Arguably the closest pair of best friends in The Big Bang Theory, Howard and Raj share a very complex but meaningful relationship. They clearly, at least for the early years of their friendship, use each other to compensate for the lack of intimacy in their personal lives, like Leonard’s mother suggests. This not only creates a series of uncomfortable situations, used mainly for comedic effect, but a very close bond between them.
Not everything is perfect, though. More than once, their overly intimate relationship veers into disturbing territory, And while there are numerous moments of genuine support and love between them, there’s also an equal amount of toxic situations.
Toxic: All Those Racist Jokes
One of the worst parts of TBBT is how much of the humor is centered around making cheap jokes about racial stereotypes. From Sheldon’s overtly racist mother to Sheldon himself, the show excessively uses that type of comedy.
Howard is one of the guiltiest perpetrators. He continuously makes fun of Raj’s Indian heritage, accent, and foreign behavior. Several times, Raj even calls him out on it, yet Howard doesn’t care and keeps doing it throughout the entire show. Raj too makes some jokes at the expense of Howard’s Jewishness, but they’re not as constant, or offensive, as Howard’s.
Sweetest: Disco Dancing
Through and through, Raj and Howard try to be there for each other. Before Howard gets together with Bernadette (and even after marrying her), he and Raj do everything together. And while sometimes they embarrass each other, they remain as supportive as ever.
This is best illustrated when Howard and Raj go disco dancing. The latter is ecstatic, doing his very best steps and living his best life. And while the former is clearly embarrassed by Raj’s behavior, he still goes along with it, for his friend’s sake.
Toxic: Bachelor Party From Hell
One of the lowest points in Howard and Raj’s friendship comes during the former’s bachelor party. A drunk Raj begins ranting about how close their relationship really is, eventually confessing the two had a threesome with a girl in a Sailor Moon costume during Comic-Con.
The incident not only leaves Howard humiliated in front of his guests, it almost causes Bernadette to call off the marriage. It’s also a blatant example of Raj betraying Howard’s trust, and can even be seen as him not really caring about his supposed best friend’s future wedding.
Sweetest: Footprints On The Moon
Howard and Raj (almost) always supported each other’s hobbies. From the aforementioned disco dancing to Raj being a huge fan of Howard’s magic, these two constantly encouraged their quirks.
During season nine, the two form a “filk” band called Footprints on the Moon, playing folk, Sci-Fi inspired music. Howard is a gifted pianist and composer, and Raj has very high artistic sensibilities, so it’s a match made in heaven. Together, they craft the ridiculously catchy song, “Thor and Dr. Jones,” proving how, at their best, they are quite unstoppable.
Toxic: Lack Of Boundaries
If there’s one thing that’s clear about these two, is that they don’t know how to respect each other’s spaces and boundaries. Raj is constantly shown in bed with Bernadette, at times even instead of Howard, being a literal third wheel in their marriage.
The show also uses strange situations for comedy, like when Raj and Howard use the kissing machines and they literally make out with each other. And while there’s nothing wrong with expressing love for a friend, the characters often do it by chance or even accident, and the show portrays it as something to be ridiculed, instead of celebrated.
Sweetest: Becoming Actual Family
When Howard has his first child with Bernadette, a daughter named Halley, his obvious choice for who should be the girl’s godfather is simple: Raj. Thus, the two become an actual family. The fact that Howard chooses Raj to be such an important figure in his daughter’s life speaks volumes. Raj too takes the job seriously (although his sense of responsibility towards the child is somewhat inconsistent throughout the show).
The bond between them both strengthens and becomes ever-lasting, as they now share something more formal. While it’s probable that their friendship is one for life, for both positive and negative reasons, Halley will now effectively ensure they stay in each other’s lives for good.
Toxic: Masculinity Overload
TBBT makes it painfully obvious that Raj is very in touch with his feminine side. While it starts subtle and moderate, soon and in true Chuck Lorre fashion, it becomes over-the-top and even annoying. The show treats it as a flaw, something to be made fun of, and no character does this more than Howard.
Throughout the twelve seasons, Howard berates and emasculates Raj, treating him as if he was lesser because he’s effeminate. The other characters also participate in the bullying, but it’s almost always started by Howard. Even when he tries to empathize with Raj, by gifting him Cinnamon or hanging out with him during girls’ night, Howard always finds a way to mock his best friend.
Sweetest: Bouncy Castle Fun
During season eleven, Raj finally gets tired of Howard’s constant bullying, even going so far as blaming it for his lack of confidence. And so he effectively ends their friendship, a separation that goes on for several episodes. The show clumsily resolves the issue, by having them apologize to each other in a very superficial way. However, their interaction inside the bouncy castle also reveals some of the best parts of their friendship dynamic.
Howard and Raj are friends because they enjoy each other’s company. At their best, they have fun together and share a powerful and undeniable chemistry. While the problems that lead to their initial separation aren’t really properly addressed, seeing them literally playing with each other is both heart-warming and a reminder of why fans liked them so much.
Toxic: Kite Dates
During season three, as they are flying kites, Howard leaves Raj alone to go chase after a hot girl in the park. This is just one example of many where Howard takes Raj’s friendship for granted. He knows that, no matter what he says or does, Raj will always be there, the one certainty in his life, perhaps even bigger than Bernadette.
On the contrary, Raj puts way too much of himself in his friendship with Howard, often using both it and his unhealthy attachment to Cinnamon, as substitutes for intimacy. This creates an imbalance in their dynamic, one that remains until the show’s end, with both characters apparently happy with continuing their toxic behavior.
Sweetest: Planetary Hug
Despite their problematic tendencies, Howard and Raj truly loved each other. Their relationship is far from perfect, as a matter of fact it is very flawed, but that doesn’t make it any less genuine. When they are honest and true with each other, it becomes clear why their bond is so strong.
All this is in full display during their interaction at the planetary, where Howard is Raj’s special guest. They both complement each other, boasting about their achievements while expressing their deep admiration for each other. The whole thing culminates with a love declaration and a warm hug, that makes everyone, including Leonard, reach for a tissue. Moments like this one feel not only earnt, but necessary and, ultimately, rewarding.