both offending and harassing his assistant Alex, Sheldon is forced to spend some time with Janine Davis from HR, and the results speak for themselves. While Janine shows up a few times throughout the back half of the series, her first appearance is the most notable, especially after she’s stuck listening to Sheldon’s profoundly offensive, clearly firing-worthy comments.
While many have found Sheldon’s tussles with HR humorous, others were bothered by Sheldon’s terrible behavior. u/amy_michelle6 on Reddit remarked that, “Sheldon should have been fired, full stop. It’s not funny. Then he throws all his friends under the bus? Not funny. I wish they’d fired him.” Surely Sheldon’s comments alone are enough to warrant some serious concern, but to also throw his friends under the bus in the process, especially to save his own skin, isn’t too great either.
However, many on the same Reddit forum believe Sheldon’s actions are due to him being on the autism spectrum. Although co-creator Bill Prady has denied those assertions, actors Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik have kept the conversation open. “All of our characters are in theory on the neuropsychiatric spectrum, I would say,” said Bialik, who has a PhD in neuroscience herself, while on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Star Talk,” “It doesn’t always need to be solved and medicated and labeled” (via RadioTimes).
The Raj and Penny situation (Season 4, Episode 24)
At the end of Season 4, Raj and Penny enjoy each other’s company over some glasses of wine — just the sort of liquid courage Raj needs to talk to her. The next morning, they find themselves cuddling in Leonard’s bed, completely unaware of what transpired. Though they eventually learn that pretty much nothing happened, their morning-after walk of shame doesn’t help matters after Leonard, Sheldon, and Howard all catch them trying to escape embarrassment.
At the end of the day, “The Roommate Transmogrification” is a pretty solid episode, even if the ending cliffhanger is often considered one of the worst “Big Bang Theory” storylines. Unsurprisingly, not everyone was particularly excited about this budding plotline, especially given all the drama between Leonard and Raj regarding the latter’s sister Priya. Concerning the episode, YouTube user Gedog Darker pointed out that “…neither Raj or [Leonard] are good friends to each other they both got what they deserve.”
Another user, Angus March, agreed with this sentiment by remarking, “This moment was where Raj’s character took a dive off a cliff.” Interestingly, it wasn’t just fans who were disinterested in a Penny-Raj romance, but the producers didn’t really love it either. “I spent the entire hiatus being upset about it…” executive producer Steve Molaro told TV Line before explaining that he eventually convinced creator Chuck Lorre to drop it. “He didn’t love it, but he knew it was important to me to the point that he conceded.”
The comic store burns down (Season 7, Episode 24)
The Season 7 finale “The Status Quo Combustion” was a turning point for “The Big Bang Theory.” As everything in Sheldon’s life is changing, from the university forcing him to teach string theory to Amy’s desire to move in, the one constant he thinks he still has is his local comic book store. Unfortunately, the comic store burns down. But rather than comfort Stuart — who just lost his whole business — in his time of need, Sheldon makes the entire debacle about himself.
While the sequence is framed so that we’re meant to sympathize with Sheldon, the entire bit falls flat. Clearly Stuart’s troubles outweigh Sheldon’s, which are hardly troubles at all. “I know that during the whole show Sheldon is supposed to be always selfish in a funny way, but in this scene, he is just inhumanly stupid,” said YouTube user Nero 1833. “This was such a great moment for the show to make Sheldon be a good friend for Stuart as he was for Howard… but they preferred to make a joke about Stuart losing the only thing he had…”
Sadly, Sheldon’s treatment of Stuart isn’t without precedent. The guys spend years making fun of the comic store owner before finally becoming his friend, as pointed out by Reddit user u/relentless-shipper. “The fact that the others only wanted to hang out with him as a last resort is partially what makes me feel bad for him.” The guy just can’t catch a break.
Sheldon wrecks his and Amy’s anniversary (Season 8, Episode 24)
If anyone could ruin a magical fifth-year anniversary evening, it would be Dr. Sheldon Cooper. In the Season 8 finale, “The Commitment Determination,” Sheldon interrupts his make-out session with Amy to ask her if she thinks that he should start watching The CW’s “The Flash” series. As he explains how he doesn’t want to commit to something for years if it isn’t worth it — perhaps subtextually referencing their own relationship — she asks if he was even thinking about her at all. Of course, he wasn’t, which causes Amy to eventually break things off with Sheldon.
What Amy doesn’t know is that Sheldon bought an engagement ring, but, once again, the big-brained physicist proved to be his own worst enemy. While the scene is admittedly humorous, within the context of their five-year relationship (and their anniversary), it’s also pretty infuriating. YouTube user Vic t Campbell rightfully noted that as a romantic partner, your duty is to “…pay attention to the person you love, not a show that you could later catch up on by watching it on repeat.”
Reddit user u/TinyNuggins92 sympathized with Amy, highlighting that this was “…the straw that broke the camel’s back. It wasn’t because Sheldon did it once, it’s because of the pattern of behavior that showed to Amy that Sheldon didn’t respect her time and contributions to the relationship.” Thankfully, the pair patch things up eventually, but it takes some serious reflection on Sheldon’s part first.
Penny and Leonard break up (Season 3, Episode 19)
Breakups are always hard, but they’re a lot harder when a bowling tournament is on the line. In the Season 3 episode “The Wheaton Recurrence,” Penny and the guys face off against Wil Wheaton in a bowling competition that goes completely off the rails, with Wheaton intentionally sabotaging Leonard and Penny’s relationship in order to one-up Sheldon. While Wheaton is the clear bad guy here, their relationship was already on the rocks after Leonard confessed his love for Penny and she failed to reciprocate. When things finally came to a head, it’s pretty heartbreaking to watch.
Despite Leonard and Penny being the obvious endgame couple throughout “The Big Bang Theory,” not everyone loves the Penny-Leonard romance. When discussing this episode, Reddit user u/198297 wrote that Leonard “lets Penny walk all over him all the time and then over thinks about little things and makes it an issue… It was Ross and Rachel kind of relationship. Toxic!” This isn’t the first time fans have pointed out the communication issues in Leonard and Penny’s relationship, but this moment made them even more obvious.
But Leonard isn’t exactly innocent here, either. As user u/kmkmrod points out, “Leonard pushed her away, not Wil. Leonard was toxic through the whole thing by saying stuff like ‘maybe someday you’ll love me back’ while pressuring her to say she loved him.” These two obviously needed a bit of a break before they could give their romance another try.
Leonard admits to cheating on Penny (Season 8, Episode 24)
Speaking of Leonard and Penny, these two are still working through some stuff years later. Despite some serious red flags on the drive, namely Leonard’s confession of infidelity in the Season 8 finale “The Commitment Determination,” these two officially tied the knot in Las Vegas. Though Leonard had cheated on a previous girlfriend years prior, it still came as a pretty big shock to viewers that he would ever cheat on Penny, the woman he’s been pining after since day one. Admittedly, it was pretty out of character.
“It felt forced and unnatural, like a last minute insert as opposed to something writers had planned from the get go,” said u/Random-Brunette on a Reddit forum dedicated specifically to hating this Leonard and Penny plotline. “There’s only so many ‘will-they, won’t-they’ sitcom plot tools, but that was a lazy conflict.” Though Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco played it well, their character’s premature nuptials caused some drama throughout Season 9.
Other users echoed the sentiments, namely u/Happy-Spring-8860 who said that “Leonard cheating on Penny ranks up there with Penny ‘sleeping’ with Raj…the writers didn’t have to take that route…I don’t know how Leonard and Raj remained friends after that. Almost seemed like an afterthought.” As one of the most hated revelations on “The Big Bang Theory,” this storyline undergoes something of a soft retcon when Penny and Leonard get married again for the second time, this time with all their friends and family present.
Sheldon embarrasses Amy in front of her colleagues (Season 7, Episode 5)
By the time Season 7 rolls around, Sheldon has grown quite a bit. He’s a bit more sympathetic to others, is in a semi-physical relationship with Amy, and is beginning to show signs of emotional intelligence as well. Tragically, a lot of this is quickly undone when Amy comes to work at CalTech in “The Workplace Proximity,” which puts Sheldon in a strange place. While Amy is enjoying lunch with her colleagues, Sheldon barrels in and wrecks the whole thing, seemingly unaware that he’s embarrassing her in the first place.
“I’m getting to the point where I think it’s time for Amy to break up with Sheldon,” wrote user u/TheJackal8 in the official Reddit discussion forum for “The Workplace Proximity.” “It’s going nowhere and as funny as it is, it’s painful to watch.” Many of the responding comments echoed this, with other users pointing out that Sheldon seemed to have “regressed” back to his former pre-Amy self. “tbh it reminded me of the ‘old’ sheldon from season 1-4,” said u/w00tthehuk.
In contrast, others thought that Sheldon’s attempts to “rescue” Amy were a bit more noble, or at least overprotective. In his defense, YouTube user Henry noted that “in Sheldon’s mind, Amy was having a hard time and he went out of his way to save her…” Whether this is true or not is unclear, but we’d like to think that Sheldon has his future-wife’s best intentions at heart.
Sheldon makes the end all about him (Season 12, Episodes 23-24)
Very few moments in “The Big Bang Theory” are worse than Sheldon’s behavior in the two-part series finale. After he and Amy win the Nobel Prize, sending them to Sweden to receive their award, the CalTech physicist quickly becomes insufferable. He insults each of their friends and fails to congratulate Leonard and Penny after they learn that they’re having a baby. Given that “The Change Constant” and “The Stockholm Syndrome” are the final batch of episodes, it’s an odd choice to have Sheldon push everyone away upfront.
Concerning the two-part series finale, Reddit user u/rgb_leds_are_love wrote that “after 12 years of character development, I find it laughably inconsistent that Sheldon wouldn’t be happy for Leonard and Penny. After all, over S11 and S12, Sheldon had repeatedly shown his ability to care for people other than himself.” In agreement, u/xcoopahx reinforced a distaste for the timing of this conflict. “They could have done that on the other episodes and make the finale a testament of how much he learned to be accepting, less selfish and tolerable after twelve years.”
After Sheldon alienates everyone, all of his friends prove just how good friends they are by still showing up for the award ceremony. In one of the series’ best moments, Sheldon uses his speech to highlight each and every one of them for their intellect and personal contributions to his life. At least he figures it all out in the end.
Howard before Bernadette (Seasons 1-3)
There’s no denying that Howard Wolowitz is sort of the worst before Bernadette comes around. The geeky engineer doesn’t just chase anyone who glances in his direction (in addition to women who want nothing to do with him), but he’s constantly making a fool of himself in the process. With no real self-respect and plenty of mommy issues, Howard is a bit of a laughingstock — one who’s never quite in on the joke. But when Bernadette enters the picture, he goes from putting hidden webcams in Penny’s teddy bears to a content husband and eventually father, not to mention astronaut.
While some like Reddit user u/Creative_Hamster789 might argue that the series “went downhill once Amy and Bernadette became regulars,” Howard actually ends up a much better man with Bernadette by his side (and, coincidently, so does Sheldon after Amy). u/WorldsAwait echoed this thought by highlighting the fact that Howard “…went from being a womanizing creep to being a reliable parent and the rock holding his household together.”
“[Howard is] the best character development out of everyone and honestly the most successful and mature,” said u/Milky_Moostachio on a Reddit thread concerning Howard’s improved character development throughout the series. “I think he gained the most out of everybody and really turned out to be the best character of the show.” Despite Howard’s often colored personal history — which is a lot more problematic than funny — we couldn’t agree more.
Sheldon abandons Raj (Season 8, Episode 6)
In the Season 8 episode “The Expedition Approximation,” Sheldon and Raj partake in an underground simulation in CalTech’s very own steam tunnels in order to prepare themselves for the 12 hours they’ll be spending in salt mines as a part of a dark matter project. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long before Sheldon gets antsy, and although Raj tries to calm him down, it doesn’t take. After seeing a rat, Sheldon abandons his friend to the tunnels and hurries off without so much as a glance back.
It’s certainly no secret that fans didn’t like this part of the episode, which certainly pushes the boundaries for what a bad friend can look like. Reddit user u/kabovetti accurately pointed out that what’s worse is that Sheldon doesn’t just leave Raj behind, “…he actually closes the metal hatch door.” This is especially irritating given how supportive and helpful Raj is throughout the entire experience, which only actually lasts 11 minutes by Amy’s count.
In response, YouTube user Anusha P commented, “I feel bad for Raj when Sheldon leaves him there. Its expected reaction from Sheldon. But why did Amy have to leave Raj? She could have helped him out.” When Raj returns from underground, he calls Sheldon out for being a terrible friend, but his objections fall on deaf ears. “His statements of the obvious continue to annoy,” Sheldon says as the episode closes, reminding us that he learned nothing.