IT'S NOT EASY being a Big Bang Theory fan. As the run of the show went on, it went from being a breath of fresh air to (for some) an annoying stereotype of geek culture, built on lazy humour.
But as the show comes to a close after a record-breaking 12 seasons, it feels like time to re-evaluate the franchise that actually did more for outsiders, nerds, women in tech and STEM than it ever got credit for.
The first thing to say is that there are mild spoilers for the final double episode within, so if you haven't seen it, you have been warned.
Have they gone? Good. Let's start off with the way it ended. Yes, of course the idea that Sheldon and Amy would win a Nobel Prize is a bit of a stretch, but at the same time, that was always their goal. It had been talked about repeatedly during the show's run, so hey, why not?
The fact that there wasn't a hard ending - the characters went back from Stockholm and, we assume, carried on in the same vein they had been - was a particularly nice touch. When Friends finished in 2004, the sextet was forcibly separated by their life choices. Here, we got the reassuring knowledge that (in our minds at least) they're still out there in Pasadena, chowing down on Sheldon's ridiculously anal takeaway orders.
Less pleasing was the way that some of the characters' story arcs were resolved, or not. Raj, arguably the biggest geek of the lot got a nice gag in his date for the Nobel event, but he didn't find happiness, or security or anything to suggest he was going to get out of his neurotic rut.
Penny (who drifts off into the sunset with still no clue as to her maiden surname) is pregnant - something she, like Bernadette before her, explicitly said she didn't want, and so feeling happy that her end-game was being married with kids seemed a little tacked on, and moreover sends a pretty poor message to anyone who saw Penny as an achiever, despite her lack of book smarts.
But they're niggles really. The final scene in which Sheldon uses his big moment to pay tribute to his friends was a fitting end to his story - the ultimate weirdo, introvert and naively selfish cast-member finally realised that if you love someone, you should tell them, not just do an Alan Partridge style hatchet job of your enemies.
So now it's all over, what did The Big Bang Theory ever do for us?
Let's cast our minds back to 2007. The concept of having these two nerdy, plucky underdogs as heroes was revolutionary at the time. Geek chic was definitely becoming more in vogue, but not to this extent.
Indeed, early series seemed to make Sheldon and Leonard almost like "Munsters" with Penny as the viewer-eye - the Marilyn if you will - the 'normal' in a world of weirdos.
But the reason that the show lasted is because it didn't stay that way. We saw character personalities develop in the most unexpected ways. Sheldon gained some level of humanity and empathy. Amy started to express herself and even push back on Sheldon's demands. Penny accepted the world of neuroscience and experimental physics that was way beyond her, adjusting her mindset from the jocks and gym-hounds she grew up on.
Howard and Bernadette showed that you could be a successful working parent, even with a doctorate, a message to women everywhere that you can have it all, however cranky and squeaky it makes your voice. Plus Howard went into space, which seemed a bit shark-jumpy at the time, but very quickly seemed more and more plausible, as space tourism beckons.
The guest stars were more than just geek icons. The likes of Stephen Hawking, a regular guest, and Steve Wozniak actually acted to introduce these heroes of science to a new audience, showing them what you can achieve.
A central theme of the show was change - it was imprinted into almost every episode, and that was no accident. Because within all the (always accurate) scientific formula, the idea of change and coping with change reflects the nature of life itself. Change is life. Atrophy is decay. Many plotlines centred on the man of science (Sheldon) struggling to cope with the change in the real world that he craved in his experiments and finally learning to accept it.
So what is the Big Bang Theory's legacy? It taught us that it's okay to be who we are. We can be scientists, we can be computer geeks, we can be bullied mercilessly at school, but everyone in the show finished better than they started it. Things work out.
The deliberate use of real science exposed concepts to viewers that perhaps they wouldn't have come up against in other contexts. Using new technology was commonplace. Women taking the lead in science was just part of the show - the equality message was hidden in plain sight.
In fact, its a testament to the changing times that the male cast reduced their own salaries during the show's run, to ensure that the women's increasingly important role was being equally rewarded.
Some questioned if the way the show handled autism was appropriate, but it's worth remembering that although he had many traits of Asperger's, it was never established that Sheldon was anything other than eccentric. After all, as he regularly reminded us "I'm not insane, my mother had me tested."
It would be very easy to carry on talking about what a positive influence The Big Bang Theory has been. Yes, the jokes were cheesy, the sets were lousy and the plots were often just the wrong side of believable (does Elon Musk really help out in soup kitchens?), but these were men and women at the top of their game - being themselves and being brilliant in a world where they didn't quite fit in, yet by the end, they'd all found their place.
There'll be a lot of readers who feel that this applies to their lives. In which case, I invite you to go back and visit the series and watch those neuroses, those character flaws, but also those immense triumphs, and remind yourself that for a lot of younger viewers, it was a lifeline. A beacon that said, 'Yes, you may be a Marvel-obsessed, shy, insecure, role-playing computer geek. But you are also hope. You are the future. And everything is going to be alright.'
In terms of positive role-models, Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, Raj, Bernadette, Amy and yes, even Penny were second to none, and in their own small way, may have helped advance both science and self-acceptance for our next generation of scientists. And that's a hell of a tombstone to engrave.
So yeah, it was a cheesy prime-time sitcom that went on slightly too long. But I for one am going to miss it, and all the good it did for people like you and me and our kids (well, those of you that decided you wanted them anyway, eh, Penny?). μ
The last two episodes of The Big Bang Theory are being repeated over and over again ad nauseum on E4, and on-demand with All4. The entire series is being repeated from the beginning, weeknights from 6pm.
'Some of us like the misery'
That'll surely affect its credit score