In 2007, The Big Bang Theory premiered to humble beginnings. Airing just before the writer’s strike shut down Hollywood, the show centered around a group of nerdy, geeky scientists at Cal Tech. After its well-received first season, the show quickly gained momentum, and by the mid-2010s, The Big Bang Theory had become the most-watched show on television and was even ranked as one of the best shows of the 21st century.
What makes it all even more extraordinary is that, on the surface, the lead characters weren’t likable. They weren’t cool. They weren’t sexy. They weren’t badass. They weren’t anything Hollywood usually brands as desirable.
And yet, because of how real, authentic, and genuine they were, the cast of The Big Bang Theory resonated with viewers. Many actual scientists even praised the show for making the STEM fields cool and for inspiring a whole generation of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. But who among the cast turned out to be the most likable?
Rajesh (Raj) was originally unable to speak to women since he suffered from an anxiety disorder called “selective mutism.” This instantly made Raj likable. He was so vulnerable and timid that you couldn’t help but love him. Granted, it needs to be said that once Raj did start talking to women, he had some very unlikable moments, like the time he dated one of the school’s janitors and then lied about it. Or the time he was dating two women at once.
Though awful, his actions do make sense. He’s a grown adult, but he’s never been able to date because of his mutism. Romantically and sexually, he’s still an inexperienced teenager. Yes, he can be selfish, but that’s mostly because he just doesn’t know any better. He hasn’t been able to grow and learn the way most others did in their youth, so he’s making those mistakes now.
Completely absent in season 1 and only in a few episodes of season 2, Stuart went on to grow as a character and become a series regular. He’s the always-down-on-his-luck owner of the comic book store the group often visits. But something about him drew audiences in. Chronically sick, poor, and alone, Stuart always delivered hilarious lines about his misery, such as, “I like all kinds of music, but my favorite genre is ‘free.'”
One of the reasons he’s so likable is because, despite living a life of absolute misery and failure, Stuart never gives up. He still tries. He’s still genuine, and, despite his constant self-depreciation, he can be quite funny and admirable. It’s no wonder he went from a nonexistent character in season 1 to living with Howard and Bernadette in later seasons. Audiences just couldn’t get enough.
Played by the absolutely fabulous Christine Baranski, Beverly is Leonard’s high-achieving therapist mother. As a mom, she’s terrible, oftentimes never even showing Leonard the slightest ounce of love or respect. Instead, she usually loves Sheldon more, often admiring his brilliance.
As viewers, we shouldn’t like her … but it’s just impossible not to. Her obliviousness to motherhood is cruel and heartless, and she basically uses Leonard as a test subject, often documenting his moods and actions for her research. As a person, she’s 100% horrible. But as a character, she’s downright hilarious. Every time Beverly stepped into a scene, viewers knew they were in for a treat.
When the show began, Howard lived with his mother and thought he was a total ladies’ man despite being utterly alone, uncool, and out of touch. By the time the series ended, he had been to space, was married, lived on his own, and even had children. He’s likable because he grew and evolved. He changed — and for the better.
He started off as a character made solely for jokes. He was a small, scrawny, unfashionable nerd who constantly tried to get the hot girls. In earlier seasons, he almost came off as a one-trick pony. Watching him grow and mature over the years made him incredibly likable and helped him resonate even more with viewers.
Let’s all be real here: Howard would have never become the man he is today without Bernadette. Her love, patience, and strong will are what helped reel Howard in. When she was first introduced, she and Howard actually didn’t get along very well. They had no similar interests and Bernadette came off as bored and aloof, but once Howard opened up and revealed he has a smothering mother, the two instantly bonded. From there, she continually pushed Howard out of his comfort zone, challenged him to grow up, and even worked on her own career as a microbiologist.
On top of that, she often elicited laughs with lines like this one, spoken in her trademark high-pitched voice: “I told you you shouldn’t have espresso after dinner. I know the little cups make you feel big, but it’s not worth it!”
Sheldon’s mom, Mary Cooper, is a devout Christian from Texas who always brings the laughs. The humor is derived from their opposing beliefs: The fact that Sheldon is a scientist who only believes in empirical facts leads to endless arguments with his mother. On top of that, Mary is played by veteran actress Laurie Metcalf, who really turned the character into someone hilarious, yet lovable and relatable.
One of the reasons she’s so likable is because she’s like so many actual mothers across America. Many viewers know and relate to the Sheldon/Mary dynamic since most younger people are less religious than their parents, especially those with parents from the Baby Boom generation.
Mary Cooper delivers fantastically funny lines like, “The Lord never gives us more than we can handle. Thankfully, he blessed me with two other children who are dumb as soup.” She also treats Sheldon with love and patience, proving that, despite their differences in beliefs, she still loves him more than anything else in the world.
Neurotic, anal-retentive, but ultimately absolutely brilliant, Sheldon is somewhat of a savant, struggling in all areas of his life aside from science and geography, where he’s a stone-cold genius. But despite his extremes, he’s also incredibly likable and relatable. Sheldon struggles socially, something we can all relate to at times. He also gets anxious, something that many of us can also understand. And he gets mad when things don’t go his way … again, something that most of us (whether we admit it or not) can surely relate to.
Because of this, we as viewers can’t help but love Sheldon, even when he does things that annoy us or makes us mad. It’s hard to blame him because he’s just so socially different from everyone around him. Though never expressively stated in the show, it’s implied that Sheldon might have some form of Asperger’s and OCD, making it hard for viewers to hate him. Instead, all you can do is accept and love Sheldon for what he is … and that’s exactly what Big Bang fans have done.
He puts up with Sheldon as his roommate and is forced to live with the fact that Beverly is his mother — poor Leonard has suffered through a lot. But the entire time, he does it with composure and kindness, making him incredibly likable. Few people in the real world could ever be friends with Sheldon, let alone live with him, proving that Leonard has a lot more tolerance than most of us.
On top of that, he’s probably the most “normal” of all the guys in the show, making him the de facto main character that many viewers relate to the most. He struggles with getting girls, with feeling unattractive, and believing that he is unpopular. He’s a relatable underdog who you just can’t help but root for.
When Amy Farrah Fowler is first introduced in the finale of season 3, she was nothing like the character she became. Robotic and cold, Amy was basically a female version of Sheldon. But throughout the years, her character grew into something warmer and more complex. We as viewers discovered that she never had friends growing up, that she had overbearing parents, and that she’s madly in love with Sheldon.
And through that love, she’s able to break Sheldon out of his shell. She even gets Sheldon to recognize that he too is in love with her, allowing him to feel that emotion for the first time in his life. Plus, to cap it all off, she always has hilarious lines like, “From the first moment in that coffee shop, I knew that there was something special between us … even though I did work on a study that disproved love at first sight.”
When you think about it, Penny really is the star of the show. Her arrival at the apartment building in the pilot episode started the snowball effect that became The Big Bang Theory. From all the guys having a crush on her, to introducing Howard and Bernadette, to giving Sheldon a gift so amazing that he actually hugs her, to helping Raj speak to women, and even becoming Amy’s first real friend, Penny literally changed the lives of everyone on the show.
And beyond that, Penny herself changed throughout the show. In the early seasons, she’s a struggling, out-of-work (and untalented) actress who makes her money by waiting tables at The Cheesecake Factory. She has a very low self-esteem and dates hot guys who have absolutely no brain whatsoever. By the finale, she’s a highly-paid pharmaceutical representative and is married to Leonard. She not only bettered those around her, but she’s also bettered herself. She’s not only Big Bang‘s most likable character, but she’s also the show’s most important one.
You can stream all 12 seasons of The Big Bang Theory on HBO Max.
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