When The Big Bang Theory launched in 2006, it was a gamble – would fans connect to a sitcom that focused on nerd culture? Twelve seasons and record-breaking ratings later, the answer is a resounding yes. From the pilot episode, when Penny first moves in across the hall from Sheldon and Leonard, to the finale, when Sheldon and Amy are accepting a Nobel Prize, fans loved watching these nerdy friends grow up.
But when it comes down to it, was the first episode the best one, or does the finale take the prize as the most satisfying of the two? It’s hard to compare the episode that started it all and the one that wrapped it all up, but each definitely has some elements that fans will always love.
Premiere: Where It All Began
There’s no denying that one of the biggest draws of the pilot episode is that fans know this is where it all begins. It’s amazing to see the characters in their earliest forms, and how they first meet. Watching Leonard meet Penny, and instantly fall for her, is so much sweeter for fans who know how their story is going to play out. Nostalgia isn’t something to be underestimated!
Finale: The Elevator Payoff
The broken elevator is a running gag for the entire twelve seasons of the show, prompting many fans to wonder over the years how it was broken, and why these incredibly talented engineers didn’t fix it! Both are answered, of course, with a flashback scene showing that Sheldon broke the elevator (while saving the guys from a serious mishap), and that Howard tried to fix it (briefly) and failed. However, the moment in the finale when Penny actually uses the elevator, and steps out onto the landing, is amazing.
Premiere: More Relatable
In the early days of the series, everyone is still figuring things out for themselves. Penny is a struggling actress, all four of the main gang are single, Raj is still dealing with selective mutism and hates being unable to talk to women, Howard is a wannabe player who fails constantly… and while most of the guys are doing well in their careers, they are far from the brilliant successes they are in the end. And while fans love them and want them to do well, there is something extremely relatable about seeing them all struggling, and not quite having figured it all out.
Finale: Happy Endings All Around (Almost)
Of course, the flip side of this is that it’s amazing to see them all get their happy endings in the finale. Penny may not have become a famous actress, but she’s been able to find a different kind of success in a new career, and she and Leonard are happily married. Howard is an astronaut with a brilliant wife and two kids, and Sheldon not only managed to find someone who loves him, but he is accepting a Nobel Prize for his work with her. Sadly, Raj is the only one who doesn’t get quite as happy an ending as everyone else, but even he is doing pretty well for himself, and it’s nice to see all these favorite characters doing so well.
Premiere: More Interesting Personalities
While the characters get more depth by the end of the show, and go through more growth, they also lose a lot of what made them so different in the first place.
In fact, by the finale, it would be easy to forget that this is meant to be a sitcom about nerdy scientists, given that everyone is married, finding love, having kids, and succeeding at work while looking fantastic. In some ways, it was more fun to watch the earlier versions of the characters, when they may have been a bit more unrealistic, but a lot more unique.
Finale: Guest Stars
Over the years, the show became known for cameos from famous faces, especially those in the nerd-sphere. Wil Wheaton became a regular face on the show, but he was joined by everyone from Stan Lee to Stephen Hawking, LeVar Burton to Katie Sackhoff, and so many more. The finale made sure that the show ended with another big name, as Sarah Michelle Gellar appears as Raj’s date to the award ceremony.
Premiere: More Nerdy References
The Big Bang Theory has always included plenty of references to nerd culture (even if they sometimes get the details wrong!), and this was far more evident in the pilot. The first episode includes mentions of Klingon Boggle, Leonard making physics comparisons, Penny noticing all the nerdy collectibles in the apartment – and it’s amazing. This was something that really set the show apart, and it’s in everything from the sets to the costumes. The finale, though, focuses far more on the interactions between the characters, and despite being at a Nobel Prize ceremony, the actual nerdy references are few and far between.
Finale: More Characters
In the pilot episode, essentially the only characters are Penny, Leonard, Sheldon, Raj, and Howard. There are a few moments with secondary characters, like the unimpressed receptionist at the sperm bank, or Kurt (Penny’s ex boyfriend) in a brief scene at the end.
It’s a tight group, but the finale includes far more characters, and the show is better for it. Amy, Bernadette, Stuart, Denise – this is a much bigger, fuller world.
Premiere: Sheldon’s Sick Burns
The Sheldon of the earlier seasons (and of course, the pilot) is much more caustic than the later version of him, especially in the finale, where he softens possibly more than he ever has. However, what that means is that the finale Sheldon, who is much more socially aware, doesn’t deliver quite the same kind of hilarious one-liner burns that he does in the pilot… including, of course, his line about Leonard and Penny’s future children not just being ‘smart and beautiful’ but also ‘imaginary’.
Finale: Sheldon’s Speech
Of course, the best part of the finale is Sheldon and Amy’s acceptance speeches, and they are heavy hitters. Amy speaks about encouraging young women to go into science – a moment that is clearly intended to reach viewers at home, and which tugs on the heartstrings. But it’s Sheldon’s speech (which references that line from the pilot about Leonard and Penny’s future children, as it happens) that is the real tearjerker. Finally, he realizes just how much his friends mean to him, and listening to him thank other people for the pinnacle of his scientific career will have any fan reaching for the tissues!