When The Big Bang Theory premiered in 2007, Johnny Galecki, who plays Leonard Hofstadter, was probably the most recognized cast member. He was best known up to that point for playing Darlene’s boyfriend, David, on the blue collar family comedy, Roseanne. Kaley Cuoco (Penny) was a regular on 8 Simple Rules, which didn’t last long after the death of its star, John Ritter, but the actors who play Leonard’s contemporaries Raj Koothrappali, Howard Wolowitz, and Sheldon Cooper were relatively unknown. Although it was an ensemble cast, it was a pretty safe assumption that Leonard was supposed to be the main character, the least nerdy of the nerds, and Penny’s future love interest. It didn’t take long for that to change as Sheldon (played by Jim Parsons) became first a scene-stealer, then a larger focus of the show. But if it changes much more, the big bang may go bust.
Nearly every show that starts out with an ensemble cast usually ends up with one character who stands out and becomes a viewer favorite. On Seinfeld, Jerry was obviously supposed to be the star, but it didn’t take long for Kramer, with his weird quirks and loony schemes to become the show’s scene-stealer. From the moment he made his trademark entrance into Jerry’s apartment until he exited the set, it was nearly impossible to pay attention to anyone else. But the show lasted as long as it did because it never went overboard in trying to exploit the character. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for The Big Bang Theory.
It seems as if the moment Sheldon gained a fan base, the show began to use it, increasing his screen time, as well as his quirks and idiosyncrasies. It wasn’t long before nearly every show revolved primarily around Sheldon, with a few B-plots keeping the other characters engaged and on the screen. Even Sheldon’s nerdy fashion sense became a sensation, with Web sites selling Sheldon’s ever-present T-shirts to anyone who wanted to emulate their favorite TV geek. The success is undeniable, leading CBS to renew the show through 2014, but how long will one character be able to sustain the run?
Seinfeld had a nemesis – Newman. One of the most quoted lines from Seinfeld, and one of the shortest, too, is the one Jerry used to say through clenched teeth: “Newman.” Speak that line in that way to just about anyone, and they’ll probably crack up, or at least give you a knowing smile. Jerry was the main character. The show was named for him, after all, so it was only fitting that he should be the one to have a nemesis.
If you watch The Big Bang Theory, you know there’s a nemesis on that show too–but it’s Sheldon’s, not Leonard’s. Every once in a while, Wil Wheaton makes a guest appearance playing a slightly evil version of himself, and his main purpose is to taunt Sheldon, or “Moonpie,” as Wil likes to call him, mocking Sheldon’s beloved Meemaw’s name for him.
As the most unusual character on the show, it only makes sense that Sheldon would be the one to have a nemesis. But it goes a little further toward disrupting the delicate ensemble balance, and leaning toward making The Big Bang Theory into The Sheldon Show. Part of what made Seinfeld work so well was that although Jerry was usually the straight man to everyone else’s crazy, he occasionally broke out and did something outlandish himself, like stealing a marble rye loaf from an old lady.
Leonard has his extra-nerdy moments, but the script has yet to give him something really out of character to do. Nearly four years later, he’s still the straight man, Penny’s still the airheadish neighbor (and how long is she going to be a waitress at The Cheesecake Factory?!), while Raj and Howard continue with their minor plotlines. The more the producers of The Big Bang Theory continue to shine the light on Sheldon, the darker the future will be for the show.